Actor Stark Sands is back in the army.

Stark Sands
Stark Sands

The performer first came to the attention of theatregoers in the 2007 revival of R.C. Sheriff's World War I drama Journey's End, winning a Tony nomination for his work. Now he's back in the stage adaptation of rock group Green Day's concept album American Idiot. He plays Tunny, a character created for the musical, who enlists in the armed forces and ends up fighting in Iraq. In between those two shows, Sands played Clyde in the La Jolla Playhouse production of the musical Bonnie and Clyde. Sands talked to about playing a person "very different" from himself, and collaborating with boyhood idol Billy Joe Armstrong. How did you get the part of Tunny?
Stark Sands: I auditioned for it the old-fashioned way. I was in San Diego doing Bonnie and Clyde. Right when that ended, the creative team for American Idiot was trying to cast this character. I was familiar and friendly with [director] Michael Mayer and [producer] Tom Hulce from auditions past. My first audition was in L.A., and they told me in the room that they wanted me to come to New York as one of the final choices for the part. I spent the next two weeks prepping. I flew to New York to do my audition, which was taped and sent to Billy Joe Armstrong. They left it up to him, because [Mayer and Hulce] know me. I'm very different than the guy they're casting. The character is a very angry, intense, disturbed dude. I'm the opposite of that. I feel I'm pretty zen and laid back. I don't have a lot of rage in my real life. So I think they wanted to leave it up to someone who didn't have any relationship with me whatsoever and have him decide. What kind of preparations did you do in those weeks?
SS: This character happened to play the guitar and sing. There was movement, so I kept my body warm and practiced the six songs they had me prepare, one on the guitar. It's a different kind of style than I play. I'm more of a strumming guitarist, instead of a lead soloist guitarist. I had to learn a new style in order to play the song "Wake Me Up When September Ends." It was good I had a few weeks to work on it. Did you have to stretch your voice? This score isn't your typical Broadway musical score.
SS: Luckily for me, when I was growing up in high school, I had a band, and I was a singer in the band. I'm less of a legit Broadway singer than I am a pop-rock singer. And, that's what they were looking for. They told me from the beginning, "Don't change your voice. Don't worry about making this legit by adding too much vibrato." Had you been a fan of Green Day prior to this?
SS: Yeah. Huge. I was 13 years old when the album "Dookie" came out. It was one of the first CDs I bought. I listened to it forever. I've known the band and seen them in concert since that album. I think a lot of my generation has. So, to know they were mailing my audition to Billy Joe, who's sort of one of my rock heros, and he was going to see my work, that was the beginning of it. And now to know him personally is weird. It's a lot to happen in a matter of months. In rehearsals, were you dealing mainly with Michael Mayer, or did Armstrong offer notes as well?
SS: Billy was there sometimes. If he had any notes, he gave them to Michael. Billy never came up to any of us with notes. I do know that he was very hands-on with our two guitarists. I've seen him walk over to them and pick up a guitar and show them how to do a particular lick, but it's been cool. They saw the first solid week of previews every night. So I'd look out and see Billy and Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool sitting there watching the show. It was pretty cool to see how invested they are in it. What's the hardest part of the show for you?
SS: The first 20 minutes. It is non-stop. It's very physical movement, very athletic, jumping, kicking, punching, completely out of breath and singing on top of it. After 20 minutes, I jump into a bed and get to catch my breath for a few minutes, while the show continues around me. Once I've made it to that point, I know that I've made it past the hump. It's the best regular cardio I've ever done in my life.

Stark Sands (center) with the company of <i>American Idiot</i>.
Stark Sands (center) with the company of American Idiot. Photo by Paul Kolnik

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