Update Interview with Brian d'Arcy James
As I was walking to meet Brian d'Arcy James for this interview, I was thinking of a definition for leading man. Certainly, an actor who has a "lead" part comes to mind but that didn't seem sufficient. I knew of Brian's talent and of his great baritone voice yet was still left searching for more. It occurred to me that a leading man has essential qualities off stage too, such as charm, intelligence and a way to connect with people. When I walked into the coffee shop and Brian stood up with a great big smile, the final missing piece came to mind. He has a presence, on stage and off.
Brian d'Arcy James' career is full of noteworthy productions. He received the Tony and Drama Desk nominations as Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success. He got a Drama Desk nomination in The Wild Party and was part of the Tony Award winning musical Titanic. His artistic outlets go beyond musicals and extend to plays, The Good Thief (Obie Award) and a solo CD ("From Christmas Eve to Christmas Morn").
When we talked recently, Brian was about to go into Dirty Rotten Scoundrels on Broadway.
Brian d'Arcy James: It was fantastic. The friends I made during that show are some that I cherish. The ups and downs of creating both a show and a character as well as ultimately having it be a success was very exciting.
EF: I'd like to go back and talk about some of the shows/projects you've been involved with. Let's start with The Wild Party.
BdJ: It was kind of a heartbreak in that it was an extraordinary production that I wished lasted longer. I think back on it with more fondness than regret. If there was regret, it was that the potential for that show was never realized. The score was extraordinary. Andrew Lippa's music is phenomenal. What I loved about the production was its muscular theatricality. It demanded so much of everyone in the cast. I look back at it with respect in terms of what was required of everyone in the show.
EF: There was a really strong cast.
BdJ: Yes, it had Idina Menzel, Julia Murney, Taye Diggs, and Steve Pasquale among others.
EF: How about Dave Rossmer and his show, Joe, the Musical - what was that workshop like for you?
BdJ: That has been a development off and on for a bit. I've been involved in some of the steps along the way. Dave Rossmer and Dan Lipton are good friends and I am in awe of their talent. They wrote this smart, clever musical. It will have a life somewhere.
EF: How was it working with John Lithgow in Sweet Smell of Success.
BdJ: Fantastic! I feel blessed with his friendship as well as everything he represents to me. There is a bit of idol worship but also great fraternal respect. He is such a great guy and a friend who has a wealth of experience. He is generous with that experience, and his perspective helped me quite a bit. He is also an extraordinary actor. He is so creative and undaunted by the impossible.
EF: How was The Lieutenant of Inishmore?
BdJ: It is hard to use different superlatives. I feel that show is important and I was proud to have been a part of it. How it was written, who wrote it and the people who created it are marvelous. I think Martin McDonagh is a gifted writer. I've been a fan of his for a long time. It is an important play and says something bold and important right now in terms of commentary on anti-violence or violence, depending on how you look at it. It solicits an amazing response. It leaves its mark.
BdJ: I'm looking at it as jumping onto a moving train. That can be very daunting for lots of reasons. The first is that you have a major Broadway hit that is chugging along and my job is to jump onto the open car and hope it doesn't make it crash. The good thing is I'm going into it with Keith Carradine who is also learning it from the ground up. We are both kind of holding onto each other, creating our own sense of confidence and ownership. That is extremely valuable to me. I have to say everyone in the show is very welcoming and gracious. They are excited about us coming in which isn't always the case. That is another huge relief.
EF: You have originated roles and with this show you will be taking over for someone who won a Tony Award for his performance. What is that dynamic like?
BdJ: There is nothing like creating a character and discovering how it will play out. That, luckily, has been the bulk of my experience and I've worked hard to try and make it that way. On the other hand, I will have the feeling of developing it my own way, all the while stealing every funny thing that Norbert Leo Butz has done. I'm not ashamed or proud to say that. It is definitely a different thing.
EF: You have been involved with a number of shows that have been nominated for awards and you have been nominated yourself. Is the energy different being in those productions?
BdJ: With those shows, it is exhausting. Commercially, it obviously means a lot, but it is pressure for everyone. When you are in the competition, it isn't so much about who will win but being under the watchful eye which can possibly have an effect of your job or your employment.
EF: I imagine it can be overwhelming.
BdJ: Well, it isn't overwhelming where it shuts you down or anything. It is more like an added layer that can be unnecessary. It is an added part of the show that does make it exciting.
EF: Congratulations on your Tony nomination for Sweet Smell of Success. Take me through that process of finding out and sitting there waiting to see if you won.
BdJ: It was thrilling. I go back to all the things that precede that moment. There was so much to do including luncheons and press things. It was exciting and also taxing. What I remember was walking through that maze with John Lithgow because he had been through it before. He had gone through it and was familiar with the territory. That was great. To be among all the people who were acknowledged that year was unforgettable.
EF: Let's change gears and talk about your recording of "Christmas Eve to Christmas Morn." What made you decide to do it? I understand you wrote the lyrics to three of the songs. I think this is something new that people didn't realize. Sounds exciting.
BdJ: There had been lots of discussions about me recording an album. A lot of Broadway performers have done it and I've been asked many times if I would do one. I wanted to do it the right way and the way I wanted to do it was to write my own songs and do my own thing. Part of that was made possible because the production of White Christmas was bubbling then and I thought it would be the perfect time to marry the two things and have them happen at the same time. That was the deciding factor for doing the Christmas album. The genesis of the whole album was the song I had written for my hometown at a benefit the year before called "Michigan Christmas." It was a song about being home at the holidays. It went over really well in Saginaw where I grew up. I recorded it with Dan Lipton who arranged it and it got on the radio. From there we just did some Christmas songs and arrangements the way I wanted to do them. I learned a lot. I'm happy to say it is doing well. It is the first time I went out on a limb in an emotional and financial investment way to create something.
EF: Does song writing come easy to you?
BdJ: I go in spurts. I love to write music and love music in general. I have to be focused on it and haven't been able to do it since my daughter has been born. I know I'll get back to it sometime. I call myself a dabbler and do it more for my own satisfaction. If anyone likes it, that is just a blessing.
EF: Has there ever been a show or character that has really pushed the envelope for you?
BdJ: The one that stands out for me is a play called The Good Thief. It was a defining experience for me. It was an extraordinary character. It was an hour-long monologue. I worked for a guy named Carl Forsman who has become a friend of mine. He is a talented director. The combination of him deciding I was capable of doing it and the challenge of getting it up and giving life to it was a great experience. It was pushing the envelope for me in a lot of ways because of the emotional life of the character and the demands of how we wanted it to play out. It was in the confines of a voice of one actor telling a story for an hour with nothing but a chair.
EF: It sounds like the experience was very meaningful for you.
BdJ: It was a plateau I wasn't sure I could reach and once getting to it knew I could do it.
EF: Talking about pushing yourself, I can't help but ask if there was ever a co-star or someone creatively affiliated with a project you've been involved with that enhanced your performance? An analogy might be if you run in a race with someone faster, you tend to push yourself to run faster. Have you had that experience in a show?
BdJ: The boring answer is that inevitably everyone you work with does that to some extent. It happens all the time that you step on stage.
EF: If you look back in your career, there have been a lot of incredible successes, validation, numerous awards and nominations ...
BdJ: (laughing) ... Well, I don't know about that.
EF: How would you define success in terms of being an actor?
BdJ: That is a good question. I think it constantly changes. For me, being successful is feeling like you are being honest with yourself as to why you are doing what you are doing. Sometimes you are forced to ask yourself why am I doing this and what is the purpose and what am I trying to achieve? To be successful you have to have a certain sense that you are honoring what it is you believe that you should be doing. Artistic expression is subjective. The amount of applause or money to be paid can't waive you. You have to feel you are doing it because you want to do it. I'm proud of what I'm doing and happy that I'm getting the chance to do it.
EF: It is a unique career in that you bring the audience on a journey. It is an amazing talent. Is that something you take for granted?
BdJ: Well, I'm aware of it. It happens to me when I see a show. I'm immediately reminded that the people seeing a show want to have that journey. The reason you go is because you want to be there. To be part of a group of actors that is satisfying that desire is nice to be reminded of.
EF: You have a great fan base and a website people learn more about you.
BdJ: I have to admit it was born out of being responsible in a commercial sense due to the album. I wanted people to have a place to go get it. I've always been a few steps behind in terms of promotion or being able to fully embrace that idea without cringing. It is helpful to people who want to know what is going on and keeps them informed.
EF: Thanks Brian for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with me. Great success with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
BdJ: Thank you.