Sean Hayes is hosting (and helping to write) the 2010 Tony Awards ceremony airing on CBS June 13. He'll also be a little distracted that evening, as a nominee for Best Actor in a Musical for Promises, Promises, which, by the way, he is starring in at the Broadway Theatre.
"Eight shows a week has turned out to be the easy part of my life, which I thought would never be the case," he says of the last few wild weeks. "After being nominated and now hosting and all the work and the prep and the press that goes with all of that, it is like tech week every week."
Did that stop me from peppering him with questions? Of course not!
As a first-time Tony host, did you seek any advice from past hosts? Wisdom from Neil Patrick Harris or Hugh Jackman?
Whoopi Goldberg just told me to have a good time, and I think that's the greatest advice ever. The great thing about it, I think people think the hosting thing is bigger than it is. I'm really just a face to keep the evening moving, but really the focus is and should be on the performers and the nominees and highlighting the winners. Or I should say, "the people who accept the Tony," because everyone is a winner!
How will you toggle between being a host and a nominee? Is there a pose or stance you will take, like, "This is me as host. This is me as nominee"?
Yeah, for hosting, I'm going to put all my weight on my right foot, and when I am nominated, I am going to shift it to my left. [Laughs] Actually the nice thing is the hosting takes the pressure off of wondering if I will win or not or if I'm even nominated or not. There's so much to focus on as a host, that as wonderful as it is being nominated, it's a great distraction to host. And yet, there is an international audience of viewers. Does that grandness of scale make you nervous at all?
Not at all. I don't really have any aspirations to be a host with my life, which takes the pressure off, so I'm just there to have a good time.
What about onstage in Promises, Promises. Do you get butterflies, or did your years of TV work on "Will and Grace" cure that?
Every show I get nervous. Every single show. Nervous in a great way, and I think it is scary if you don't. The nerves really get you focused and get you going and that allows you to deliver a performance worthy of the people who paid a lot to see you.
I know you were born in Chicago and now live on the West Coast. What was your relationship with New York City prior to Promises? You were here for the Encores! Damn Yankees, but have you had this long a stay before?
This is my first extended stay ever. I'm getting to know the city more, and it's quite amazing, not that I didn't know that before. It's wonderful. It's definitely a different way to live. I miss my car. A lot! In that sense, city life is a little confining, but doing a show, you don't have a life. You go to the theatre and you go home and that's your life. That's the choice you make as an actor and an artist when you do something like this. You give up an enormous part of your life. Luckily, it is well worth it.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
You are onstage through almost all of Promises. How do you keep your edge, or even keep your voice?
There are exercises and things, like right now I am trying to speak to you "correctly." In a "supported voice." There is definitely an endurance level that I had to learn doing this show. I had some ups and downs, and now I think I found my sweet spot for how to do this eight times a week.
My editor was at a performance where an audience member sneezed, you ad-libbed, "Bless you," and it got a tremendous laugh. Do you enjoy the chance to have that level of audience interaction?
Well it's nice because Neil Simon wrote the script where I break the fourth wall and speak to the audience. So I think anything that happens like that gives me license to draw the audience more into the story, or me as a character. I think the audience enjoys that. Something like that sneeze, I don't do that often — actually I think that is the last time I ever did that. Too much of that can get ridiculous and not real to who my character, Chuck Baxter, is. So there's a definite fine line. It just so happened that the person who sneezed that hard was literally sitting right in front of me.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
Growing up, who were your role models, people who influenced your style?
Peter Sellers, Steve Martin, Marty Short, Phil Hartman, basically anybody in the early years of "Saturday Night Live." Billy Crystal. For me, anybody who was just a little off or left-of-center was what I thought more interesting to aspire to be rather than a run-of-the-mill dramatic actor. You know, one of the oldest adages in this business is "Dying is easy, comedy is hard," so it's much more fulfilling for me as an actor to challenge myself, and there's nothing more challenging than comedy.
It's fun to imagine two great comic talents like you and your co-star Kristin Chenoweth meeting for the first time. Tell me about that.
I met her about ten years ago, and we instantly had this connection, and she is not only an amazing performer and an incredible talent unmatched by anybody in town, she's also a wonderful human being and very supportive of me, and I of her. We've always wanted to work together. We just got lucky that the right thing came along for both of us and it is nice to share the stage with her every night, and it is easy to fall in love with her every night.
And you are still discovering new funny things every night onstage?
Oh, yeah. Always. That's the great thing about theatre!
Happy Tony weekend!
(Check out June's other Playbill.com Leading Men column about Broadway's Tony Yazbeck, lately featured in the world premiere musical Sycamore Trees at Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA.)
The Leading Men columnist Tom Nondorf can be reached at email@example.com.