STAGE TO SCREENS: A Chat with Steven Pasquale

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02 Jul 2006

Steven Pasquale in
Steven Pasquale in "Rescue Me"
Photo by Larry Riley/FX
This month, we chat with Steven Pasquale, a versatile young actor who's currently appearing in his third season as New York firefighter Sean Garrity on the FX cable series "Rescue Me” (Tuesdays, 10 PM ET).


"I've never played comedy before. This is my first crack at it,” claims Steven Pasquale (Pas-QWAHL), of his "Rescue Me” role as the not-too-bright Sean Garrity. "They [behind-the-cameras personnel] seem to be trusting of my instincts. I'm self-conscious, so I always tell myself that you have to be really smart to play a dumb guy really well. [Laughs] You have to be very specific. There's a fine line between playing a dim-witted character and playing a cartoon. Exploring that has been great fun.”

The series shoots in New York. "We only do 13 episodes [a season]. We usually shoot from late February through August, which gives me six months to get back onstage, or to put out feelers for possible other projects. It's kind of a dream situation.” It's no surprise that TV pays a bit more than theatre, or as Pasquale puts it, "It's like another universe. When 'Rescue Me' came along, it was the first time I went out to dinner and was able to pay for it.

"You really can't be a true blue theatre actor and have any quality of life. There's a strange dichotomy happening right now. Television and film stars are coming to theatre. It's tough. If you're just a New York actor, you're going to be poor. The only way to make money in the theatre is if you commit a year or 18 months to a big commercial Broadway run. So, I'm very grateful that I have a television career, which allows me to do a play for 200 bucks a week. I'm not in dire need of a paycheck.”

A down side to having a series is that he can't commit to a run that conflicts with the production schedule. That cost Pasquale the chance to open on Broadway in The Light in the Piazza after having created the role of Fabrizio in the 2003 Seattle world premiere of the Adam Guettel-Craig Lucas musical. "That was the most heartbreaking thing that I've ever experienced professionally.

"But I'm so happy for its success, and for Adam. I think he's the most prolific composer of our generation. And I was so thrilled for Kelli [O'Hara] and Vicky [Clark], and everyone involved.”

When he played the young Florentine, his love interest [Clark's daughter] was portrayed by Celia Keenan-Bolger, whom he describes as "one of my favorite human beings on the planet.” She was replaced, prior to the New York premiere, by Kelli O'Hara, who had been playing Fabrizio's sister-in-law. Ironically, both Keenan-Bolger (for Spelling Bee) and O'Hara competed for a 2005 Tony as Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

"Celie was so deserving of her success that year,” continues Pasquale, "particularly with how much class she handled not being able to do [Piazza] in New York after working on it two-and-a-half/three years everywhere else. She's one of the best scene partners I've ever had, and I've been doing this for 14 years. I'm thrilled that she's doing so well. She needs to have a great sitcom or a movie career at some point — she's such a skilled actor!”


Third of four children, the actor's older brother and sister are "in business,” and his younger sister "is a psychologist and social worker. All of us live on the East Coast. I'm sort of the black-sheep artist, and they're very supportive.” So are his parents — now. "They were thrilled when I started working. When I told my father I wanted to be an actor, he said, 'You better have a back-up plan, 'cause it sounds like a crazy idea.' Pasquale's aware that show business offers no security. "Even though I'm working on a hit television show, it could go away next year -- and my security is done.”

Born in Hershey, PA, he admits to sneaking into the amusement area, Hershey Park, as a kid. "It cost 20 bucks to get in. At 12, where was I going to get 20 bucks? I'd climb over the wall and go to the arcade.”

During his junior year in high school, he hurt his back in a football game and was advised by a doctor to pursue less-strenuous activities. "My buddy, Mike, was in the school play, the musical Fame, so I tried out for it.” He was cast as Tyrone (originally an African-American part), "and they changed the name to Tony. I made a complete ass of myself,” but found a career.

"Something happened to me in that environment. I liked the people and how passionate they were about the theatre. It wasn't a clique-y popularity contest; they really loved being there, and I found that endearing and charming. I fell into the group — and never really fell out.”

Following his freshman year in college, it was an actor's life for Pasquale, who got a role in a touring company of West Side Story. "I was only 18. I played Gee-tar. He's the Tony understudy and the only non-dancing Jet. When the music would come on for 'Cool,' everyone would start snapping and doing the crazy choreography. I would just go hide behind the drug store [set]. I'd come out at the end of the number, as if I was dancing the whole time. That was fun." While on tour, a mutual friend introduced him to Taye Diggs, with whom he later worked in The Wild Party and A Soldier's Play. Of the latter, he says, "That was a blast! Taye and I looked for a long time for something else we could do together.”

After Gee-tar came two-and-a-half years in the role of Chris in a national tour of Miss Saigon. "Between West Side Story and Miss Saigon, I must have played 80 cities. That's really where I learned to sing. I've never had voice lessons, never studied. It was on-the-job training. Singing Chris was difficult —a trial by fire.”


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