When Seth Numrich was studying acting at The Juilliard School, his class used Clifford Odets' Golden Boy for a rehearsal project. "I fell in love with it," says Numrich, who had a small role in school but stars on Broadway. "I didn't know much about Odets, but that really opened my eyes — I think he belongs in the same echelon as O'Neill, Miller, and Williams as a great American playwright."
Golden Boy remains his favorite Odets work so when Numrich heard about the new Lincoln Center Theater production he was doubly excited — he wanted a shot at playing the play's protagonist and, fresh off his starring role in LCT's smash hit War Horse, he felt a strong connection there, and that director Bartlett Sher and Lincoln Center — having staged the superb 2006 revival of Odets' Awake and Sing! — "would do the play justice."
Golden Boy tells the story of Joe Bonaparte, who is torn between working to become a concert violinist or gaining money, and maybe fame — at considerable physical risk — as a boxer. The original Group Theatre production was directed by Harold Clurman, starred Luther Adler, and featured Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, John O'Malley, Elia Kazan, Robert Lewis, and Harry Morgan.
Although Numrich already knew the play, he had to "get inside the head of Joe," a character he describes as "beautifully tragic and complex" but a role large and deep enough that he calls it "scary and daunting."
Numrich, 25, is poised and thoughtful, someone who throws himself into his roles. For War Horse he not only immersed himself in the history of World War I, he took riding lessons and hung around a stable in Brooklyn to get to know horses better. For Golden Boy, he started taking boxing lessons — a sport he knew nothing about — even before his audition so he "knew what it was like to be inside a boxer's body."
"He was one of the only actors I believed could actually be a concert violinist and a boxer," Sher says, adding that Numrich's "elegant physical skills and his great technical chops with language is a combination of skills that's hard to find."
After landing the part Numrich trained at Church Street Boxing in Manhattan and at Brooklyn's famous Gleason's Gym; even while he was traveling this summer he'd always find a gym to train in and devoured boxing literature by Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, and A.J. Liebling.
"Boxing is a lot of preparation and then improvising so there are parallels to being an actor," he says.
And while he wouldn't play violin on stage, he asked his friend Kate Pfaffl, the Song Woman from War Horse, to teach him how to hold the instrument like a musician. He also listened to classical violin, especially focusing on Italian composers since he thought Joe would be proud of his heritage.
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