Jerry O’Connell (Crossing Jordan, Stand by Me and more) is a charmer. He shakes your hand with a 10,000 watt grin on his face. He tells self-deprecating stories with a tumbling ease. And now, with wide-eyed eagerness and well-honed comedic chops, he’s making his Broadway debut in Seminar, a new play by Theresa Rebeck about four writers getting more than lessons in fiction from a sharp tongued and ethically challenged novelist (played by Alan Rickman).
After a recent preview performance, he sat down on the lip of the Golden Theatre stage and shared his thoughts about working with a master like Rickman, being home again and getting his clothes torn off every night.
On the chemistry between he and the other actors playing students: “I think it’s just natural. That group has to have it. The four us do tend to go out after rehearsal and talk about what Alan did that day, talk about the play. Then get a little drunker and have fights over the jukebox.”
On the advantages of knowing Serverus Snape (Alan Rickman): “I know he has that Harry Potter money but he keeps picking up checks. And you wouldn’t want to pick up the check with this cast. Trust me, you’d want to split it as many ways as you can.”
On director Sam Gold: “He’s such a young guy and so talented. …I obviously have a deep respect for him but it’s amazing to see Alan Rickman intently listening to a thirty-three year old director and hanging on his every word. It’s great. I was, like, out of college when he was born. [pause] That’s an exaggeration.”
On being in New York: “I was born and raised in New York, in Manhattan and I went to NYU. …I moved out to Los Angeles and you wake up and you have a tan. It’s fifteen years later and I sort of lost my edge. I have kids now and a wife and all that stuff. And we live in the suburbs of Los Angeles. I commute to work every day in a car and some days I can’t believe this is the way it is. It’s so great for me to come back to New York. My wife and kids are here. My [three year old] daughters are on the subway. They’re getting an edge.”
On dealing with criticism like the writing students dish out in the play: “Let me tell you right now, actors are certainly…this is fact, I’m not dissing anyone…actors are certainly not as brutal with each other with their language because they’re not nearly as eloquent as these characters in this play. So, no, I’ve never dealt with language like this as an actor with other actors. Especially other actors in Los Angeles, you don’t have to worry about that. When you’re in a pilot audition, you don’t have to worry about someone talking about the “interiority” and “exteriority” of some place.”
On playwright Theresa Rebeck: “Theresa is hardcore. That’s what I love about her writing. And hardcore on such an intellectual level. I love it. You just feel smart being around her. You feel smart being in this play. …As an actor, you just have to trust Theresa’s words; they’re that good. You know. I mean, you can just say her words and it’s going to work out and you don’t have to force anything. And as an actor, as a television actor, you are continually forcing stuff that isn’t good. [laughter] I’m not offending anyone specifically.”
On quick costume changes: “Those transitions that we do are so fun to be a part of. And really frightening cause we’re ripping our clothes off backstage and running out here and doing full changes in seconds. A lot of stuff is tear away. I’ll tell you the craziest. It took me a couple of performances to get used to…I had dressers ripping my clothes off. I’m old and married. No one’s ripped my clothes off in decades.”
Seminar opens November 20 at the Golden Theatre in New York City.