STAGE TO SCREENS: Hunter Parrish of "Weeds" Sees the Light in Godspell

By Brandon Voss
19 Oct 2011

Parrish on "Weeds."

Considering how candid you've been in interviews about your strong Christian beliefs and values, it's fitting that you're playing Jesus. How would you describe your relationship to J.C.?
HP: What's really funny is that one of my best friends that I grew up with — we live together now — is actually named J.C.; I almost wrote something in my Playbill bio about "my best friend J.C.," but I thought it might get confusing. [Laughs.] Yeah, I was born and raised a Christian, but it wasn't until I was 16 that I understood what that meant. And it wasn't until two years ago — and it's continually happening — that I understood that it's less about the religion of Christianity and more about the relationship you have with Jesus. For me, spirituality is really about a relationship, a friendship, with Jesus. It's all about prayer. The same way I would text my mom or a buddy, I pray to Jesus.

How has your faith influenced your interpretation of Jesus in Godspell?
HP: The gospels are the words of Jesus, so you can understand a lot about Him and who He was from that. Godspell is adapted from the Book of Matthew, so I've been able to pull directly from my own understanding of Jesus, growing up and learning those stories. My religious background has helped with my understanding of the material, but it's also the growth I've had as a human and my relationship with Jesus that's helped guide me with the tone of how I feel he should be played in terms of the energy, the joy, the love, and the acceptance.

Has playing Jesus gone to your head?
HP: Not yet. [Laughs.] No, the coolest part about Godspell is that Jesus doesn't consider himself to be greater than. He's just a human amongst these people, trying to figure out how to walk through life. There's no pretense to the character, so I hope that rubs off on me.

Your parents must be happy that you're doing Godspell, as opposed to some of your racier past projects.
HP: Well, it is quite a step from "Weeds" or Spring Awakening. I'm not getting naked on stage this time, which is a relief to my parents. Yeah, they're overjoyed. But I was grateful to do Spring Awakening, and I gained a lot from that experience.

Parrish in Spring Awakening.
photo by Joan Marcus

Having been on Broadway before, are you more confident this time around?
HP: A little bit. With Spring Awakening, I was actually able to identify with the character more, because that coming-of-age was where I was in my life. Clearly, I'm nowhere near close to understanding what it's like to be a man like Jesus, so this is more of a journey for me, and it's been a slower process for me to find the character. In that respect, I'm slightly more nervous this time.

Have you felt any major differences between being a replacement in Spring Awakening and being a part of a new production's original cast with Godspell?
HP: It's 180 degrees, man. It's like black and white. There's more of a sense of ownership with Godspell, so I'm trying to feel it in my blood, and my heart is invested in this that much more. I loved, loved, loved and appreciated my experience with Spring Awakening, but I missed out on growing as a family with the other people I was onstage with. You need someone to pick you up if you fall, but you can't have that dynamic without trust, and you can't have trust unless you build it. Building that trust with my Godspell castmates from the beginning, our dynamic onstage is so much stronger, and that's allowed our acting and singing to fall into place more easily. Also, it's incredibly rare to work with a group of people that just fits together like a friggin' puzzle, and I'm so grateful.

What was it like to be in Spring Awakening's final cast? The closing must have been emotional.
HP: Yeah, it was difficult. It was my first Broadway show, so I didn't really know if that was a normal thing. I just didn't really get it at the time, but I learned so much more about that situation after we closed. It was a very young cast, so everyone moving on to other things was also exciting. I made lifelong friends in that production.

Were you able to catch any other Broadway shows while you were still in Godspell rehearsals?
HP: I actually got in town early so I could do that, but moving was sort of a disaster, so I didn't get to do as much as I wanted to. We actually have Wednesday nights off starting later in November, so I'm going to take advantage of those evenings and see as many shows as I can.

"Weeds" has yet to be picked up for an eighth season. How will you feel if it doesn't come back?
HP: Dude, I will be so angry, and I think the fans who have invested their hearts into the show from the beginning will be angry too. It's frustrating, because we don't know what's happening either, but I'm cautiously optimistic that the story is not over. I think there's a little bit more to tell.

If the show does return, [SPOILER ALERT!] I hope that Silas survives the mysterious gunshot in the cliffhanger.
HP: Thank you! I don't know exactly what that whole thing is about, but hopefully no one dies.