by Nancy Rosati
Had Mr. Norbert Butz of St. Louis, Missouri realized that some day
his sonís name would be all over New York, would he have insisted
on giving him that name? I suppose weíll never know, but itís
obvious now that the son has made a name for himself.
After several years at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Norbert
spent almost two years in Rent on Broadway, won numerous awards as the
Emcee in the first National Tour of Cabaret, and was the
only actor to receive unanimous raves in the poorly received
Thou Shalt Not earlier this season. He originated the role of
Jamie in the world premiere of Jason Robert Brownís The Last
Five Years at the Northlight Theatre in Chicago and was
nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award. Heís now appearing Off
Broadway where The Last Five Years recently opened at the
Minetta Lane Theatre. I met with Norbert before a recent preview
Nancy Rosati: I hear youíre from a big family. Can
you tell me a little bit about growing up?
Norbert Leo Butz: Iím the seventh of eleven children
- eight boys and three girls. I obviously have the worst name in
show business! Norbert is my dadís name. I have six older brothers
but I was the first one that he helped deliver. He was so moved
by the experience that he asked my mother if they could name this
one Norbert. She said, ďHell no! Iím not naming a child Norbert.Ē
My older brothers are Steve, Mike, John, Tom, Tony. Unbeknownst to
my mom, when she was in recovery, he changed my name on the birth
NR: What was it originally?
NLB: My given name was Timothy James. Tim. I was
almost a Tim Butz. He changed it to Norbert. I think for a week
after I got home, they argued about what my name was going to be,
but my mom subsequently got pregnant again three months after I
was born so I have a brother a year younger than me named Tim.
NR: Did you ever think of changing it?
NLB: I suppose itís too late now. I always had low
expectations of myself. I never thought Iíd be in the position
that anybody would actually hear my name so I never thought of it.
NR: Did you have to fight to get attention when you
were little? Is that where the acting comes from?
NLB: I think thatís part of it actually. I was very
shy and very quiet. When I found out it was something I could do
well, I got some recognition for it in high school and college. I
think that when youíre from a big family, you really do latch on
to things to help identify yourself, to separate yourself from the
clan a little bit. It was the thing that always made sense to me.
NR: Thereís a story going around that you all
auditioned for The King and I. What happened with that?
NLB: My oldest brother was a senior in high school.
Heís about ten years older than me so I was around 7 or 8. They
needed kids - this was in St. Louis, Missouri so we could have
kids with blond hair and blue eyes and still be in the court of
Siam. The director asked if anybody had any kid brothers or
sisters. He brought in four or five of us. One got the role of
Annaís son, another one was the head prince, another one was one
of the cute little kids and they didnít need me. I was devastated.
I was rejected for the first time at 7.
NR: Are you the only one who became an actor?
NLB: I have a brother whoís just starting out. His
name is Jim and heís in New York as well. He just finished college
and heís doing great. Heís a wonderful actor. Weíre looking for
something to do together.
NR: Did you decide in college that you wanted to be
NLB: Yeah. I dabbled in high school first. I was
about a week away from being a journalism major at the University
of Missouri in Columbia. I had my dorm room set up and was already
to go. Iím from south St. Louis, from a very middle class
Catholic family. People donít go to New York and become actors
from my neighborhood. They just donít do it. I secretly auditioned
for a conservatory in St. Louis called Webster University for a
BFA in Acting and I got accepted. I was lying to my parents for
that whole summer. I was petrified to go and tell them that I was
going to turn down a scholarship for a different degree. I just
caught the bug early. In my senior year of high school I started
thinking, ďDo I really want to go and join a fraternity, and take
a lot of classes that I donít think are going to help me do what I
want to do?Ē
NR: Did they give you a hard time when you did tell
NLB: My father didnít speak to me for a couple of
weeks. I donít think he could even look at me but theyíve come
around and then some. Theyíre my biggest fans now. Theyíre very
supportive. It was terrifying to them. My parents both grew up
very poor. My fatherís parents were German immigrants and that
whole middle class work ethic is very strong. They would tell me,
ďFind something practical, make money, do it as a hobby. There are
community theaters all over the place.Ē