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Brian d'Arcy James: From "Shrek" To "Smash" And Soon Bay Street In The Hamptons

Originally Posted: May 16, 2012

Nicole B. Brewer

Brian d'Arcy James (center) with Debra Messing, Christian Borle, and Emory Cohen at the world premiere of "Smash" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC in January 2012 hosted by NBC Entertainment, The Cinema Society, and Volvo. (Photo: PatrickMcMullan.com)

Sag Harbor - Veteran Broadway actor Brian d'Arcy James has enjoyed a successful TV season as the under-appreciated husband of Debra Messing on NBC's hit show "Smash". He and the very funny Ana Gasteyer, of "Saturday Night Live" and "Suburgatory" fame, are headed to the Hamptons on Memorial Day Weekend to star in "One Night, Two Voices, Three Cheers" at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. I had a chance to chat with Brian this week to talk about his hit show, long Broadway career, and grilling in the Hamptons.

Nicole B. Brewer: On NBC's "Smash" you work with a pretty amazing cast including the iconic Angelica Huston, Debra Messing, and "American Idol" breakout star Katharine McPhee. That's not a bad gig if you can get it.

Brian d'Arcy James: They are all incredible people and they are all lovely and really fantastic. I didn't get to see them all every day but I spend most of my time with Debra and she's just really an incredible person from my point of view. I was a fan [of hers] to start with and doing these scenes with her was a luxury. In the beginning of the show I didn't know Angelic Houston or Debra, I knew Katharine a little bit, and it is a little daunting jumping into the pool with these legendary actors. Thankfully their personalities are great and with the way they carry themselves you see they are ready to collaborate. They are really kind and interesting and funny and it's just a great relief to know that these people that you look up to are really exceptional people.

NBB: What's coming up for "Smash" show next season?

BDJ: I have no idea [laughing]. I literally have no clue. I'm scouring the Internet to see if there are any clues out there to what's happening. Your guess is as good as mine.

Brian d'Arcy James and Laura Linney in "Time Stands Still". (Courtesy Photo: briandarcyjames.com)

NBB: Beyond "Smash" you made the rounds as a guest star on Showtime's "The Big C" with Laura Linney and had your first nude scene, how was that?

BDJ: It was fantastic, Laura Linney is a good friend and we spent a lot of time doing a play, "Time Stands Still" on Broadway and to Laura's credit she kept me in mind for things for her show. When I got the call I was so happy because I was a huge fan of the show and I jumped on it. It became apparent it was going to be a really interesting part based on the storyline and what this guy was up to. It also gave me a chance to work with another actor, John Benjamin Hickey, and get to know him a little bit better in an intimate way [laughs]. They have some titans in the acting world on that show and it was a great pleasure to do that show.

NBB: You've had quite the Broadway career these past 20 years, with a Tony award nomination for "Shrek" and both Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk awards, and other accolades to your name. Between Broadway and TV and the other things you've done, where does your heart really lie?

BDJ: People like to categorize what people do and where they do it when you're an actor. For me my heart lies with acting and getting jobs that allow me to act. It doesn't matter if it's in film or on television or on a stage. I've been on stage and been lucky to continue my experiences by doing theater. I've also been lucky this year to have had some consistent time doing television, which is a thrill for lots of reasons. I've been trying to do this since I moved to New York. I've been trying to get a TV show and a movie career going and it hasn't been for lack of trying to get that done. When you get a chance to sit down and work on a network series it's a real luxury. As long as I'm doing something that I find interesting and creative and rewarding then I'm happy. Am I leaving the theater? No. I think back to something that Laura Linney said when someone asked her why she left the theatre, she replied that she had never left.

Brian d'Arcy James with Sutton Foster, Cameron Diaz, and Daniel Breaker at the opening night party for "Shrek The Musical" at The Plaza Hotel in NYC, in December 2008. (Photo: PatrickMcMullan.com)


NBB: You're coming to the Hamptons this summer during Memorial Day Weekend for Bay Street Theater's "One Night, Two Voice, Three Cheers" with Ana Gasteyer, who starred on "Saturday Night Live" for many years. How did that show come together and what can we expect from you two?

BDJ: Ana and I are represented by the same agency and went to Northwestern University together. She was the toast of the "Meow" show at school and then she went on to "Saturday Night Live". There was a phase in our relationship where I really didn't know her so much as a friend as I was enamored and blown away with what she was doing on the show. And having known her and then seeing this new incredible version of her work every week really put me in major fan status. I remember talking to her during her run on SNL and having this fluttery heart feeling. She's just so damn funny! She's also an extraordinary musician and her Broadway career proves what she's capable of doing as an actor in roles that don't require a comic bent. She's quite a force and really an interesting person. She's always got an unexpected card up her sleeve. What can you expect from the show? I have the expectation of her being funny, that's how she's been defined, and she is. I think she honors that in what we're going to do and I'm going to try to hold on to her coattails and do whatever I can to not screw that up. We're going to have some fun doing some old funny songs that we'll sing together and maybe lampoon a few things. But also there's going to be some great moments of us singing songs we've had the pleasure of doing from our Broadway careers.

NBB: So it's kind of a Broadway revue, entertaining, comedy show that will have a variety show feel in the choices of music?

BDJ: That's a great way of putting it. It's really a unique thing that we're putting together. We've done these things independently of each other. We have songs in our back pockets that we've done before but we're doing a lot of things we've never done together. Especially for me I'm doing a lot of things I've never done before at all. I love the way Ana thinks about these things and it'll be a show [laughs] that I'd really want to see. She's got this quotient of really rounding out the corners and making it really entertaining and really funny. I feel so excited to be in the show and watching her as well.

Brian d'Arcy James and wife Jennifer Prescott at the Atlantic Theater Company's Annual Spring Gala at The Lighthouse, NYC in March 2011. (Photo: PatrickMcMullan.com)

NBB: You'll be in the Hamptons this Memorial Day Weekend with your family. What will you be doing? You can't work all the time.

BDJ: I have a history with Bay Street Theatre and I'm happy to reacquaint myself with the folks there. I have a friend who lives in Sag Harbor and I'm open to hang out. I love that stroll down Main Street, there's something so peaceful and settling for me to be there. I'll probably be wandering Main Street for at least six hours on either Saturday or Sunday.

NBB: Strolling down Main Street? You'll be accosted by fans left and right! Are you able to walk the streets or are you still able to fly under the radar a little bit?

BDJ: Well, yeah, it's hard to ignite for me, there are hardly gaggles of people screaming for me wherever I go but we'll see. It's not "A Hard Day's Night" by any means. Being on a television show on a major network like NBC it's surprising to me that people who watch the show in New York aren't shy about telling you what they think. Even if it's a positive or sometime negative way and I kind of love that. For me to be a recipient of that is a new thing. Learning to appreciate that and absorb it really cracks me up. I always wonder, "Are they talking to me?" I did talk to someone just yesterday who said, "You should just give her a chance" and I said, "What are you talking about?!" Everyone usually takes my side [when it comes to my role as 'Frank' on "Smash"] but this woman said, "But he's really cute." I thought [laughing], "Well, that's a first," in response to my TV wife's infidelity.

Ogre? Yes. King of the Grill? No! Brian d'Arcy James as his Tony Award nominated alter ego, Shrek. (Courtesy Photo: briandarcyjames.com)

NBB: Will you be a King of the Grill on Memorial Day or will you hit the beach?

BDJ: My grilling abilities, despite my incredible culinary expertise on the show "Smash," [laughing] my real abilities, well I couldn't boil water. I won't be spending my time making burgers or anything edible for anyone unfortunately. For me and my wife, Jennifer Prescott, the beach will be the place to be and I choose that option.

NBB: In addition to everything you've done on Broadway, you've had the experience of singing at the White House for President Barack Obama. How does that compare to everything else, that's one hell of a stage.

BDJ: It was a small stage. We did it in the East Room and that's really notable because of the size. The President and First Lady [Michelle Obama] are about five feet away from you sitting in the front row and it's really very intimate evening. The people there that produce that evening, the PBS folks, were really good at communicating that "the President will be five feet away from you" and again "the President will be five feet away from you." And they said, "Make eye contact with him and get it over with." By the time you get into the situation that is really overwhelming you've been mentally preparing for what's going to happen. It was a thrill, it was just a thrill to do that. I'm a huge fan of the President and I was amazed by just how gracious and open and genuinely how excited he was to be enjoying the evening and that was helpful. When you're doing these kinds of things you want to know that it's really entertaining for the people you're doing it for. I really got that sense that he was really enjoying what we all were doing for his family. It was a real thrill to do that for him and to meet the First Lady.

NBB: The Hamptons.com readers wanted me to ask, "What's up next for you?"

BDJ: When you're doing a TV show you are at the mercy of finding out what's going to happen season to season. Luckily, we have a second season [of "Smash"] coming so that's my next acting gig. There's nothing out there that's planned for Broadway. The thing that I'm doing next that I'm really excited about is a series of concerts at a new venue, 54 Below, which is actually below the old Studio 54. I'll be there June 26 to June 30, 2012. I have a great band and I'll be singing a lot of pop songs from the 70s and 80s that I grew up listening to that I love. It'll be a departure from what people expect from my Broadway career but pop music is really my first love and I'm going to try to honor that. It'll be in the vein of Squeeze, Todd Rundgren, Steve Winwood, that kind of flavor.


Nicole, an award-winning journalist, is Executive Editor & Publisher of Hamptons.com where she focuses on celebrity interviews, fine living and design, social events, fashion and beauty. She lives on the North Fork with her husband, their two daughters, and Bernese Mountain dog, Cooper. www.hamptons.com HamptonsOnline NicoleBBrewer NicoleBBrewer NicoleBBrewer




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