As fan favorite Tom Levitt on NBC’s musical dramedy Smash, Christian Borle is one of a handful of Broadway veterans lending real theatre experience to the much-buzzed about freshman show. Borle’s a true Broadway native with an impressive history of originating roles, including memorable turns in Monty Python’s Spamalot and Legally Blonde (which earned him a Tony Award nomination in 2007).
Presently, he’s Broadway’s golden boy, balancing an exciting gig on Smash with his leading role as Peter Pan’s scenery-chewing adversary Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher, which opened on April 15 to positive reviews. Entertainment Weekly caught up with Borle to talk his raucous, scene-stealing interpretation of Captain Hook, his relationship with Smash costar Debra Messing and his thoughts on the show’s most polarizing character.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve come a long way since being the eBay guy!
CHRISTIAN BORLE: [laughs] It literally has been a decade! That is a long way.
Tell me about Peter and the Starcatcher. Was this a passion project for you?
It became a passion project very, very quickly. It was this random thing that happened several years ago. They were going out to La Jolla to do it for their Page To Stage program, and the actor that they had playing Black Stache got a Broadway show, and so they were scrambling to find somebody. Rick Elice, the author, had seen me do a reading of some random thing—these readings that you do, on the ground floor of shows—and they brought me in and I met him and [co-director] Roger Rees and I quickly realized that these were going to be amazing people in my life. And lo and behold, here we are! It seems surreal, almost, that we’re on Broadway now. It’s very exciting.
And this is your first technically non-musical on Broadway. Do you count it as a straight play, or do you give it a half-point for having some music?
It definitely feels like a play. The songs are kind of organically woven in a British musical kind of way. I think of the end of the first act, and it feels different from a traditional musical. It’s not about people singing their feelings, you know? So it feels like a full-on play to me. It’s so technical with all of the elements, and the sound department is so… I actually have to say, I’ve never experienced a better technically-proficient sound [crew]. So good are they [that] we’re all miked, and I don’t think people realize that we’re miked. But it’s a thriller.
What elements go into the character of Black Stache? I can see a little Dustin Hoffman from Hook, and there’s definitely some Cyril Ritchard in there, right?
Oh yes! Well, Black Stache is the ultimate amalgam, I think. He is a man who is so lost that he basically takes bits and pieces from everybody else, and I as the actor have done that as well. I think a lot of it is just subconsciously channeling all the different people who have played Hook, and the idea that we have of Captain Hook in the Disney cartoon. Now it’s kind of this unbridled id.
And every night, you get to have a showstopping breakdown in the middle of act two.
The best word I can think of, just in terms of how it’s paced and the musicality of it, is that it’s an aria. And I look forward to it every day. It’s so beautifully constructed, over the years. The directors and Rick and I have tried to kind of distill it into only the A moments. It’s ebbed and flowed over the years a lot. It has been thematically different, and within the last incarnation, Rick latched onto the idea that this is truly about Black Stache finding his hero to make him feel whole. So it’s that joyous revelation, as opposed to the defeat, and that’s really fun to play. I just get to torture Adam Chanler-Berat every single night.
Half the fun is watching your facial expressions when you mug to Adam!
Yes, the word is mugging! I try to sleep well at night thinking that it’s character-based, but I think at the end of the day it really is total mugging.
Everything is so well-choreographed in the show – the lights, the sound, the movement. Has anything ever gone wrong?
Little things do, but there’s some strange alchemy built into the show where I think we all kind of feel that nothing can really go wrong, because at the end of the day, we could just turn to the audience as a narrator and say, “Something has just gone horribly wrong,” and they would probably just roll with it.
NEXT: Christian on Peter Pan, Smash and Tyrannosaurus Rex