PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Michael C. Hall

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06 Aug 2002



Photo by Miranda Penn Turin

It's been a busy few years for actor Michael C. Hall, who recently received an Emmy nomination for his performance as gay, uptight funeral director David Fisher on HBO's "Six Feet Under," the acclaimed series that garnered a whopping 23 Emmy noms, including one for Outstanding Drama Series. An alumna of NYU's Graduate Acting Program, Hall returned to Broadway July 30 in the Tony Award-winning production of Chicago, playing the slick, "All-I-Care-About-Is-Love" lawyer Billy Flynn, originated in this revival to Tony-winning effect by James Naughton. Hall's six-week run (to Sept. 10) marks his second time in a Kander and Ebb musical: He replaced another Tony winner, Alan Cumming, in the hit revival of Cabaret at Studio 54. About Hall's performance as the pansexual Emcee, The New York Post raved, "The other major revelation is Michael Hall's Emcee... Hall miraculously makes the Emcee a human being, not a manic puppet. Which makes the fate of the Emcee in the final horrible tableau truly shocking, for the first time." Hall's other theatrical credits include roles in Corpus Christi, The English Teachers, Cymbeline, Macbeth, Henry V, Timon of Athens, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing and Camelot. During rehearsals, the multi-talented actor singer spoke with Playbill On-Line's Andrew Gans about his TV series, his latest Broadway outing and his newest role — husband to actress Amy Spanger, who joins him in Chicago Aug. 6, when she assumes the role of murderess Roxie Hart.

Playbill On-Line: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination.
Michael Hall: Thank you.

PBOL: Where were you when you heard the news?
MH: I was in bed.

PBOL: Were you watching the announcements on TV?
MH: Yeah. I had planned to sleep through [the Emmy nominations], and if I was called, I'd find out, but I woke up, so I turned on the TV right as they were announcing them.

PBOL: Was that exciting?
MH: Yeah, it was surreal.

PBOL: The show seems like it would be a lot of fun to work on — what's the experience been like for you?
MH: I think — considering how much goes into making a show like this, from the production end, all the different departments — it's kind of a miracle that this show completely fires on all cylinders. Nobody drops the ball. It's a dream to go to work and just worry exclusively about your job, knowing that everybody else is doing theirs. It's an incredible group. We all really enjoy each other.

PBOL: Is everyone coming back this season?
MH: Yes...as far as I know. [Laughs.]

PBOL: How did you come to be cast in "Six Feet Under"?
MH: I was working here in New York. I was doing Cabaret, and my agent let me know that Alan Ball had written a pilot script for HBO, and asked if I would I be interested in reading it. I said, "Of course." And, from the beginning, they had said they would see me for David. Five pages into the script, I was very excited about auditioning for it. I auditioned twice here and had a third and final screen-test day in L.A. and then got the job.

PBOL: Do you remember your thoughts when you first read the script?
MH: I loved it. I was by no means turned off by the fact that it was about a funeral home or anything like that. I was amazed that [Ball], in a 60-page script, had created so many characters with so much dimension and such complex relationships between them all. I really saw it as a great opportunity.

PBOL: Are you excited about returning to Broadway?
MH: Yeah, definitely. It'll be fun to flex some different muscles after being in front of the camera for a year-and-a-half.

PBOL: How did the Chicago gig come about?
MH: My wife Amy and I were driving down to North Carolina to visit some of my family, and we both got calls individually on our cell phones. It's not something that we really sought out. I still am not sure exactly whose idea it was. We just looked at each other and thought, "Well that sounds fun." [Laughs.]

PBOL: Have you ever worked with her before?
MH: No.

PBOL: Had you seen this production?
MH: I saw it at City Center and then after it opened on Broadway, and I also saw it on Broadway later when Amy played June. And I saw it on tour when Amy played Roxie on the tour, so I've actually seen it four times.

PBOL: This is the second Kander and Ebb show you've done. Are you fans of their work?
MH: Absolutely, yes... There's something really sharp in their sense of theatricality. Everything moves things forward.

PBOL: What do you think of the character of Billy?
MH: Billy's fun, especially in light of what I've been doing on "Six Feet Under," because he's really someone who is so utterly confident and without conflict [laughs], so that's a lot of fun.

PBOL: Cabaret was your Broadway debut. How did that role come about?
MH: I guess it happened because I did the five-day workshop, and later I did the more expensive workshop, of Sondheim's Wise Guys, and [Cabaret director] Sam Mendes directed that, and the timing just coincided with the fact that he was looking for someone to replace Alan Cumming. And, I guess, based on what I did in Wise Guys, he invited me to come in for a work session the following week. They called me at noon and sent me the material over, and I went in at six and finished the work session at seven, and then at eight o'clock they told me I had the job. And I went and saw the show that night, having not seen the production. It was quite a day!

PBOL: Was it difficult following Alan Cumming into the part?
MC: He'd managed to redefine a role that was so totally defined by Joel Grey, and so it was daunting in one way, but I think it was so daunting that it was kind of like, "Might as well just try to enjoy myself." [Laughs]. Ultimately, it was made a lot easier because it was an incredible company, and everybody welcomed me with open arms and recognized that Alan was amazing.

PBOL: But you got great reviews for it as well.
MH: They didn't hire me to simulate his performance, and I think that's a strength of that production. They've hired a lot of different kinds of actors to do all the roles in that show. It's a production that's so strong that it can support different interpretations, and the story still gets told. It's not like you just plug yourself into some already existing thing.

PBOL: How long will you stay with Chicago?
MH: Just for six weeks because I go back to shoot the third season of "Six Feet Under" in September.

PBOL: Do you have anything else coming up?
MH: No, not for sure. [Laughs.] We'll do "Six Feet Under" until early spring and then see what happens in the next hiatus.

PBOL: Would you like to return to Broadway again, maybe in a new show?
MH: Oh yeah, I'd love to... There's nothing like performing in front of a live audience. There's nothing like that communication, that immediate response, so I hope to return to the stage again and again and again.

PBOL: Were you a fan of theatre or musical theatre growing up?
MH: Yeah, I guess my first sort of experiences as a performer — aside from singing in choirs and stuff — were doing musicals in junior high and high schools.

PBOL: Do you remember what you did?
MH: Yeah. [Laughs.] I went to a private day school, so it was possible for the junior high and middle-school kids to be in the high school musicals, so from sixth grade all the way to my senior year I did a musical. I did all the chestnuts. I did Sound of Music, The King and I, South Pacific, Bye Bye Birdie, Oklahoma, Fiddler on the Roof and Annie Get Your Gun. [Laughs.]

PBOL: Do you remember what your favorite was?
MH: Bye Bye Birdie — because I got to play Conrad Birdie, and I got to pretend I was a rock-and-roll star.

PBOL: Did your parents take you to the theatre?
MH: Actually, my father took me to see a musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol, when I was, gosh, I must have been six. The guy who played Scrooge, Ira David Wood, now does this production on a much larger scale. It's become a tradition in Raleigh. I was so taken with his performance, and I was so amazed when I found out he was only in his early 20s because he seemed like this old man. I was just completely fascinated by that, so I think that really turned me on to the idea of performing.

PBOL: When do you think you knew definitely acting was what you were going to pursue?
MH: I don't think it was until I was in college that I really fessed up that I considered it a legitimate career choice. About halfway through college, I realized that there was nothing really doing as much for me or turning me on like acting did, and so I changed my major and decided to major in theatre. Then I applied to grad school and went to grad school at NYU and started to take the idea of making it a career a lot more seriously.

PBOL: So, how's married life?
MH: It's great!

PBOL: Have you been rehearsing together?
MH: We have a bit. We rehearsed early on together, and just in the past few days we've rehearsed some onstage. It's really been fun.

—By Andrew Gans