|Photo by Eric Liebowitz/NBC|
What drew you to the get involved with Far From Heaven and what about the role of Frank, the closeted suburban father with a wife and kids, intrigued you?
SP: Well, three things. Scott Frankel and Michael Korie [the show's composer and lyricist] are really talented guys. And director Michael Greif is one of my favorite collaborators in my life ever. And Kelli O'Hara is one of my oldest friends in New York and a true gem of the theatre. I just want to work with all four of these people. I don't care what the project is. And I love that Frank is not your classic sort of leading man. He's a really tortured and f**ked-up guy, and you don't get that chance to play somebody like that that often in a musical. So I thought that would be hard and challenging and rewarding.
There's so much that's unspoken between sexually repressed Frank and his quietly suffering wife, Cathy, such rich subtext to bring up from under the surface.
SP: We are now so beyond that time and we've come so far. The rampant racism and homophobia that existed in the late '50s feels so long ago, even though it is really only a few generations in the past. And sure, there are some days when it feels like we have so far still to go when it comes to civil rights issues and social progress. But it's easy to forget that in 1958, a gay man would stand in front of a therapist and be like, "There's something wrong with me. I have a disorder. I have something incredibly wrong with me, and I need you to fix it." I mean, that's a long way from where we're at these days.
There are a whole slew of theatre actors in "Do No Harm," from Phylicia Rashad and Lin Manuel-Miranda to Michael Esper, your co-star from the 2011 world premiere of Tony Kushner's The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide… Did you encourage the directors and producers to look to the stage, to Broadway, when casting the various roles in the show?
PB: Oh, I wish I did! I wish I could take credit for it. But Michael Mayer [Spring Awakening, American Idiot], who directed our pilot, comes from theatre, and Bob Greenblatt, the president of NBC, also is a lover of theatre people. And I was just over-the-moon when Michael Esper got cast. Certainly he's one of my favorite New York actors, and we've worked together for the last like two-and-a-half years at this point. And Phylicia is amazing. And Lin is like a national treasure. That guy's amazing. So we all are just huge theatre nerds. And that's really fun to have that kind of energy on set.
I interviewed your wife, Laura Benanti, a few months ago, about her sitcom "Go On," and we talked about how she's managed to successfully toggle back and forth from doing big classic musicals to really interesting straight plays. She said that it was really important for her to do both. With your own recent roles in the Tony Kushner play, Neil LaBute's "Reasons to Be Pretty," and now the stage adaptation of "Far From Heaven," is that a strategy you've also tried to pursue as an actor?
SP: I started out doing musicals, and it's very easy to just be like a musical guy if that were the case. So I made a decision, a pact very early on to get away from that — to not do just musicals. And I was really lucky in that I got cast in a [straight] play, so I just started doing non-musical things for a very long time. I actually haven't been in a musical since The Light in the Piazza in 2003 [for its premiere in Seattle]. So Far From Heaven was my first time in a musical in like almost 10 years, which I can't believe because I consider it such a part of my makeup as a young actor. But yeah, they're different muscles — a musical, a straight play, a period piece, a TV show, a comedy, a drama, a movie. That's where the challenge comes — trying to keep all those muscles fresh all the time. And I'm always looking to do something different from whatever I've just done before.
Is there a chance we might see you guest-starring on your wife's new Matthew Perry-headlined sitcom "Go On" later this season? Or might she pop up in "Do No Harm" at some point?
SP: Are you kidding? I would love it! Totally. I mean, if we could figure it out schedule-wise, I would absolutely love it. I could play a patient who she's counseling. And she could play somebody with a brain condition on my show, and I'll give her a pretend lobotomy. It would be perfect!
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