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Interview with Bryan Batt

Read Nancy's follow-up interview with Bryan on Talkin' Broadway

Bryan joined the company only recently, but he feels very much at home in the Minskoff Theatre. That's because he's understudied Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard, and played the Pharoah in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the same theater. To call him enthusiastic would really be an understatement. As a matter of fact, he just beams when you talk to him. He's so grateful for the opportunity to play Percy and has nothing but wonderful things to say about the experience. Even when he was talking about performing while sick or injured, he was so thrilled to have the opportunity that he didn't seem to mind at all.

NR: I understand you're from New Orleans?

BB: Mm hmm. Born and raised.

NR: Can you tell me a little bit about growing up there?

BB: I go back there as often as I can. I have a lot of my family there and I became an uncle not too long ago - twice. I have two little nieces down there so now there's even double reason to go down.

Hmmm, what's it like growing up there? Unfortunately, there wasn't a great theater community. There is a small theater community but New Orleans has such a great free entertainment thing. They have Mardi Gras, they have jazz. It's just such a very unique, special city. It has its own kind of food, its own kind of music, its own kind of way of life, its own architecture. It's very laissez-faire, very fun. Everything's about a good time. But I remember seeing my first touring show that came to New Orleans and I thought, "This is what I want to do."

NR: When did you come to New York?

BB: I moved up right after college. I wanted to leave right away. The minute I wanted to become an actor seriously was in college and I wanted to drop out of college right then. My father was not well at the time. The reason I went to college in New Orleans is that my father was sick and we made a deal. He said that if I stuck it out he would help me my first year, which was very nice. He died right when I graduated so I was glad that I stayed and we had that time. He was ill for a long time. The last four or five years of his life, they found an experimental drug that kept him alive. He was practically bedridden and my mother never gave up. After this drug he was going out to dinner with my mom and we were going places. He was having a life.

NR: When you came to New York, were you looking for musicals, or just acting in general?

BB: I wanted to be in SHOW BUSINESS!

NR: (laughing) Oh, OK. New York show business, not California show business?

BB: You know, it's funny. All my college professors were saying, "Bryan, go to L.A. Go to L.A." I always had it in my head you do stage, you learn your craft on stage, and then... I guess because you would hear all the stories of all the biggies that were in theater in New York and then went out to California.

I had gone to New York with my mother when I was in high school, and the first time I came here I thought, "This is where I want to live." I HAD to be here. One of my first shows that I saw was Gilda Radner Live from New York at the Winter Garden Theater. I'll just never forget sitting there with my mother and my grandmother at the time. I was in high school. I think I was a freshman or a sophomore, and she came out. My grandmother was a very old Southern lady and she had gloves on when she went to the theater. This was the late `70s. I remember the first thing Gilda Radner sang was this song called "Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals" in which she sang every four-letter word. We were in one of the boxes at the Winter Garden Theater. I thought my grandmother and my mother would stand up and walk out. I looked over at them and they were clutching each other laughing so hard. Tears were running down their faces. It was great. They were very supportive, very supportive.

When I first moved up it was very hard because I had to relearn. What you do in college, especially when you train so far away from the real theater community, where you're really auditioning for jobs... you audition for shows in college, but how many parts in the plays are you doing that you're right for, that you really are going to be cast in? So, you move up, fresh out of college, and the things you're going to be seen for are the young kids on the soaps, the teens and the troubled young people. Right then was when all of the "Brat Pack" thing was going on. That's what I was seen for. I don't know how it happened, but I started doing musicals. I could sing and I could dance a little so I started auditioning for musicals.

NR: You created the part of Darius (in Jeffrey) on stage and then in the film...

BB: Yes. It was really funny because I was doing Cats at the time. My agent, Bill Timms, who's the greatest - it was because of him that I got this part. The other agents were out. The script came across his desk and he said, "I don't know why Bryan, but I think you ought to read this." So, I did and I went in. In fact I said, "I'm not right for this. It's this flighty chorus boy. They're going to want a pretty little blond boy and I'm a big burly brunet guy. I don't fit." But, there's some sensibility in me. Paul Rudnick said there was this innocent thing in me. It was in me somewhere and it's still there. I'm trusting of people. I want to believe the best, and I think that's part of Darius. I read the script. I went in and it went great. At my call back, Paul Rudnick said, "Are you really in Cats?" And I said, "Yeah, now and forever." Originally, the part was a dancer in Grand Hotel but when I said that and he saw that I was in Cats, he started rewriting. That's what he told me. He knew that it was going to be me and he started rewriting so then the character was in Cats. The play was wonderful. There was a great cast - Harriet Harris and Edward Hibbert. They moved us out to L.A. and we did the play out there. Everyone was telling me, "You're going to get a sitcom just like that" which I would love. But then, everyone else stayed and I came back to New York for something. I got another Broadway show so I just stayed here. I did Joseph at this very theater.

NR: What was the difference between doing the same character on stage vs. on film?

BB: It was very bizarre. I had done the play for almost a year, and there becomes a rhythm with the laughs and you know how to set it up for the audience. Especially Paul's writing, it's very clear. You know when they're laughing, how to get to that point. It's very clever, and brilliant - he's brilliant. With the movie, it was the first film I had ever done, and the director Chris Ashley, who also directed the play, said, "Bryan, just remember that there's no audience. Don't look at the camera. Just be the character. AND, match Patrick Stewart's level."

NR: (laughing) Gee, no pressure there.

BB: (laughing) That's right. I was thinking, "That's not going to be so easy." But Patrick was so gracious, and so giving, and so wonderful, because he had seen the play in L.A. and he was hoping they were going to cast me. But, that's basically what happened. I had the luxury of doing the part for a year so it was in my body. It's just like when you watch Douglas (Sills) on the stage. He's so brilliant but he's done Percy for over a year, so whatever he does, it's Percy. I'm still thinking, "Oh, gosh, the last time I was on, I didn't have this foot in the right place, and I was too far over this way." Just last week, after I went on a couple of more times I was able to relax more through it.

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Interview conducted and photographs by Nancy Rosati.

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