EF So, no one else has the acting bug?
WC We all acted in high school. My whole family is musical. My dad sings and my mom plays an instrument. They didn't pursue it. I went about it in a round about way. I was a percussionist studying to be a conductor. That is how I got into the whole acting thing.
EF That leads into my next question. When was it that you made a choice to pursue acting?
WC I did acting in high school. I was studying at Oberlin Conservatory to be a conductor. I had taken a few acting classes when I was there. In my junior year, a friend of mine directed a production of Sweeney Todd. I played Anthony. I was approached by many people encouraging me to pursue this. I figured, what the hell, I'll try it. The next summer I did summer stock at Cape Cod. I ended up in lead roles in virtually all the shows. I came back my senior year still playing percussion, still conducting and finishing my degree. The difference now was I was concentrating on acting. I auditioned for a show a friend of mine orchestrated in Chicago. I got the gig. I literally left Oberlin, went to Chicago and became an actor.
EF Did you always sing?
WC Yes. I grew up singing in church. My father and brothers sing as well.
EF Were you always performing when you were a kid?
WC No, I guess I was always the clown, though. I wanted to make everyone laugh. My family was always performing. We did dramas in church. We were also musicians. My dad was a trombone player, and my brother a trumpet player. In fact, we had a jazz band. We were always performing.
EF The entertainment business has the potential for a lot of ups and downs. How did you cope with the low points and what were/are the high points?
WC When I was in Chicago, I started in non-equity stuff. Chicago was a great town in that everything got reviewed. Sometimes you get a name for yourself that way. Of course, you can get bad reviews. I was fortunate in that I got favorable reviews. There were only a few months in Chicago when I didn't work. I remember thinking that I never knew what it felt like not to be working. It was really spooky especially considering the stuff I was doing was not financially rewarding. I ended up landing some bigger gigs in Chicago, ultimately ending up with Saigon which put me on the road.
When I left Miss Saigon, I left without a job. A lot of people in this business say that is a stupid thing to do. My wife and I saved a lot of money, and I didn't want to become stifled. I wanted to leave with the desire to still play Chris. I needed to get to New York, though. I got Saigon right out of Chicago. I auditioned when I got here. I was definitely the new kid on the block. Of course, the downside is that I had no New York credits. I got the one Miss Saigon thing, which I hoped would get me in the door. I did finally get an agent here. I went into auditions and finally the Rent thing happened. It was fluky. I wasn't even going to a Rent audition. I was going to the Bright Lights, Big City audition. They stopped me in the middle of my song and asked if I had auditioned for Rent. They asked me to go upstairs and get the Mark and Roger music. I came in and sang it the next day. A couple of weeks later they offered me the understudy role.
EF So, you always had an optimistic viewpoint in terms of acting and jobs?
WC In acting, you have to know that you are worth something. I knew I had some talent somewhere. Right now I am on a roll. I have other people telling me I'm worth something. When that wears off, you have to remember that you got the first gig somehow.
EF Did you ever have to do a lot of soul searching regarding your choice to be an actor?
WC I knew I wanted to do something in the arts. I love music and I love conducting and hope to pursue that again in the future. When the curtain goes up, I'm doing my art. After that, it is all business. It is dealing with agents, going to auditions, and doing the business thing. If you can separate the two, you are going to make it.
EF Because the acting career is inherently full of challenges, a support structure is often a big help. What kind of support structure, if any, did you have?
WC My family is a great support structure. I always thought I was the black sheep, but was always encouraged to do what I enjoyed. When I got older and met my wife, she became part of that support structure. She is like my agent in a way. She is an objective person and makes me think through everything. She is my support structure along with friends I have in the business. Peter Lawrence, who oversees and casts Miss Saigon, has become a friend of mine outside the show. He gives advice and is of great support
EF Was there someone or something that had a big influence in your life, perhaps a mentor?
WC Yeah, I'd have to say my father, through his music and his involvement with church. Now that you have asked me that, my cousin Larry was an influence. He was always in the plays in high school. He always took my brothers and me to the movies and got us involved. He's a minister now, but still has an artistic flair. I think he really impacted me, though honestly I have never thought of him in that way before. I remember watching him have fun with it.
Now that I'm older, I have seen performers and artists not have fun. Some have taken more challenging roads but there should still be an element of fun. I think audiences can tell when an actor loves the art, the piece, and the storytelling. For example, Brian d'Arcy James loves his gig. He loves telling the story. I love to tell a story. That is my main thing.
EF If your best friend were sitting here right now, how would he/she describe Will Chase?
WC Funny and passionate. The art is the most important thing. Actually, my best friend's name is James, and he did the production of Sweeney Todd I mentioned before. He gave me my first gig. I would describe him the same way.
EF I remember talking to Christiane Noll, and the whole concept of relationships came up and just how difficult they can be in this business. You're married. How do you make it work?
WC We are newlyweds. We will be married three years in July. Being supportive of each other is very important. When Lori came to join me in the tour of Miss Saigon, everyone in the cast knew her. I know this will sound very clichι, but to know me is to know Lori. We are very much wired up the same way.
Touring was very hard on the relationship. Today I have to make decisions in a different context. I have to think in terms of a couple. I had to think if it was better to stay in Rent or take the role of Chris in the Broadway production of Miss Saigon. There are many factors to be considered now like finances, days off and such. The point is, now I have to think for two. When you are single, you can go on a tour for a while and not think about it as much.
EF The tour itself must have been tough especially moving from city to city and staying in different hotel rooms.
WC Well we weren't in hotel rooms because we were in each city for a while. We got apartments. Now, when Lori toured with Cats, it was like living out of a suitcase because they weren't in towns for that long. The second tour of Miss Saigon was pretty cushy as far as tours go.
EF Really! In what ways?
WC Unlike Cats, many people had not seen Miss Saigon. So when we arrived at a city we'd be treated like royalty. Cameron Mackintosh treats his actors fabulously. He is a great producer. As you can see in his shows, he spares no expense all across the board. The only bad part was being on tour. I saw a lot of great cities I had not seen, but I was out of New York. Out of sight, out of mind is really the way it goes here.
EF I have certainly heard a lot of stories about producers. This is different.
WC I remember an interview I did while on tour, and the guy kept talking to me about how Saigon is the show with the helicopter and the big sets. He'd ask what it was like to work with Cameron. I knew he was trying to get me to say bad things about him and how the sets were overbearing . I couldn't say anything bad because they just aren't true. He is very hands-on. He goes to many of the shows. At one party, he was serving us drinks. He is fabulous to work for.
EF Speaking about Miss Saigon, how did you approach the role of Chris? A lot of people had done it before you. It is my guess that you heard the songs and music before. How did you make it your own?
WC I think the character of Chris was always portrayed as being tall, dark and handsome. It has always been the Eric Kunze's or the Matt Bogart's. I didn't fit that profile of Chris. I don't think the first time around they saw me as Chris. When I got around to doing it, their viewpoint changed. It is not all about the look.
What I like to find is what is going to make Kim fall in love with him. The whole bar room is filled with those macho guys. What is different about Chris? There is a sensitive part of him. Deedee Lynn Magno (Kim on Broadway) is great, and she brings a lot of that out of me. Peter Lawrence did not tell me to imitate others. He allowed me to create my own Chris. I think there are subtle differences between my performance and, say, Matt's or Eric's. I was allowed to take risks within the parameters of the role.