Interview with Christian Campbell
Also see interview with Wilson Cruz
Christian Campbell, founder of the Blue Sphere Alliance resident theatre company at Los Angeles' Lexington Theatre, made a name for himself when he starred, first in Los Angeles then Off Broadway, in the 1999 musical comedy Reefer Madness, an adaptation of the cult classic film of the same name. The show received six Ovation Awards, including Best Musical, and won seven L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards, with Christian taking home the award for Lead Performance. For the small screen, Christian was part of the cast of Darren Star's FOX show, The $treet. He has also appeared in numerous films, most recently The Good Things, winner of the Deauville Film Festival's Best Short Film award. Past credits also include the indie hit Trick and most recently The Piano Man's Daughter, opposite Stockard Channing, a story that spans three generations of an Irish immigrant family who are afflicted with multi-generational epilepsy.
Christian dressed in grays and black, with leather jacket, sits down as we begin our chat. Taking a cue from Wilson Cruz's parting comment, I begin ...
John Garcia: So ... how's Neve? (The room erupts in laughter)
Christian Campbell: (totally caught off guard and still laughing) She's good. In fact that was her on the phone that I was just talking to!
John Garcia: I'm sorry I didn't make it to New York in time to see you in Reefer Madness Off-Broadway.
Christian Campbell: Have you heard any of the music?
JG: A friend of mine played some of the songs from the LA cast recording. Since I knew you primarily from film and television, it was a wonderful surprise to hear your singing voice. Well, other than the small solo in the film Trick.
CC: Oh yeah, that was more of a quiet musician's type of singing for that movie ...
JG: What made you decide to tick, tick ... BOOM! and take on this role?
CC: Oh that's easy - the script ... great script. Great script!
JG: Where you able to meet with the Larson family and get a personal history or inside view of Jonathan's life?
CC: I got to talk with his parents, sister, and Victoria Leacock. This is sort of becoming a family business (handling Jonathan's works). Especially with this show, they feel very close to it. They were there for our initial production meetings and early rehearsals. Jonathan's dad stayed in New York for a week and hung out with us, took us to dinner, and so forth. Victoria (who has produced all of Larson's works, including tick, tick ... BOOM!) took me around his digs: his neighborhood, the restaurants, and the people he met in his life. To get a sense of his life.
JG: Did they give you or did you bring any of Jonathan's personal traits or characteristics into the role?
CC: No, not so much and I'm really not looking to imitate him. Scott (Schwartz, the director) told us that this is not us doing an imitation of Jonathan or what he did in the original production. He wanted us to let the material stand on its own two feet. That's what I hope comes out of the show - that it speaks to people as artists, even if you're not an artist. We're all dreamers, which is what this story is all about. To follow that dream, that's truly what the show is about.
JG: What would you say is your favorite song that you get to sing in the show, and which song is emotionally the hardest to perform?
CC: The hardest song to sing emotionally would have to be "Why." It's sort of a lament about him discovering that his friend is dying. I think the most powerful to sing would be the final song, "Louder Than Words." The lyrics, written in 1990, are incredibly poignant, such as "Why does it take catastrophe to start a revolution," and "If we don't wake up and shake up the nation / we'll eat the dust of the world / wondering why." And now this comes out after post 9/11.
There's also a lyric that goes, "What does it take to wake up a generation?" So when I sing that song I get tingles because I think of that insane, horrible day. One of the musicians that is with us played in the original New York production as well. He told us that everyone (cast, crew, musicians) were all in tears when they performed that song because the towers had fallen three days prior. They were still performing after this catastrophe had happened.
JG: For those people who don't know the show at all, or are vaguely aware of Rent is, what would you say to them to make them come see tick, tick ... BOOM!?
CC: If you saw Rent and you loved Rent, and you thought, "Okay, this guy (Larson) was a one hit wonder and too bad he never had a chance to prove himself or who knows if he really was talented" ... if you want those questions answered, this musical proves he was talented and honestly had something serious to say. His death was an incredible loss to the music community and to Broadway. He was determined to reinvent Broadway and to bring in a rock musical. He really wanted to make the Hair of the '90s, and he did, but he never got to see that day. This show proves him as a consistent artist and composer.
Also, this isn't sung all the way through like Rent. This is a play with a lot of music. It's a great, fun time. But, there's a great emotional arc about following dreams and about fears and self doubts that we all have when we follow those dreams. When you put it into perspective with what this guy (Larson) actually accomplished, I think it could be meaningful for everyone. Plus its a rockin' good time!
JG: What do you get from performing the role?
CC: As an actor, complete recognition as an artist of what he went through and what I've gone through, and will continue to go through as an artist. For me, it's a continual therapeutic session up there. To talk about demons that I personally have as well.
JG: Most of your career and exposure has been in film and television. So few artists from those worlds ever go back onto the stage. How hard was it for you to return to the stage?
CC: Oh it's easy - it's easier for me to be on the stage boards; TV and film can be boring. There's a lot of downtime and waiting. You wait for cameras to be reloaded, lights to be adjusted and so on.
JG: I have read that there a sequel to Trick in development. Is that true?
CC: (laughs) noooo. Like what, trick or treat?
JG: (now I'm laughing) ... Not exactly. I think the working titles were The Next Day or The Next Morning, something like that.
CC: (still laughing)... nah, I haven't heard anything about that.
JG: Oh, congratulations on getting married (to actress Erin Matthews)!
CC: Thank you, thank you. Its been a year and half now. She's in New York right now doing Debbie Does Dallas. In fact she will be taking over the title role soon.
JG: The role originated by Sherie Rene Scott?
CC: Yeah. Right now she's understudying a couple of roles, but pretty soon she'll be playing the lead.
JG: How fun will that be!
CC: (smirking now) Yea! Its right down my wife's alley ... the slut that she is!
JG: He means that with ALL his love! ...
CC: ALL the love! ALL the love! Actually in Reefer Madness ...
JG: Is that where you both met?
CC: Yeah ...
JG: Ah, pot and love!
CC: (laughing) ... pot and love!! In it she played the reefer whore who goes after the all-American boy.
JG: Well Thank you so much for talking with me, Christian. I'll be here tomorrow night (opening night) ...
CC: Great - tomorrow will actually be the first audience we've performed this in front of outside of New York. So be ready for some unexpected glitches. It could make it a very interesting opening night! (laughs).
JG: Don't worry. I think regardless of what happens, you will have a lot of hardcore theater people in the audience supporting you guys. We love the new and fresh productions that come through here and we need them!
CC: That's great to hear, because this piece truly does speak to theater people. Hopefully, they will love it.