Assassins Shooting Gallery, Part II: Gemignani as Hinckley and Cantone as Byck

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29 Mar 2004

<I>Assassins</I> Alexander Gemignani (inset Hinckley) and Mario Cantone (Byck).
Assassins Alexander Gemignani (inset Hinckley) and Mario Cantone (Byck).

In the weeks leading up to the show's Broadway debut, Playbill On-Line will take an exclusive look at Assassins, focusing on all nine major characters and the actors who portray them.

This week features Alexander Gemignani and Mario Cantone and their respective characters, John Hinckley and Samuel Byck.

 

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Character:

Assassin: John Hinckley
(aka John Warnock Hinckley, Jr.)
Born: May 29, 1955, in Ardmore, Oklahoma
Father: John W. Hinckley, Sr., Vanderbilt Energy Corporation Chairman and President
Before he was an assassin: Songwriter
Other jobs: Busboy, College Student
Assassination Attempt: President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981, outside the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C.



Why he became an assassin: An increasingly reclusive college dropout, Hinckley moved to Hollywood to pursue a career as a songwriter. He became obsessed with Martin Scorcese's film "Taxi Driver," identifying with the protagonist's attempts to save a young prostitute played by Jodie Foster. After failed attempts at courting the actress, he decided an assassination would impress her. After stalking Jimmy Carter, the attempt was made on his successor Reagan.

Found: Not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21, 1982, and sent to live in St. Elizabeth's Mental Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Famous Words: [Throwing a pen, during his trial, at a videotaped testimony in which Jodie Foster denied any relationship with him] "I'll get you, Foster!"

 

Played by:

Actor: Alexander Gemignani
Born: July 3, 1979, in Manhattan, New York (grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey)
Father: Paul Gemignani, Musical Director of Assassins
Before he was in Assassins: Off-Broadway: Avenue Q; Other: The Trapped Family Singers (FringeNYC), world premiere of Marty
Other jobs: UPS Store, TCBY, Waiter at TGI Friday's

Why he became an actor: "I went to college to be a trumpet major and it was great. I had a fantastic trumpet teacher and I did very well. Then after the first semester, I [began] losing my love for playing my horn and I didn't want to do that. It was more about [how] I couldn't see myself in a pit, I couldn't see myself doing that. I always loved to do theatre and I did it in high school and I guess I can kinda sing, so I thought 'I'll audition for the department.' Well, it turns out I was at a great department and didn't know it. I loved the school so much and had such a great freshman year that I didn't want to leave."

On his casting for Assassins:
"[My school] had just done the show my senior year and I was called back for Byck. The teacher and I have a running gag about it, 'I'm going to go down in history as the guy who didn't cast you in Assassins.' I did my senior showcase after graduating. A guy who worked for [casting agent] Jim Carnahan came up to me after and said 'Hey, I'd love for you to come in for John Hinckley on Monday.' I said 'Okay' and went in. My dad was in the room. He actually was a little too nervous to handle it, so he got up and left the room for my first audition. I thought, 'That was fun, I got to audition for a Broadway show right out of college.' Then, the next day I got a call that said 'Come back tomorrow.' And it was very surprising, but great."

On being a political person:
"I have nothing but the utmost respect for people who follow politics and make a stand on an issue. If there's something I feel very strongly about, sure, but I've never been a very political person."

 

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Character:

Assassin: Samuel Byck
(aka Samuel Joseph Byck)
Born: 1930
Before he was an assassin: Salesman
Other jobs: Army Soldier
Next featured as a character in: "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" film starring Sean Penn
Assassination attempt: President Richard M. Nixon on February 22, 1974, at Baltimore-Washington International Airport

Why he became an assassin: In recorded tapes he sent to celebrities, including West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein, Byck blamed the government for his woes and revealed his plan to hijack a commercial plane and crash it into the White House. Recently divorced, unemployed and turning 44, his plan "Pandora's Box" went into effect as he entered the airport with a gun and gasoline bomb, forced his way through a security checkpoint by killing a guard and made it onto an airplane headed to Atlanta.

Died: February 22, 1974, onboard Delta Flight 523. After being shot twice by police outside the still-parked plane, Byck turned his gun on himself.

Famous Words: [Protesting in a Santa Claus suit after a previous failed attempt to picket without a permit] "I want to see if they have the guts to arrest Santa Claus."

 

Played by:

Actor: Mario Cantone
Born: December 9, 1959, in Boston, Massachusetts (grew up in Stoneham, MA)
Before he was in Assassins: Broadway: The Violet Hour, Love! Valour! Compassion!; Other: The Crumple Zone, "Sex and the City"
Other jobs: Jewelry Salesman, Stand-up Comedian
Next featured in: Laugh Whore, slated for Broadway this fall
Why he became an actor: "It was the only thing I knew how to do. I was short and Italian and odd. That's why I got into stand-up [comedy] cause I thought if I'm just an actor, I'm screwed. And it only took me 90 years to get anyplace and I'm still only semi-famous."

On his casting for Assassins:
"I called Joe [Mantello, his director for Assassins and Love! Valour! Compassion!] and said 'I never say to you: "You're doing this play, I wanna do it."' He goes 'What? You want to be in Assassins? I already cast you.' I'm like 'Wha...? What [role] is it?' And I'm thinking Guiteau because it's the flamboyant role and everybody thought that. And he said 'No, Sam Byck.' And it was a stroke because when I did it at the workshop, [original Assassins cast member] Victor Garber came up to me and said 'You're the only person who could stop a Sondheim show with a monologue and not a song.' I saw it three times Off-Broadway and I liked the part. I just didn't see myself in it."

On most interesting discovery in research for playing Byck:
"He hugged this girl before he went off to the airport. It seemed like it was just a very saddened moment for him; an innocent, sad moment that was pure for him."

On being a political person:
"No, I'm really not. I think the older I get, the more I'm aware of it and the more I pay attention to it. I don't talk about politics too much in my act [either], I have a little bit in my standup, but I'd rather rip apart Nicole Kidman or the Hilton sisters."

On whether he'll be putting on weight for the role:
"No. There will be no weight put on, I am not Marlon Brando or Robert De Niro. I'm in a schlumpy Santa Claus outfit, so I'll look slobby but underneath there will be a fine-ass body with six-pack abs." [Laughs.]