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`Queer As Folk' Star Randy Harrison Embraces `Amadeus' Role; (june 2006)

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`Queer As Folk' Star Randy Harrison Embraces `Amadeus' Role; It Is,
He Says, `Exactly What I Want To Be Doing' from Hartford Courant [June 18, 2006]

Story By FRANK RIZZO COURANT STAFF WRITER| Photos by CLOE POISSON
THE HARTFORD COURANT




Randy Harrison's a long way from Babylon.

For five years Harrison played the blond, boyish and not-so-innocent Justin Taylor in Showtime's "Queer as Folk" series. At the height of the show's media blitz, the actor was named "the post-gay gay icon" by New York Magazine, and fans associated him with his party-boy character who frequented the show's fictitious Pittsburgh gay dance-bar called Babylon.

Harrison publicly smiled at all the attention - and privately cringed.

Since the show's run ended last year (the DVD of the final season was released last month) Harrison has chosen an unexpected career path. Instead of pursuing roles in television and film, where his youth, good looks and "Queer" persona could be exploited, he is working on his stage credits in demanding roles that range from Shakespeare to "Amadeus."

Last summer he played Alan Strang in "Equus" at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, giving a strong and sympathetic performance as the stableboy who blinds six horses. This month he returns to the theater, where he stars in the title role in "Amadeus," playing the driven genius composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The play opens Tuesday and continues through July 8.

At a recent interview in Manhattan's East Village, we meet at a breakfast hangout not far from where Harrison used to live. Wearing jeans, T-shirt, and a slight stubble, the 28-year-old easily blends into the far-from-chic neighborhood where young artists have not yet emerged. He is polite, serious and, one senses, a little wary about the interview.

Talking about growing up wanting to be an actor seems like a safe place to start.

Harrison was born in Nashua, N.H., where the arts - and especially theater - played a big part in his boyhood. He started acting at 7 in school, community shows and summer theater camp in the Catskills at Stagedoor Manor.

When he was 11, Harrison's family moved to the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta. "But I still consider myself a New Englander," he says.

In high school (it was the time of Kurt Cobain and grunge), he was "that brooding theater guy." He attended the respected theater program at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Not being tall, dark and a baritone kept him out of musical leading man roles. "It was easier to push me into the chorus," he says.

But Harrison did not take well to being pushed.

Frustrated, Harrison wanted to show there was life for him beyond musicals. He quit the show he was in during his senior year and, with a few friends, staged his own production of the provocative British drama with the unprintable title, "Shopping and ****ing"

"In a conservatory that strict, it was seen as a radical act," he says. "But I learned that if opportunities aren't coming to you as an actor, you have to make your own opportunities."

As graduation neared, it was clear to Harrison that his future was not going to be in musical theater. When it seemed everyone else in his class signed on with agents looking for the next Broadway musical star, he was passed over. After graduation, he managed to find one agent, but only on a free-lance basis. As he was contemplating his next step - Los Angeles was the leading option - an audition for a new cable series came up, for the role of the 17-year-old Justin.

Within days, he was flying off to begin shooting in Toronto.

"It totally changed my career," he says.


Harrison says he never felt comfortable about the publicity surrounding the TV show, which became notorious for presenting one slice of gay life - sex, drugs and dance clubs.

"[The attention] was all bizarre, and it embarrassed me, for some reason - then and now," he says.

"It's frustrating when people don't look at the work as just the work," he says. "The show was the show, and our job was to act in it, but it sort of became us representing something bigger, and it shouldn't have. It will be easier in the future to look back to see what it all might have meant - if it meant anything else than just being a TV show."

Though `Queer as Folk' rewarded Harrison with exposure and money (he bought a house in Brooklyn), "it became frustrating because it was five years of doing a similar thing, even though my character changed a lot over the series, thank God."

He worked during breaks from the series: in a made-for-TV film, "Bang, Bang, You're Dead"; off-Broadway's "A Letter from Ethel Kennedy"; and as Baq in a 2004 summer run of the Broadway musical "Wicked," where he was seen by director Scott Schwartz, son of the musical's composer.

When Schwartz was casting "Equus" for the Berkshire Theatre Festival, he thought Harrison could be right for the role of the troubled and intense teen.

When Harrison's name was placed on the list, there was an immediate buzz around the office, says the theater's executive director Kate Maguire.

Harrison says his visibility on "Queer as Folk" helped in landing the role. "I don't know if I would have gotten to do `Equus' if I didn't have the guarantee of bringing in a certain amount [of attention] because of `Queer as Folk.' I might not have even got to audition if it wasn't for the show. But I was asked back [for `Amadeus'] because of `Equus,' not because of `Queer as Folk.'"

Maguire says "Amadeus" is selling at double the numbers "where we were last year for this slot and there are nights in this run when you can't get a ticket. It has a lot of do with the title of the play but a lot has to do with Randy because people call and ask for `the Randy Harrison show.' We have people calling from all over the world - Germany, Japan - who are part of his fan club who are coming to see the show."

Maguire calls Harrison "A natural. Talented beyond his age. And an actor who is searching out ways to deepen his talent. While he was part of a TV show which brought him some notoriety, he's also very concerned about taking care of his talent."

Harrison has studied with Anne Bogart and performed with her SITI company, most recently as Lysander (as well as Flute and Cobweb) in "A Midsummer-Night's Dream" at the Alabama Shakespeare Company last month. Bogart says Harrison has "a real appetite for the stage and what is asked for a stage actor. That's just who he is. He's also a theater mensch."

For "Amadeus," he is directed by Eric Hill, Maguire's husband who was director of performance training at UConn's theater program before leaving to head Brandeis University's theater department in 2004. Hill is also a teacher of the Suzuki Method, an acting technique that is physically intensive.

Harrison's seriousness of purpose paired with his choice to downplay his fame, sometimes keeps his at arm's length to outsiders.

"I've never had this conversation with him," says Maguire, "but I get the sense that Randy believes in order to take care of that talent he needs to remain somewhat private." (When asked at the end of the interview about his personal life - he simply says he is involved in a relationship.)

And after "Amadeus?" Did the "Wicked" stint make him think about returning to the musical stage again?

"No, no, I mean ...no." Then he pauses. "I will always love to do musicals - every once in a while. But if you get known for doing primarily musical theater it's really hard to do other things like Shakespeare. It's important to me that I don't get stuck anywhere, to not just being that `Queer as Folk' boy or that musical guy. But it's always a fight and it can be frustrating when you're just trying to prove to people what you're capable of doing.

"My ultimate goal was always - and still is - to do great theater in New York or regionally, mostly non-musical theater. What I'm doing now is exactly what I want to be doing. What I'm trying to do now is do these great roles wherever I can do them with good casts, good directors. Now that I have some financial security - which is an amazing feat to have at my age as an actor - I feel like I can make these choices. I just want to become a better actor every time I act. I want to really challenge myself and I think the only way to do that is on stage."

Contact Frank Rizzo at Rizzo@Courant.com.

"Amadeus" begins performances Tuesday and continues through July 8 at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Mass. Tickets are $37 to $64. Tickets and information: 413-298-5576,



@темы: theatre, Amadeus, 2006

   

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