Brian d’Arcy James has quite a presence, dashing and charming, and lots of leading man talent. I first heard him sing alongside Idina Menzel on the cast recording of The Wild Party. He appeared in the Broadway productions of Shrek, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Titanic. He has just spent the last two hours tap dancing, singing and strutting his stuff on stage at the St. James Theater in the Tony Award winning Something Rotten. d’Arcy James plays Nick Bottom, a playwright desperate to write a hit play. It’s a complete tranformation from his role in Spotlight where he plays reporter Matt Carroll, one of the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe who exposes sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church.
d’Arcy James is having a whale of a time on Broadway, but he’s also enjoying talking about Spotlight and being a part of the movie.
I caught up with d’Arcy James just before Christmas, in between rehearsals for his Carnegie Hall show to find out how Broadway is treating him, but also to talk Spotlight.
AD: It’s such an honor to speak to you! I’m a huge fan!
BJ: Oh, that’s very nice. Thank you!
AD: You’ve got Something Rotten! and you’ve got your Carnegie shows this weekend
BJ: Yeah, it’s a nice way to end the year with a little cherry on top with Carnegie Hall after a pretty extraordinary year.
AD: How exciting and congratulations! There’s a lot going on for you this year.
BJ: I’m going to have to aim to have them all be like this [laughs].
AD: Now you’ve set the benchmark.
BJ: It’s a good goal I think.
AD: How’s everything going with the rehearsals for Carnegie Hall, along with Something Rotten?
BJ: It’s going well. We just had our first rehearsal yesterday with Steve Reineke, who is the the conductor of the New York Pops, and Stephanie J. Block and I are the guests so we got a change to go other all our material. The interesting thing about these songs is that it’s all Christmas songs and so you think, “Oh, I know all these songs,” and then, of course, you start learning them and then you realize you don’t know any of these words [laughs]. You know the first six words and the rest are like “I don’t know these verses.” That was an interesting revelation that snuck up on me pretty quickly yesterday. But, it’s not daunting. There is a little bit of anxiety when you’re singing with the Pops because it’s such a huge, huge sound that you are standing right in front of. It’s like being Leonardo DiCaprio on the bow of the Titanic, just leaning over. You just really feel the weight of this incredible sound behind you so it’s always really exciting to do.
AD: Have you played there before?
BJ: I have, I have. Yes, I’ve been there a number of times actually so that’s good news because at least I know what to expect and it takes some of the mystery away. It’s always very thrilling to be invited to perform at Carnegie Hall.
AD: OK, let’s talk about Spotlight. How did that even come into your realm?
BJ: It came in the way it usually does, in terms of how I get my jobs particularly for films, which is just a good old-fashioned audition. I got my marching orders from my agent. Barden and Schnee, the company that cast this great film, had cast me in a few things and are familiar with my work so they let me come in and threw me into the mix. I went in and I did two little scenes for Tom McCarthy, who was there, and I left thinking that it was great because I got to audition for Tom McCarthy. You just think that it’s fine and you’re conditioned to not expecting too much and making the best of it and moving on. I was very excited and surprised to get the call two weeks later to say, a) that I’ve got it, and b) that I would have to start rehearsals the next day. It was all very quick and sudden. Usually when you’re getting a job you have a sense that it’s coming to callbacks or conversations and you get a whiff of it coming, but this was quite unexpected and a real thrill. I said to Tom that he’s changed my life because this is a big deal to be given the responsibility to be one leg of that table with the other four legs of the table, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams. It’s pretty great.
AD: Did you do this while you were on Broadway with the show?
BJ: No, in fact, I was doing the workshop of Something Rotten! I was, in a sense, but weren’t here on Broadway yet, we were still in the workshop stage. I took a week off from a four-week workshop to shoot in Boston and then I came back, finished Something Rotten!, and then right after those workshops ended I went to Toronto to finish shooting the film. It was great timing in that. I also had the benefit of a very gracious producer here, Kevin McCollum, who, when I told him that I got this film I said, “I can’t do the workshop because I have this film and I have to go because it came up very suddenly,” said “Let’s make this work.” He let me go in the middle of that workshop, which was no small feat because when you’ve got limited time and you have to present this material to all the theater owners and producers in New York to unveil it, it’s not ideal that the leading player goes away for 25% of the time! But it all worked out and it’s just been a really incredible thing. Now, of course, Spotlight is getting all this great attention and it’s back in my life, in terms of my responsibilities and how that effects Something Rotten! so we’re working all that out.
AD: Was is easy for you to switch the hats between going from Something Rotten! workshops into Spotlight, which is quite intense?
BJ: You know, only in the sense of feeling mentally prepared to tackle the information you have to deliver. It wasn’t a concern of shifting gears, in terms of style, if anything, only for that moment when I was doing the workshop I was concerned about giving my full attention to both of those things because they’re both really big important moments in my career. When I was in Boston, I would get the new pages from this musical that was changing every single day while I was gone. When I came back, I really had to buckle down and get it done [laughs] and hope that I could catch up, which I did thankfully. Doing both, it’s not as hard as it is, it’s just a question of concentration and the time that’s allotted.
AD: What about the research that you did for the role?
BJ: Since I was cast fairly late in the process before we started shooting, I didn’t have much time to get to know Matt Carroll, the man that I play in the film, and also because of my responsibilities with Something Rotten! I couldn’t just go up to Boston and meet him. Thankfully, he happened to be in New York right before we started shooting so I got a nice two-hour coffee in with Matt, which I call my crash course with Matt Carroll. My research about him started there, but in terms of the contextual information, all of the information about the Boston Globe, how it operates, the stories that were written, the players involved, that all was basically given to me and all the actors on a small hard drive that Josh Singer, our co-writer, had. He basically had all this trove of information. Everything that had been written was all right there and so it was kind of like being given the keys to the kingdom. You just stick it in your computer and there you go, you’ve got everything you needed to know. Then, on top of that, we had some luxurious time to rehearse. That gave us all a better idea of how the story was told and just all the details and facets of the stories and how they connect.
AD: I met with Josh a few months ago and spoke about all the research he did and, as you say, the wealth of material that he had was a lot of work. He’s Jewish and I read somewhere that you’re Catholic. Are you still a practicing Catholic?
BJ: Yes, I am.
AD: How did that affect you going into this film?
BJ: Right, my first instinct was not to cower from it. I was motivated to be a part of this and to embrace it, not only as an actor, but my Catholic identity. I felt very proud to be a part of the community who was telling the story because I believe it’s something that should be continually and continuously told so that the aspect of an institution trying to cover-up something as heinous as this is an important thing to scream to the world and say that we can’t stand for this, particularly as Catholics, but as human beings. That’s something that I think the Church has definitely heard and are dealing with. I’m hopeful that that is something that is happening in the institution of the Church, that this kind of thing will never happen again, in terms of cover-up. Although, I would like to see more accountability in terms of the priests and the people who knew about this, I’d like to see more definitive accountability in how the Church is coming down on that. I think that is some progress that has yet to be made. Long story short, I never felt nervous about it; it was definitely something to consider in terms of my faith and how the institution that supplies my faith, for lack of a better word, can be as fallible and awful as any human being can be. The terrible and the great things that come with it, we all got a very bold slap in the face about the institutional version of things. Then, of course, you have to reconcile the spiritual with that. It’s certainly was no small thing to consider, in terms of what that means as a Catholic. It’s hard to articulate in a way other than to say, getting back to my main answer which is, that I was very happy to be asked and embraced it with confidence and pride to be part of that conversation.
AD: I am a practicing Catholic, as well, so I was curious to hear your answer. I think I stand in exactly the same way. It’s very interesting. I love the new Pope so let’s see what he does.
BJ: Exactly. I was heartened to hear what he had to say, when he was in Philadelphia, and he did make reference to it. But there’s miles to go and I think this movie is an important part of the dialogue that can continue in the Catholic church as a reminder that this isn’t just going away and, if we can make it go away, let’s continue to talk about it.
AD: Absolutely. You said earlier that you’re the fourth leg on that table with Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams. What was it like on set?
BJ: It was a great set to be on. It was surprisingly pleasant I think because the nature of the material that we were working on was so dark and hard to swallow that we were all very pleased to look away when we weren’t doing a scene and take pleasure in each other’s company. When you’re hanging out with extraordinarily intelligent and funny and charismatic people, it’s a lot of fun, especially for someone like me. It took a couple of days for me to stop staring at these people and just realizing that I’m actually in the same boat with them [laughs] so I better get myself together here. For me, it was just a blast and the amount of trust and camaraderie that was established very quickly I think said something about, not only Tom’s sensibility in putting us all together, but also I felt very grateful to Michael and Mark and Rachel. As a member of that team that we were depicting, they made me feel as if we’d done 50 films together and, for me, that’s just a testament to the types of people that they are, which really helped me and served the film. I was very grateful and it’s such joyful thing to consider when it comes to thinking about this movie because the experience of doing it was just as rewarding as all of the great attention that it’s receiving now. I’ve never really had that experience so it’s a novelty for me and I’m loving it.
AD: That’s great. Didn’t Michael come see the show recently?
BJ: He did! He came to Something Rotten! This is where he shot Birdman so that was really cool. He was showing me all the different things that they did and all the ways they dealt with the challenges of working within the theater. He got very excited about sharing that. He’s an actor through and through who really loves the process of making movies and he’s also a very generous, funny guy. Him coming here was a thrill for me and the cast. He took a great amount of time meeting everybody and just being his great self. It was a lot of fun when he came.
AD: That’s really good. You’re in between shows today, right?
AD: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
BJ: You’re welcome!
AD: Break a leg at Carnegie Hall!
BJ: Thank you! I’ve got to get to memorizing my lyrics in between shows [laughs]!
Brian is currently appearing at the St. James on Broadway in Something Rotten. Tickets and show info can be found : http://rottenbroadway.com/