On Wednesday, November 16, 2011, I attended a special blogger night at the new Broadway show "Seminar" written by Theresa Rebeck and directed by Sam Gold. What made this evening so special was that after the show, we had our own talk back with one of the actors in the show and much to my delight, our very special guest was the one and only Jerry O'Connell! I have been a Jerry O'Connell fan for quite sometime now, so to be able to speak with him for 20 minutes after the show was a real joy! First I'll give my review of the show then I'll follow that up with Jerry's commentary!
"Seminar" tells the story of four aspiring young novelists who sign up for private writing classes with "Leonard" (Alan Rickman), an international literary figure. Under his recklessly brilliant and unorthodox instruction, some thrive and others flounder, alliances are made and broken, sex is used as a weapon, and hearts are unmoored. "Seminar" is humorous, thought provoking, and enjoyable. The cast's chemistry is terrific, each playing off of each other wonderfully.
From the moment Alan Rickman walked on the stage as "Leonard" and uttered his first words to the class, I was immediately taken back to my days of childhood schooling where some of my teachers talked to us in a very similar fashion to "Leonard." Similar to "Leonard's" teaching style, some of my teachers had special 100's clubs for good work or called us morons and idiots thinking it would motivate us more. While this style of teaching never worked for me, it does work for some students, and those are the students portrayed in "Seminar." Each one wants to be a success and get "Leonard's" approval.
Alan Rickman does an excellent job with his portrayal of "Leonard," while Lily Rabe wonderfullly portrays "Kate," a student who fights the male dominated publishing system to get ahead. Lily really show's "Kate's" perserverance and vulnerability to make her dreams come true. Hamish Linklater demonstrates a strong acting ability as he embodies "Martin," a cocky and confident writer to be. Hettienne Park also does a great job as "Izzy," an aspiring writer, who uses more than her words to get what she wants. Saving the best for last, there is Jerry O'Connell who, in his Broadway debut, triumphed as "Douglas," the token jerk writer.
"Seminar" is a show to come see because there is a lot for one to identify with, especially if you are a writer or English major. "Seminar" plays at the Golden Theatre in NYC (252 West 45th Street, between Broadway & 8th Avenue). Click here for tickets! Follow "Seminar" on Facebook and Twitter as well!
Jerry O'Connell was so great to come out after the show to talk to us for a good 20 minutes. He was very personable and excited for our questions. Jerry did not hold back and offered up lots of wonderful stories about being in the show. Below is a summary of our talkback!
Jerry talked first and foremost about the closeness of the cast. They have become a real tight knit group of friends who hang out a lot, even when not at the theatre. Jerry talk about how when the cast goes out to eat, Alan Rickman is always a "tricky little bugger" and somehow always manages to pays, but Jerry's starting to get craftier than him, so now when the cast goes out, Jerry will try to go to the restaurant beforehand and give them his credit card and tell them that Alan will try to pay for it, but he shouldn't be allowed to.
Jerry also talked about the effect each cast member has on him. He feels so fortunate to be able to watch Alan every night, especially his big speech during the show. It's just so mind-blowing. The week "Harry Potter" came out on DVD, Jerry talked about just how crazy the theatre was, but Alan was a trooper with it all. Jerry also discussed how wonderful Alan Rickman has been in helping Jerry ease into his Broadway debut. Jerry is nervous, but Alan has been a great calming factor for him, even giving him acting advice. With all of that said, Jerry didn't want to take anything away from Lily, Hamish or Hettienne...so he made sure to discuss how they can all equally hold their own. Jerry also talked about how wonderful director Sam Gold is and how Sam has helped find stuff in his character that he didn't even know existed.
Jerry spoke of the differences between working in film/television and working on Broadway. He loved having the table reading time for "Seminar" because in film there is usally a producer looking at his watching saying "Okay, you guys ready to shoot this thing right about now? Time is money." Broadway is the complete opposite because you get a chance to dig deeper into your character because you are given more time to do so. Jerry went on to say "I'm a better actor because of it, I'm a better person because of it, I'm smarter. It's been an incredible experience."
I got to ask:
What attracted him to the show originally? Jerry said, "Initially it was Theresa Rebeck. I have auditioned for a few of her plays in the past and did not get them (which is how it goes in the acting world) and this one came up and it's just great. When I went in to audition, I had like 3 days to be off book and I said to my agent, I'm not sure I can do that and he asked why and I said have you seen the opening monologue? But with lots of coffee and peanut M&M's, I did it and I think it was one of my better auditions. I got the role and it's been the most fulfilling professional experience of my life so far. Theresa really knows how to write. I mean, I auditioned for Theresa's show, who initials are "The Understudy," and while I didn't get the role, it was evident she knows how to write for actors. She knows what's going on in their heads. Just like with this show, she knows what's going on in a writer's head, so her writing is brilliant. Theresa's language is so much fun to say and therefore it's so much fun to memorize and therefore so much fun to perform. You can just trust the langauge. Her transitions work so well."
What does he get from theatre that he does not get from film/television? Jerry said, "I get to live in NY for one. I was born and raised here. My kids are here. My wife is here. As far as Broadway, I love taking the 1 train here every night, going to Juniors to get a burger, people coming up to me saying 'Great Job. Loved the play.' Going to Joe Allen's and having people say, 'Oh we saw the show the other night and we loved it.' I actually had a really funny experience at Joe Allen's the other night and the reason I'm telling you this is because it's very complimentary to myself (laughter all around). I love to eat their Steak Tar Tar (which I call their steak sushi because it's basically raw meat) and I was there one night eating it and there was group of older women there, really old. As I was walking out, they all started shouting 'Bravo, oh Bravo.' I was wearing my leather jacket and I said, 'Oh thank you.' They said, what? I said, 'Oh thank you. Did you guys see "Seminar"? They said, 'Huh? Oh, we thought you were Hugh Jackman.' Hahaha. It was kind of embarrassing because I was like 'look Broadway Jerry has arrived' and then it wasn't even for me."
What has it been like to make your Broadway debut and what does it mean to you? Jerry said, "It's been great because so many people from my past are coming to see me, which has been really heartwarming. From a professional level, I'm smarter, faster, quicker, and better. It was a process for me to get here. It was years of auditioning and not getting roles, so it's very rewarding."
Some of the other bloggers asked:
Would you like to do more Broadway? Jerry said, "I would. It's been a great experience."
Has your character taught you anything about yourself that you didn't know? Jerry said, "Douglas" taught me not to talk so much at a party and not to wear socks. Haha. Seriously, I wouldn't say my character has taught me anything, but more that the arc of my character has. It taught me about really fun storytelling. I could really push being a real jerk like in that whore scene, I'm immediately accpeted into the "Kate" crowd where I made it through a "Leonard" criticism and you are still standing."
The play centers around criticism a lot. Is any of the criticism these writers have received the same kind of criticism in acting? Yeah, though the best way to answer this question is to quote "Leonard": "The critics will say worse, to all of you, but if it gets in, you're doomed."
What is the hardest part of the play? Jerry said, "The preview process is tiring because you rehearse all day and then you come and do the show at night and doing the show is exhausting because it's like a workout.