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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

THEATER TALK: Full Exclusive Interview With Seth Numrich

Katie Buenneke |
April 25, 2013 | 12:28 a.m. PDT

Theater Editor

Seth Numrich. Photo by Garrett Davis.
Seth Numrich. Photo by Garrett Davis.
Seth Numrich: How are you doing?
Katie Buenneke, Neon Tommy: I'm well, how are you?
Numrich: I'm good, thanks! I'm sorry I couldn't meet up in person, I've been running around getting ready to leave on Sunday, so I hope this is okay for you, on the phone.

NT: Yeah, no, I completely understand! You're super busy, so…
Numrich: Thank you so much.

NT: First off, how do you juggle it all? You've been flying all over the country doing this and a pilot for AMC, and you're about to head to London. How do you do it?
Numrich: How do I do it? I mean, I feel lucky just to be working, and you know, I get to be working with people, realistic people who are willing to work with me, and work around my schedule, so yeah, it's just been a lot, there's a lot of stuff to keep track of, but it's a good problem to have, and I'm just trying to be wherever I am as fully as I can be, so I can do my best work. it's just a constant effort, and I'm figuring it all out.

NT: I had the chance to see you in "Golden Boy," which you were great in, by the way, and you were considerably bulkier in January than you are now. How did you physically manage the transformation from boxer Joe Bonaparte to the "skinny" Eli in "Slipping"?
Numrich: Yeah, well, I knew that I was going to be doing it right away, that role, not right away, but soon after "Golden Boy." I did the part four years ago, when I did it in New York, and there's all these references in the play to him being skinny and not eating enough and all of that, so I had to figure that out. So after "Golden Boy," I kind of stopped all of the physical training that I had been doing for that part, and boxing and all of that stuff, and once I got out here to California, I started running, just about every day, up in Griffith Park, and tried to lose a little bit of that weight, so yeah, it worked out, I think it worked out pretty well.

NT: Yeah! I got to see it again last night, and I came back just to see you in the show, because I came on Tuesday, and your understudy was on, and he was great too, it was just a lot of greatness.
Numrich: Well I'm glad that you got to see both of us. Brett is amazing, I'm lucky to have, we're all lucky to have him around to take over.

NT: Due to the changes in the time frame of "Slipping," you have to switch between emotions very quickly. How do you approach that?
Numrich: That's a good question. The way that I look at the play, I try and think about it in terms of how any recluse lives their life, I mean, obviously, we're living in the present, but everyone is is informed by whatever has happened to them, or whatever they've experienced in the past. I like to think of the play in those terms, and that the structure of the play, although it moves very quickly and jumps from place to place, and Daniel [Talbott] is a really brilliant and amazing writer, and so nothing is haphazard, like every scene follows the last scene for a reason. So the play, there's the time period in which Eli and Jake are sort of finding each other and falling in love in a way, as that story is progressing, I think that Eli is affected by his past, his previous relationship with Chris, and also his sort of memories of his father, and everything that happens around the father's death. So I like to think of it in those terms, that every time I take a step forward in the present, and with a new person, a new relationship, there's also an equivalent step that needs to happen into the past, to kind of deal with or confront the unresolved trauma that occurred for Eli, so every step builds on itself, and in a weird way, there is a real logic to how it all progresses, a logic that actually feels like it makes real sense of how we live our lives, you know, when you're experiencing something, oftentimes, you'll go back into the past and sort of re-live, at least briefly, or maybe in an instant, or a few minutes, an experience from the past that relates somehow to what's going on now in the present, so that's how I like to think of those scenes in the play.

NT: Yeah, what I definitely took away from it last night was that, like you say in one of the monologues, his memory goes in somersaults when he expects it to cartwheel, and I thought that it was really cool how that came through in the play.
Numrich: Yeah.

NT: What's it like coming back to the role of Eli four years later? What do you think you're bringing to the role now that's different from when you played him in 2009?
Numrich: Yeah, it's been a really interesting process, I've never had the chance to do that before, to revisit a role I'd done, and I was kind of nervous about it at first, but I actually am really, really happy that this opportunity came along, because I feel like it was a huge learning experience for me. The play now is different than it was when we did it in New York, and partly by design, because we are older now, and just approaching the play a few years later. I was sort of nervous about trying to portray a teenager again, this many years later. I felt like that was somewhat not believable anymore, but Daniel and I got together and talked and brainstormed and came up with the scenes that happen in the coffee shop in New York, in the future or the present, however you want to look at it, so those scenes are new to the play, and it was really great to add those, and in a way, it re-contextualizes the whole play in a new light, so that these characters are—rather than being teenagers and living through, in the present—these are characters, twenty-somethings, who are re-living an experience, or several experiences from the past, so having that new frame for the whole story was great, in terms of comfort level, in terms of the whole portraying, but also it gives us all the freedom to come at this production with a brand new perspective, and the whole production, and the space, and everything is very different from what we had in New York, so it was nice to be able to come to it, trying to remember all of the work we had done four years ago, and take the good parts about that, and keep progressing forward from there, but also have a chance to really approach it new and fresh, and I think that we were able to do that successfully, and I think that the play is better—in a better form, the play itself—is in a better shape than when it was in New York, and it's great to feel like you can come back to something, and keep discovering, and keep moving forward with it, so it was really fun.

NT: Wait, so then in the New York version, did Chris not hang himself?
Numrich: No, that wasn't part of the story in that production, so there wasn't any reference to Chris, or what happens to him, the last you see of him is that scene with him on the beach, and he walks away. And I think it was something that Daniel and I had always thought, and I think we talked about in rehearsals of that first production, that because of how tortured Chris was because of his identity and his sexuality, and there have been lots of stories in real life, sadly, of people who go through experiences, and who do take their own lives, and so we had talked about that as a possibility for Chris' future, and I think Daniel, then, when we had the opportunity to work on the play again, wanted to get that in there as a story point.

NT: Well it really deepened the story, I thought, and made it a lot more heartbreaking, in a way.
Numrich: Yeah, I think for all of the characters, it's nice to now have that sense of a continuation of the struggle for all of them, and see where each of the individual characters end up, five or six years later, and where their personal journeys and struggles have brought them to, and I think it adds a lot to the play.

NT: Yeah! What was the rehearsal process like for the show this time?
Numrich: We had about four weeks to rehearse, more or less, and it was really great. I've worked with Daniel now on like, I don't know, five, six different projects, and I keep wanting to, and looking for opportunities to work with him, because I just love the way that he works in the room, the way that we get to work together, and Daniel is very interested in the collaborative process, and I think we all, all of us, who worked together on this play, believe in the theater as a truly collaborative art form, and so Daniel is not precious at all about his work, or about his ideas, and he puts it out there at the beginning of every process that he feels like—this is not, that he doesn't have any ownership over the play, he says, "It's not my play, it's our play, and we're here to discover it and create it together," and I just love being a part of that kind of process, it feels very organic to me, and it feels like we have a lot of input, and we're all a part of the creative process, so for this, it was a great opportunity to be out here in L.A., in a new place, a new context, and try to bring that mentality, of the work that we had done in New York, and bring it out here and get to work with new people, new actors, and some new design team members, and I think it worked really well. It was always a really fun—I mean, fun as a really dark and scary play, so there are moments, pieces of the process that are difficult, where there's a lot of struggle involved, but always a joyous struggle, it was always a really great experience, and as an actor, as an artist, that's exactly what I am interested in, and it feels like I am, we're all there, we're all in it together, to make the best piece of theater that we possibly can, and I had a lot of fun doing it.

NT: As you mentioned, "Slipping" is a pretty heavy play, how do you decompress after the show?
Numrich: Hmm, that's a good question. Well, with this production, it's so nice to work, doing independent theater, like I was saying, we're all in it together, and everyone is sort of responsible for every aspect of it, and so I have a great ritual that I get to do after the play every night, which is going around the set and picking up all of my costume pieces, all of my props, and it's a sort of tedious task to have to do, but in a way, I'm really grateful for it, cause rather than taking my costume out, and like going out and leaving right away, or seeing friends who came, I always have to do this process of gathering all of the pieces of the performance, or of the play, that I've sort of left around the theater, and fold them up, and put them on hangers, or put them in the laundry. It's a nice way to close it all up and for me, for the next day, to come back to, so that helps.

NT: In just the first half of 2013, you'll have played four widely different roles, ranging from the 1700s to today. How do you prepare for your roles?
Numrich: Yeah, they are very different. I like to do, well, I guess I don't really have a standard approach to preparing for a role. I'm really into doing research for pieces that I get involved with, but that varies really widely, from thing to thing, in terms of what is available, or what type of research you get to do. For "Golden Boy," there was a huge wealth of information that I got to dive into, in terms of the time period, and the world of boxing at that time, and getting to do physical research, in terms of preparing to play a boxer, and so I got really into that, and for this pilot that I just did, that was set during the Revolutionary War, there was a ton of information about that time period, and I was playing, portraying a real person, who actually lived, and who wrote a memoir, so reading his actual words about his life, which is a great resource. And for the play that I'm about to do in London, I actually took a trip to the Gulf Coast, near where the play is set, and spent a few days down there, talking to people, and getting the essence of what life is like down there, and hearing the sound of the way people talk, and so that was the research I did for that, and then for this, for "Slipping," it's slightly less tangible, the research that I did. I mean, I've spent a lot of time around teenagers, I do a lot of work teaching, volunteer teaching through a nonprofit organization, so I spent some time thinking about what it's like being around teenagers, and the particular idiosyncrasies that I witnessed, and that I remember from my own teenage years, and then for a play like this, there's a lot of emotional research that I try to do privately, and then also in the rehearsal room, through improvisation, and different exercises that Daniel led us through, and talking about Eli, we talked about, he has some, probably chemical instabilities in his brain that affect his life, and sometimes thinking about, and researching, and talking about those particular aspects of his character. I guess this is a really long-winded way of saying that it varies, from thing to thing, what types of preparation I do, but I like researching, I like reading, and watching things, and listening to music, and all that stuff.

NT: What's your favorite city to work in? (No hard feelings if it's not L.A.)
Numrich: [Laughs] My favorite city to work in? God, that's a good question. I mean, I live in New York, and living in New York is kind of challenging sometimes [laughs], but I do love being there because it's such a vibrant city, and the art scene so amazing, and the theater is just, there's so much great theater happening that it's a great place to be inspired on that level, but I also really love being out here, because I'm very inspired by the natural world, as well, which you have less access to in New York, and being here, where it's beautiful all the time, and you want to be outdoors, and there are great places to go hiking, and camping, and you can go to the ocean, you can go to the desert, I really love that about L.A., and that's something that is personally very grounding and very spiritually satisfying for me, so I do love that. I've never really spent time in London, but I've heard amazing things about the arts and the theater community there, so I'm looking forward to spending some time there as well.

NT: It's been a few years since you did "The History Boys" at the Ahmanson, what's it like doing theater in L.A. again?
Numrich: You know, it's really exciting. When I was here doing that, I had a great time, and I really enjoyed working for CTG and being a part of that whole community, and it was really fun, but I never got outside of the bubble of that play and that area, really, I was living close to the theater. So this time around, being out here and working again, it's been really great to see the breadth and the scope of the theater scene out here, which I think a lot of people in New York assume that that doesn't exist, that the theater scene doesn't exist in L.A., but it really does, and I've been really pleasantly surprised by getting to go and see some things and really enjoyed the work that I've seen in those smaller, independent theaters out here, that really excited me. Yeah, feeling like in a small way like we are a part of that theater community, and getting to collaborate with people who are a part of this community, and who are creating theater out here on a regular basis, and keeping excited about their work, and excited about sharing our work with them, and it's really been a lot of fun, and eye-opening for me, so I hope that Rattlestick keeps coming out here, and keeps trying to produce theater here, I think it could be a really great thing for them.

NT: Yeah, I definitely agree. Between "The History Boys" and "War Horse" especially, you've done a fair amount of dialect work, what's your favorite accent to speak in?
Numrich: That's funny. Huh, that's a good question. I do end up doing a lot of things with accents, I don't really know why. I think I really like working in a dialect, because it feels to me like a mask, in a way, that it's this thing that you can put on, that can completely change one part of who you are, in such a simple, subtle way. So I do like it a lot. I don't know if I necessarily have a favorite. One accent that I haven't worked on, like, I've worked on it in school, but I haven't had a chance to actually do it, is the Welsh accent, and it's probably the hardest accent I've worked on, but I hope someday to do a play or something where I have to speak in a Welsh accent, cause I think it's really cool.

NT: What is your most interesting hidden talent?
Numrich: God, hidden talent. Let me think… well, I got to, the pilot that I just shot in Virginia, there was a scene that was going to necessitate me to ride a horse, like ride into a scene on horseback, and so they had me training with some horse wranglers out on a farm in Virginia for about five days, riding. I used to ride when I was a kid, and so it kind of came back to me after a few days of working with the horse. Unfortunately, the scene, when we got around to shooting, the scene where I was supposed to ride in on horseback, ended up having to cut that shot because there wasn't enough space to deal with it. Anyways, I didn't get to do it, so I was sad about that, but I'm hoping that if it ends up going to series, I'll get to ride a horse, so I guess that's my hidden talent. Though that doesn't really count, I did it in "War Horse," but that was a puppet horse.

NT: How did you transitioning from graduating from Juilliard at such a young age to your currently-flourishing career?
Numrich: How? Well, you know, it's a process, getting out of school, and I was so lucky to get to the type of school that I went to, and that led me to… it was a great education, and they do a lot to help you out once you leave, and help find agents and showcase you to the casting community in New York and in L.A., so I was so lucky to have that happen, those opportunities. But even then, once those opportunities are presented for you, there's a lot of work of auditioning and making relationships and establishing yourself, and your career. So I spent a few years doing plays here and there, and waiting tables and that sort of thing, and sort of cobbling it together as many and most young actors do. So yeah, I had that few-year period of working and not working, and trying to make my way and I've gotten really lucky with the types of plays that I've gotten to do and the types of people that I've gotten to work with, and you start to see those things start to build on each other, build on themselves, and when you get to work with great people, it builds relationships, and those relationships come back around, and you get to work with great people like Daniel, and so I've been really lucky for that to have been my path and my trajectory. But it is, it's hard work, and there have been moments of frustrations and moments of wondering when I'm going to get another job, or if I'm going to get another job. You have those stresses and things to deal with. But for the most part, I've been really fortunate, and very grateful for the opportunities that I've had.

NT: So much of acting is not just what you learn in the classroom, but also what you learn working with others in the real world. What would you say is the most important lesson you've learned from those you've worked with?
Numrich: I think one of the main things is just to be kind, to be kind and be generous as a person and as an artist, and, like I said, i've had the opportunity to work with some amazing people and amazing actors, and the ones who really have made the most impact on me are the ones who do both, and who are really brilliant on stage or onscreen or wherever, and also are very kind and gracious and willing to work with you, and I think that there's a danger in this business of getting wrapped up in things that don't really matter, ego and all of that stuff, and I really admire the actors that I've gotten to work with who put that to the side, and stay focused on the real work at hand, which is this art form that we're all committed to for whatever silly reason or other. But yeah, it's really refreshing to get to be around people like that, so I think kindness and generosity are the two things that have stuck with me from the people that I look up to, and people who I have gotten to work with who I really admire.

NT: Ok, last question: what's your advice for young people who want to make theater?
Numrich: My advice for people who want to make theater is do it! Do it. That's the only way to do it, is just to do it. A lot of times all of us in this business, especially actors, we get caught up in this cycle of feeling like you have to wait for someone else to give you permission to work, or to hire you, or to cast you, or whatever, and that is a challenge of being an actor, versus being a playwright or a writer or something, who can generate work on your own, but I think, especially in a place like L.A. or New York, or there are tons of places where there's a wealth of artists who are hungry and here and want to create and want to work and want to collaborate, so find those people, find your tribe, find the people who inspire you and that you connect with on an artistic level, and just do it. Just make it happen, and the only way to get better is by doing and failing, so don't be afraid to fall on your face. If we were all afraid, we would never get anything done, and we would never push any boundaries, or progress the art form to the next place, so just do it.

NT: Ok great, thank you!
Numrich:  Absolutely, thank you. It was nice to talk to you.

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