Tony Vincent made a splash in 2010, originating the role of the sinister-yet-seductive St. Jimmy in American Idiot. But long before that, he was a chart-topping solo artist . We recently chatted with him about his high-profile successor, vino, performing Andrew Lloyd Webber in China, and his current project—a return to his rockstar roots—among other things. Here’s what he had to say.
So, you’re working on some new music? What’s it sounding like these days? Can you give us an idea?
When I left American Idiot at the end of the year, I was solely going to be writing for myself, as a solo artist, because that’s what I’ve done from the beginning. But over the last month and a half, an old mate of mine, who was in a band called DC Talk [Kevin Max], was like, ‘What would you think about getting together and putting a band together?’ He wanted me to be a part of Bad Omens, which is what the band is called.
We’re massive Britpop freaks. I’m massively influenced by Tears for Fears and Duran Duran and Depeche Mode and The Cure. And it’ll probably nod back to those anthemic melodies, but slightly in a more aggressive way. But definitely within the pop realm.
Back to American Idiot for a sec. How did the role come to you?
I got a call from my agent. The had gone through two workshops of the project and weren’t happy with who they had cast in the St. Jimmy role, or they at least felt that it wasn’t right. It was only three weeks before we went to rehearsal at Berkley, and they just didn’t know what they wanted. Was this Johnny’s alter ego? That was the intent in the first place, but was it more than that? Was there going to be this sort of threesome kind of thing between Johnny and Whatshername? We didn’t know, and Michael Mayer at that time didn’t know. So we were videoed and the tapes would be send up to Billie Joe and he’d be part of the casting process.
So you weren’t face-to-face with Green Day during the actual auditions.
No, because the whole band was on the road at the time. So we’d have auditions. They’d all be captured on video, and then sent to Billie Joe to look at them on his own time. It seemed like a very long week-and-a-half.
What was your awareness level of Green Day before you auditioned for the show?
I knew American Idiot because a friend of mine worked radio promotions at Reprise Records, so she gave me a prerelease copy of it. I couldn’t get past “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and it moved me amazingly. But I don’t think I listened to the record front to back once. This was four years before. Little did I know that we’d be working with the guys pretty closely.
So when you first listened to it, you weren’t really thinking of it as a character or a piece that would be onstage.
Oh, no. I was just thinking that these were fucking great rock songs, but that’s all I could think of. At the time, I didn’t know who St. Jimmy was. I don’t even think I knew the song.
And I’m always very skeptical about bands who try to put their work onstage because, for the most part, Broadway has actors who can sing, and not musicians. So that first time when I was pitched the option to go and audition for it, I was like, really? I don’t know. And then I read the character breakdown and I was like, OK I’m definitely giving this a shot.
How’s your hair these days? Did you consider keeping the pseudo-mowhawk?
Yeah, actually. It wasn’t until two and a half weeks ago that I actually shaved my head. I wanted to try to keep it as long as I could but you know what? It’s great, and it was a signature for the character, but it was the one thing that was kind of holding me back from moving away from American Idiot. And it was just something that I felt that I needed to do.
What was it like passing the torch to Billie Joe after you left?
You mean, Billie Joe being my understudy? [Laughs.] You know, it was such a vocally intense show, when you consider Berkley and the New York version. We knew that there was an opportunity that he would come in to the role again. We all kind of came to the table, and I was like, this is the opportunity for me to bow out graciously, and pass the baton to the guy who wrote the role. And it gives me a chance to start refocusing on the next step in my career.
So, because you’ve worked so often in London, I kind of got it in my head that you’re English. Do you have any English heritage or did I just make that up?
You didn’t make it up. My mother comes from an English background, and my father is Italian, however I’ve been so influenced by the Beatles since I was four years old. I heard a record by them and I knew that music was what I wanted to do with my life. That’s why I’m such a Britpop freak. I’m big time Anglophile. Plus, I spent a lot of time in London via We Will Rock You, and working on a record for Sony. I think I spent a solid 9 months to a year and a half over there.
Also, you’ve worked extensively with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
I had done Superstar, the movie, and we recorded that in London at a place called Pinewood Studios, which is where they filmed all the old James Bond, so there was some pretty cool heritage. And I came back to the states to open it on Broadway. It was an absolutely extravagant opening night. I can’t even tell you how many hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent on it. They basically had floating women dressed in angel costumes hanging from the ceiling all night long. It was totally over the top and amazing.
And then you went to China with one of his projects too, right?
Yeah, there was a group in Australia that wanted to break boundaries and allow his music to be experienced in Asia and specifically in China. They initially wanted to present this massive medley of his material with some celebrities, including some Chinese celebrities, then they could maybe bring Cats over there or something else. So it was a huge concert-type of situation.
It was something that I really loved because it was strictly music. It was really an amazing experience, and it was cool because my sister flew over and we got a chance to go to a very rural area near the Great Wall. It was a major highlight of mine. You can’t really realize its massiveness of it until you see it looping over the hills and mountains. It looked like chaos but was spectacular.
What was your hometown like, and did you like growing up there?
I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I loved growing up there. It’s an amazingly spiritual place for me, but it’s also a great place to grow up in the theater. I went to to high school with Neil Patrick Harris, and he and I acted frequently opposite each other. We graduated in the same class, and Freddie Prinze Jr. went there as well. It was a brand new high school at the time, and it was chosen as one of the top 10 public schools in the country. We did this massive student exchange with the Soviet Union, and that was the first time anything like that had happened. It was a really amazing place to grow up.
Words that you use too often:
Brilliant. But that’s because I’m an Anglophile, and because I think that the more times I say it, the more I’m English. I say “mate.” I call a lot of American things by English-isms.
Words that you don’t use often enough:
More three- and four-syllable words.
What’s the last book that you read?
I’m reading a book called Liquid Memory by the director who did Mondovino [Jonathan Nossiter], which is a wine documentary in France. His writing is absolutely glorious, especially if you’re a lover of wine. He writes in such a poetic way. I can’t speak to it enough, because if I wasn’t doing entertainment, I’d be in the wine business. I actually left entertainment for about two and a half years and enrolled in wine school full time and became a sommelier. It’s something that I have a lot of connection to.
Recommend one (relatively affordable) bottle of wine that we should all go out and get right now.
That is a impossible question to answer! Everybody has such a different palate, and what I think is an amazing bottle of wine, someone else may not.
But, OK. If you like white wine, I would seek out Merry Edwards. Any of her wines are just beautiful. Another good producer is Robert Biale. Their signature bottle of zinfandel is called Black Chicken. It’s a great bottle of wine.
What other bad guy would you like to play, from any realm?
If they ever do a version of Reservoir Dogs onstage, I think that movie is brilliant. I don’t know if you could do it onstage, but there’s a role in that that I’d love to play. I don’t know which character it is because they all have so many different dimensions to them.
Favorite mid-late 90s pop song:
I think “Sewing the Seeds of Love” came in the early 90s?
Yeah, that’s a little early.
OK. “Home” by Depeche Mode.