PLAYBILL.COM'S CUE & A: My Name Is Asher Lev Star Ari Brand
By Matthew Blank
January 15, 2013
Ari Brand, who plays the title role in Off-Broadway's My Name Is Asher Lev, fills out Playbill.com's questionnaire of random facts, backstage trivia and pop-culture tidbits.
Brand was cast in the 2009 production of Neil Simon's Broadway Bound, which never opened. His stage work also includes Black Tie (Primary Stages), Romeo and Juliet (Delacorte), My Name Is Asher Lev (Long Wharf), The Diary of Anne Frank (Westport Country Playhouse), Arabian Nights (Berkeley Rep, KC Rep), The Claw of the Schwa (MITF Award for Outstanding Actor in a One-Act) and the Vineyard Arts Project.
Full given name:
Ari Hillman Brand
Where you were born/where you were raised:
New York, NY
What your parents did/do for a living:
My father was a concert pianist, and my mother is a bassoonist and music teacher.
I have one brother, a clinical neuropsychologist.
I play a bunch of instruments. Also, I can name all the presidents in order. I won a box of Mike and Ike's for reciting them in my 4th grade history class.
Something you're REALLY bad at:
I'm terrible at remembering names.
First Broadway show you ever saw:
The Who's Tommy, when I was 9. I remember the gunshot made my heart jump, but I was enraptured by the idea of a rock musical and loved every second of it.
Did you have any particular mentors or inspirations when first starting out?
My theatre professor and advisor in college, a brilliant Russian director named Yuriy Kordinskiy, was particularly instrumental in my pursuing acting. Also, I might not be acting today if it weren't for my manager/fairy-godmother Ellen Novack.
If you could go back in time and catch any Broadway show, what would it be?
Mike Nichols' Waiting for Godot with Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Bill Irwin and F. Murray Abraham.
Current or recent shows you recommended to friends:
Sleep No More
Favorite showtune(s) of all time:
"Feed Me" from Little Shop of Horrors
Some favorite musicals:
West Side Story, Little Shop, The Fantasticks, Tommy, She Loves Me
Some favorite modern plays:
This Is Our Youth, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Lieutenant of Inishmore, Sight Unseen
Some favorite modern playwrights:
Kenny Lonergan, Martin McDonagh
Broadway or screen stars of the past you would most have loved to perform with:
Your personal acting idols, living or dead:
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Danny Kaye
The one performance – attended - that you will never forget:
David Cromer's Our Town
Music that makes you cry, any genre:
Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition"
MAC or PC?
Most played song on your iPod:
In the last few weeks, "Impossible Soul" by Sufjan Stevens
Upworthy, ESPN, NY Times, my baby niece's tumblr
Last book you read:
"The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach
Must-see TV show(s):
“Friday Night Lights”
Last good movie you saw:
“Weekend” -- an absolutely beautiful film by Andrew Haigh
Some films you consider classics:
“West Side Story”
Performer you would drop everything to go see:
Pop culture guilty pleasure:
“Call Me Maybe” tribute videos
Three favorite cities:
New York, Rome, Berlin
First CD/Tape/LP you owned:
4 Non Blondes - "What's Up?"
First stage kiss:
As Georg Nowack in She Loves Me my sophomore year of high school. We had fake snow come down right when it happened, and one night it took a really long time for it to come dow… we had to wait there, lips locked. There are worse problems for a girl-crazy 16 year-old.
Favorite or most memorable onstage role as a child/teenager:
When I was 12 I was in an Off-Off-Broadway production of Macbeth, playing the two young boys, and the cast was so generous and welcoming. It introduced me to the kindness of a theatre company.
Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living:
I've always been a performer, but I wasn't positive I wanted to actually pursue a career until my junior year of college, doing a production of Thornton Wilder's A Long Christmas Dinner. I worked so hard but it felt amazing, and the experience ended up paying me back more than I could've ever dreamed.
Favorite pre-/post- show meal:
I'll often buy a large salad at the deli on the corner… eat half before the show and half after.
Favorite liquid refreshment:
Bourbon Manhattan, or a good IPA
Pre-show rituals or warm-ups:
I do a whole verse of one or two hip-hop songs with my tongue sticking out of my mouth, enunciating as much as possible.
Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap:
While playing Claudio in the Much Ado "gulling scene," a button spontaneously flew off of my Leonato's jacket. I watched it fall to the ground, and as I contemplated how to pick it up seamlessly, I looked up to find my two co-actors staring at me, waiting for me to speak. I had no idea where we were. Luckily Claudio is kind of an idiot, so I don't think anyone noticed.
Worst job you ever had:
For a month, as my first job out of college, I worked at a Russian Tea-Room Pan-Asian Cuisine Vodka-Infusion Bar/Restaurant with Moroccan decor and Edith Piaf and ABBA playing on repeat.
I was the sole bartender/waiter/host, and I spent my 12-hour shifts killing cockroaches and listening to my vampire-like boss tell me stories about when he was young and didn't need Botox (he was 40). I'm still pretty positive it was a front for the Russian mob. One day I'll write a screenplay.
What drew you to this project?
Asher Lev was a part that I was right for in a beautiful adaptation of an important novel. I'm privileged to be a part of it.
Were you familiar with the material/history before taking on this project?
I'd never read the book, but I was raised Jewish, and in New York. The similarities end there, but I guess I had a one-second head start.
How did you research for this performance?
We took a tour of the Lubavich section of Crown Heights, saw the movement's headquarters, danced in the synagogue, ate matzo in the matzo factory. I also had to do a fair amount of art history research... went to museums and spoke to painter friends.
Most challenging role you have played onstage:
Asher Lev, for sure. I'm on stage for the duration of the play, alternating between addressing the audience and playing scenes with Mark and Jenny, and I play Asher from a 6 year-old to my early 20's. It can be pretty draining, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Any upcoming or side projects you can talk about?
There are some exciting things coming up, but mum's the word... stay tuned.
Leading man role you've been dying to play:
I'd love to play Hamlet some day.
Leading lady role you wish you could play:
Could someone please produce a revival of Gilda Radner's 1979 one-woman show? I wouldn't need a rehearsal.
Career you would want if not a performer:
Three things you can't live without:
Playing music, hummus and my partner Cait
"I'll never understand why…"
… investment bankers make so much more money than teachers.
Words of advice for aspiring performers:
In the words of the great poet, Axl Rose, "Just a little patience. Yeeeeaaaahhh." Actually you need a lot of it. But good things come to those who stick with it.