Steven Pasquale is a busy man. In addition to preparing to lead a brand new drama for NBC, Do No Harm, this summer he also starred opposite Kelli O’Hara in the new musical adaptation of Far From Heaven at the Williamstown Theater Festival. Before a matinee performance, Pasquale took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with us and talk surprise musical numbers, peanut butter, and just how many performances of Miss Saigon is too many…
Lucky: I saw you in Miss Saigon when I was 16 years old. Was that one of your first professional gigs?
Steven: It was, yeah. I started working right away. I was only 19 years old when I did that show. What city?
L: Boston. At the Wang Center.
S: We had a great time in Boston. I remember it well. I’m from a small town in Pennsylvania so I never ate good food until I was on the road.
L: How is Far from Heaven going so far?
S: Very good. We’re all very happy with where it’s at right now.
L: How did you come to this project?
S: Michael Grief and I had been workshopping a show called Giant – a Michael John Lachiusa show – for many years. We had a sad conversation about me not being able to do that show on the street like a month ago. And he said, ‘Well, that sucks. But because you don’t start shooting your new TV show until August, why don’t you do come do Far from Heaven at Williamstown?’ And the rest, as they say…
L: Is this a project you could feasibly continue with, if it has a future on Broadway or elsewhere?
S: It’s going to happen at Playwrights Horizons in the spring, and there’s a good possibility that I could be available to do it.
L: Even with your TV show.
S: My TV show is a midseason show, so I’ll be done in February.
L: What’s your favorite thing about this character and working in this show at the moment?
S: What I really like is that this character is that he’s not a stereotypical leading man at all. He’s really a tortured, complex, layered person. So it’s been a new muscle entirely.
L: So are you approaching it more like you would a nonmusical role?
S: Yeah, exactly. But it’s extremely demanding vocally, so it’s a fine balance.
L: You haven’t done a musical in a while.
S: I haven’t been onstage in a musical since The Light in the Piazza in Seattle.
L: Can you talk about your TV show a bit?
S: I’m doing a show for NBC called Do No Harm, which is a contemporary reboot of the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Lewis Stevenson about a brilliant and charming neurosurgeon who struggles with an alter ego that wreaks havoc on his personal and professional life. It’s spectacular. I’m really looking forward to it.
L: Are there going to be any surprise musical numbers on your new TV series? Any dream sequences?
S: No. Absolutely not. I refuse. My life as [a screen] actor is pretty separate from my life as a Broadway guy. But it’s always a conversation. Like, ‘Maybe we can get you singing at a bar!’ Like, yeah, this neurosurgeon also happens to be a singer.
L: You had a singing moment on Rescue Me.
S: But that’s because that was ridiculous and funny. This is not a comedy.
L: You grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Were you one of those kids who was doing a ton of theater?
S: No, I was a jock as a kid. I didn’t start in theater until I was a junior in high school. I got hurt playing football, and I couldn’t finish the season and I was really depressed. And my buddy Mike said, ‘We’ll do the play.’ It’s really fun and there’s some pretty girls in it. So I did the play and just fell in love, not just with the idea of acting, but with theater people. Just this sort of wacky world of carnies that we are.
L: What was the play?
S: Fame, the musical. I played Tyrone. They changed his name to Tony.
L: Was that the first time you had ever sung?
S: That was the first time I’d ever sung. I’d always been a good mimic. So I would sing along in my car with like, Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye. So I thought, ‘Well, I can kind of sing.’ But I never took a lesson. I still haven’t.
L: How did you decide to pursue acting professionally?
S: After that school year, I went to Northwestern, where they have this program for young actors. That’s the first time I was around other young kids who were really passionate about it. And at that point, I was like… I have to do this. But I’m from like, a conservative, middle class, Republican household. So they were like, ‘You want to be an actor? That’s the weirdest thing ever.’
L: Was your family supportive?
S: They were certainly intrigued at first. They were like, ‘Oh great. That’s just Steve wanting to get out of doing real work by being an actor.’ And then they saw me in a couple of things and they thought I was really good.
L: How did you transition into doing it professionally?
S: I went to college and I majored in it at SMU in Dallas, Texas. Then I went to New York on a break and I auditioned for the national tour of West Side Story and I booked it, so I went out on the road. That was my first audition ever and I got the job. And I was like, ‘Wow, this is fun. You just audition and they give you jobs.’ The same thing happened with Miss Saigon. That was my second audition and I got that job. I went out on the road with Miss Saigon and I did Miss Saigon almost 1200 times. Which is 975 times more than anyone should do Miss Saigon. And then I moved to New York and was like, Alright! What’s next? And of course I was unemployed for a year and a half.
L: Most important question: What was your first date with Laura?
S: I think we did the ‘We’re all going out to a bar for a drink’ thing. When really all we wanted to do was go just the two of us. So we ended up in the corner intimately talking, while our other friends were being completely ignored by us. That was our first date. Then we’d have this routine where she would come over and I would cook. That’s the only cooking phase I’ve ever had in my life, so you know I was smitten. So I would cook for her.
L: Are you a good cook?
S: Not at all. But it was a whirlwind. She blew my mind.
L: OK, what’s your favorite book of all time?
S: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay . Or Pete Hamill’s Forever.
L: Do you read on paper still, or have you made the switch to digital?
S: I’m an iPad guy, so I’m now reading on the iPad, which I love at night because you don’t have to worry about light. But I do miss the architecture of holding a book in your hand.
L: Are you technology averse? Or are you one of those people who must have the gadget.
S: I’m like a B plus with technology. I kind of understand it, but like… if I have an issue, I have to call somebody.
L: Favorite mid-to-late-nineties pop song.
S: “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” by R.E.M.
L: Did you have a favorite stuffed animal when you were a kid?
S: Of course not!
L: Wait, why not?
S: I’m a man’s man.
L: Oh, come on. Boys are allowed to have stuffed animals. What’s wrong with that?
S: They are. If you rip their heads off. Yeah, no. I didn’t have a stuffed animal, sorry.
L: Wow, no nostalgia whatsoever.
S: No nostalgia for stuffed animals whatsoever. I’m sorry to disappoint you. But I do have other ridiculously sensitive qualities.
L: OK, now you have to tell me about them.
S: I’m a big crier. So if I go see a movie where there’s the potential to cry, I am the one crying in my chair.
L: What is the last movie that you cried at?
S: The Help.
L: I’m trying to imagine you crying at The Help right now.
S: I was crying so hard! I was with my daughter, who was embarrassed. She’s 15, and she was like, ‘Dad. It’s not that sad.’ Or, a beautiful piece of music will make me cry. So I offer you that instead of stuffed animals.
L: Favorite cookie?
S: Peanut butter anything.
L: So your passion for peanut butter doesn’t stop at cookies.
S: I would bathe in peanut butter. Or like… I would have somebody sew a pouch to my chin that’s filled with peanut butter that I could access at any point. If I wasn’t always playing guys who have to take their shirts off… I would have a pouch of peanut butter.
L: How do you feel about playing guys who have to take their shirts of all the time?
S: I hate it. I can’t wait until I’m sixty and I can just grow into my character actor self and just be fat as can be.
S: No. I like being healthy. But it’s certainly a pressure that I didn’t imagine having as a young person.
L: What words do you use too often?
S: I use ‘essentially’ way too often. My wife is the only one who will call me out on stuff like that. She has a super impressive left brain, so she’s very good with language and vocabulary and she’ll call me out sometimes when she thinks I’ve misused a word. That’s a comfort level that we should all strive for.
L: Words you don’t use often enough.
L: You don’t use it often enough?
S: I use it sometimes, but I would like to use it more. Also, shit. And piss.
L: What music are you listening to these days?
S: I’m super into the old-fashioned stuff these days. Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong. Pandora has changed my life. I have a Bill Withers station, and I’ve got a Louis Armstrong station.
L: Before you have to go, I have to ask you about doing The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide… at the Public.
S: Can you say the whole title?
L: I can’t.
S: I can’t either, and I was in the play. Tony Kushner doesn’t remember the whole title.
L: They were calling it iHo for a little while.
S: Yeah, then it kind of started to sound like iHop. So, the title was The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.
L: So you do know the whole title.
S: Of course. I was in the play. Yeah, I was trying to make you laugh, and you didn’t laugh.
L: Did you like working with Tony Kushner?
S: It was one of the Hall of Fame highlights of my life. It was pretty spectacular. Granted, the play wasn’t done and it was four and a half hours long, but I was very fond of that play. It was Tony’s ode to those classic Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams family dramas.
Credit: Greg Lotus