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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

NOT Your Typical LEADING MAN (The Joys of Being a Character Actor)

Your Truly and Kristen Seavey from Lakewood Theater's production of "The Producers".  Photo by Hannah Weston

Welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and this is my little home on the internet to write about theater.

I'm short.  And, often, I'm a little pudgy, though, for the right part, I try to lose weight. Unfortunately, outside of a pair of elevator shoes that give me about two inches of added height, I'm pretty much stuck being short. In fact, one time, I was walking down the street, minding my own business, when a car drove by, and young man, maybe sixteen or seventeen, stuck his head out of the car window (thankfully, he wasn't driving), and yelled, "YOU'RE SHORT!!!!"   I confess, this action left me a little rattled, and I didn't have time to think of any kind of comeback as the car sped away.  I could have yelled out, "BY MOST STANDARDS, YOU'RE RIGHT!," but I didn't.  In truth, I've  made peace with my height, and, while it offers the occasional challenges at the grocery store, I don't look at it as a negative thing.

What it does mean, however, is that I'm not meant to play your typical leading man, and I don't think anyone would really cast me as such.  Once upon a time, this might have bothered me.  Now, however, I am grateful.

I don't want to be the typical leading man.

It's true that one's physical attributes can "type" them as an actor--- the funny "fat" guy, the "ditzy" blond, the "hunky" ladies man, the "thug", the "sidekick", the "plain" friend... there are dozens more, of course.  And yes, this can be very frustrating.  But we must remember, that the "leading man" and "leading lady" types or also just that--- types.  And perhaps these actors get tired of being pigeonholed into those roles as well.  In fact, I would guess from time to time they do.

Why?

Simple:  character roles are often more juicy and more fun.

This isn't to suggest that I haven't played my share of "lead" roles.  Theater has been good to me.  I've managed to play some dream parts like Leo Bloom in "The Producers" (pictured above), Lt. Cioffi in "Curtains", Prince Dauntless in "Once Upon a Mattress", Seymour in "Little Shop of Horrors", and tons of fun parts in non-musicals as well.

The one thing the leading parts I'm cast to play all have in common?  They are not your typical leading man "types".  They are character roles.  They certainly have some leading man responsibilities, but they are not the typical leading man.

Now, I would never suggest that "typical" leading man parts are without there share of fun and interesting discoveries.  Of course they are.  I just wouldn't know how to find them.

A few years back now, I was cast in a production of a musical called "Sugar".  For those who don't know, it's a musical adaptation of the excellent Billy Wilder film, "Some Like it Hot".  I was originally cast in the more sidekick type role that Jack Lemmon made famous in the film, a role that was right in my wheelhouse.  Unfortunately, the actor originally cast in the Tony Curtis role, the more "leading man type," had to drop out of the production.  The director slid me over into that role and cast someone to take the Jack Lemmon role.

Now, this is a musical about two guys dressing up like women and joining an all women band to escape detection from gangsters, after witnessing a hit.  So, two guys in dresses, you might say, wouldn't lend itself to your typical "leading man" stuff.  And, yes, I was always more comfortable in the scenes when I was wearing a dress.  The scenes I had difficulty with, were the scenes in which my character is out of his dress, in a suit, wooing the Marilyn Monroe-like character of Sugar.  Being the charming, confident fellow, you know, the type that always gets the girl.

I must confess, in those scenes, I felt stiff and phony, which isn't a good way for an actor to feel.  Funny enough, I had even played off of the leading lady before... we were opposite each other in "The Producers"!   But, in that particular play, well, her character had fallen in love with the neurotic, naive character I was playing.  She came after me.  In "Sugar", I had to woo her.

It was one of the few times I felt "short" on stage.  And pudgy.  And just not right for the part.  I didn't have a way in to the part.  I didn't know what made a guy like this tick.  I didn't know how to play a "personality".  And, consequently, I was stuck in my head (never a good place for an actor), and felt self-conscious.

I must confess, the young man who took over the Jack Lemmon role got huge laughs, and deservedly so.  I was proud of him.  Of course, I couldn't help but notice how much prettier of a woman he was than me.

So what's the point of this story?  Don't worry about being cast as the "lead" role.  Don't worry about "types".  Go after parts that are juicy, and that you know you can put an interesting spin on.  Yes, it's good to go outside of your comfort zone and try new things, but it's also good to know what kind of roles you might not be best suited for (it helps save a great deal of disappointment to have that self awareness).  I'll never play Paul Bunyon or a retired NBA player wanting one more shot at glory.  But that's okay.

I've always been more of a character.

Thanks for reading my thoughts today.  Please feel free to comment below, and follow me.

Until next time....

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