What Didn't Kill Them Made Them Stars: Lena Hall, Jefferson Mays, Andy Karl and More Turn Rejection Into Tony Success

News   What Didn't Kill Them Made Them Stars: Lena Hall, Jefferson Mays, Andy Karl and More Turn Rejection Into Tony Success
The day following the announcement of the 2014 Tony Awards, Playbill.com asked this year's nominees to talk about how they cope with rejection in show business and the hard work it takes to carve out a career in theatre. From bad reviews and flops, to the jobs they didn't get and the roles that got away, here's what keeps these artists going.

The Tony Award
The Tony Award

As the June 8 Tony Awards ceremony approaches, Playbill.com will continue to update with nominee responses. Click through to read them all. 


Andy Karl
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Andy Karl, Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (Rocky)
It's really interesting, especially with the show I'm in now. [Rocky] is in that position. He's gotten all no's his entire life, but he never lets up on himself. He always thinks there's something better around the corner, and he tries to make that happen. It takes a while. Especially for me. It took a while to get a leading role that I created myself and the time happened when the time happened. You have to trust that if you keep at it and you keep working hard at it that certain things will come to fruition. Sometimes your dream role comes to you, and you've got to be prepared for that.

Douglas McGrath
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Douglas McGrath, Best Book of a Musical (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)
What can you do but keep going? You get a lot of no's. It seems like there are more no doors than there are yes doors, but fortunately, I don't have any other skills, so it's not like I'm tempted to go excerise my great heart surgery capabilities. I really can only do what I can do. And also, you have an idea like this that you believe in and you think, "If we can just get it right and get it in front of an audience, it might be wonderful for some people." That helps. So you just keep going. I think we all have one of the greatest blessings you can ever have, which is to work in a field that we love to work in. Think of so many people with jobs that are hard and maybe not as ultimately joyous; ours is hard, too, but in the end there's moments of such joy. For me, with this show, there were days where I said, "I cannot believe that I can call Carole King and say, 'I'm sorry, what were you thinking when Donny Kirshner said this,' or 'Jerry did that?'" I can't get over the amazement of that and that amazement brings a lot of happiness to my days.

Jefferson Mays
Photo by Joan Marcus

Jefferson Mays, Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder)
I'm not sure [rejections] spur me on. I think they wear me down and make me bitter. [Laughs.] No, they're inevitable. I think as an actor you have to be necessarily self-delusional to some degree. And yet it's not a self-delusion, but you have to march into an audition assuming, "I'm the only one who can play this part. This was written for me." And in a way, it's true, because nobody's going to do it like you, for better or for worse. So that's not a delusion. But you have to care passionately and not care at all, at the same time. Just as being on stage, you have to have a huge ego and none whatsoever. So it's a weird, exciting, paradoxical existence I think.

Lena Hall
Photo by Joan Marcus

Lena Hall, Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)
You hear "no" far more than you ever hear "yes," and you hear about how much you suck and about your flaws way more than you'll ever hear anything good. People love to keep someone down, they really do. People can be much more attracted to that drama than they are to someone who is just happy with themselves. They are more interested in you having a bad day than they are in you having a good day. I would say to never let someone else steal away that happiness that you feel just because they want you to fail. Seriously, everyone wants you to fail. I should say most people. It's a small group of people that actually do want you to succeed. I try to surround myself with people who are positive and get away from that bitterness that a lot of people can get in the business. People feel that they should be doing more than they are, and then they get bitter. It's hard to be around. You have to adjust your point of view to be positive all the time and to actually be grateful for where you are, and know that if you just keep working hard, one day it will break for you. It just depends on what your journey is. It's always good to keep that in the forefront. Just keep saying, "Thank you." Keep being grateful and keep being positive. The more positive you are the more positive people you bring into your life.


James Monroe Inglehart
Photo by Monica Simoes


James Monroe Iglehart, Best Featured Actor in a Musical, (Aladdin)
You have to have passion and you have to love it. This is the hardest thing you can do. If you want to do anything else besides be an actor, go do that because you're going to hear "no" all the time. You want to prove those no's wrong. In high school I got a lot of no's. There's nothing like being the oddball in school - the nerd, which I was. I read comic books, I watched professional wrestling, I loved Broadway as a kid and all the "cool" guys don't do that everybody's watching ESPN. That's not me. You have to look at yourself and go, "Whenever they say no, you say, 'Yes, I can, and I'm gonna prove it.'" And after a while you stop wanting to prove it to them and you want to prove it to yourself.

People are going to tell you that you can't do it, people are going to tell you you're not good enough, people are going to say to you, "You don't even look like an actor. You don't sound like an actor. Well, you don't sound like so-and-so. You don't look like so-and-so." But you can't look like so-and-so, you have to look and sound like you so that you can bring that originality to whatever it is you're going to do. So you have to have a perseverance. You have to have a thick skin and you have to believe in yourself. You have to have a little bit of ego to say, "Yeah, I'm bad I should do this." That's my philosophy.


Ramin Karimloo
Photo by Monica Simoes


Ramin Karimloo, Best Actor in a Musical (Les Misérables)
I kind of trained my brain from an early age to know that sometimes doors are closed for a reason. You just have to be brave to accept it, and you may not know why but at some point you'll know why. And I think that if you believe that, and I do believe, that if you try and stay positive there's something out there for everyone. You just have to believe that, and otherwise this business is going to kill you and you won't sleep at night!


Robert Schenkkan


Robert Schenkkan, Best Play (All The Way)
It's a marathon, it's not a sprint. I have had some moments of absolute transcendent triumph, and I've had very some disappointing moments as well. The key is to put one foot in front of the other and keep doing what you love, and in this instance, doing what I love has this fantastic performance here on Broadway and it's a great fairytale ending. I couldn't be more pleased to be here.


Lauren Worsham
Photo by Monica Simoes


Lauren Worsham, Best Featured Actress in a Musical (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder)
I try to think that whatever is meant to be is meant to be. In fact, with this very show, I had the door close on me twice. I wasn't able to do it out of town, and then I wasn't the top choice [for Broadway], but it ended up working out. Just wait around and things will turn and go whichever way they're supposed to go for you. That's how I feel about it.


Warren Carlyle
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Warren Carlyle, Best Choreography/Best Direction (After Midnight)
I'm in this life for life. It's a marathon not a sprint. Yesterday I was lucky enough to get two Tony Award nominations. I also had an interview that I did not get. [Laughs.] So I also did not get a job yesterday. That was a great reminder. It's just life. It's what we signed up for.

Sutton Foster
Photo by Monica Simoes

Sutton Foster, Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical (Violet)
I think [those experiences] do drive me in a weird way. I feel like a good thing about my personality is that whenever someone tells me no, it just makes me want it more. Or if I ever fall on my face, or if someone says, "Oh, you can't do that." Then I'm like, "Oh yeah?" It makes me want to fight for it even stronger. I've fallen down a million times in this business. I've been fired from jobs, I've been re-hired for jobs, I've gotten panned in the papers. It is about sort of saying, "Okay, I'm just going to keep going and I'm just going to learn, and I'm hopefully going to be better the next time and hopefully continue to challenge myself." I think that's what it takes in this business. You've got to keep moving forward.

Jessie Mueller
Photo by Monica Simoes

Jessie Mueller, Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)
I'm not just saying this, and I still work on it, but I have come to peace with the idea that if it doesn't happen for me then it wasn't for me. It's not that I'm bad or I'm wrong, that role is for somebody else. That experience is for somebody else. There's another experience for me. There's another role for me. You know? And it happens all the time, so I think you have to look for the good in those situations. I don't really have the thing of, "Oh, they didn't want me, so I'm going to show them." I've just never had that kind of perspective on it, but I've also been really blessed to be able to do roles that I wanted to do. Certainly, I look back at things I didn't get and I think, "Yep, that's exactly why that didn't happen because the next thing that happened for me was this and that helped me meet this person." Sometimes it's not even business related. Sometimes it's that I met my best friend in that production, or I had this certain experience. That's the way I try to look at it.

Bryce Pinkham
Photo by Monica Simoes

Bryce Pinkham, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder)
I like to think of myself as a young actor [laughs], but I like to tell younger actors who ask me about this, "Every time you get turned down or a door closes, try and think of it as fuel for the fire as opposed to rejection." There are more doors that have closed than have opened in any actor's career, and I've tried to use those moments as fuel to get me to this one. You have to think about "I can't wait for the day when," and so here we are at that day.

Playbill.com will continue to update with additional responses from the 2014 nominees. Check back!

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