Maybe I’m crazy, but I thought that Tony Winner Steve Kazee would want to be interviewed somewhere discreet. The back of some dark restaurant or something, so as not to be recognized. In actuality, I met him at a juice joint on 9th Avenue where he had snagged the one and only table, which happens to be in the front window. He wore a pair of dark jeans and a black t-shirt, if you must know. And he talked about love. And quantum physics. And Pound Puppies. All in a day’s work for Steve Kazee, who begins an engagement at 54 Below this evening. Here’s how it went…
Lucky: What will we hear at your 54 Below show?
Steve: Well, I’m going to be doing some of my own stuff. When I went on vocal rest back in February, I just had a bunch of songs come out of me. Like I said on Facebook or Twitter the other day, I had to lose my voice in order to find it. I’d always tried to write songs, and never been all that successful at it.
And when I couldn’t sing, I was just playing the guitar to keep myself occupied, and I just started hearing all of these songs. And I just started writing them down. I don’t know how it all came about. It just sort of happened. And I just decided I was going to say yes to the next thing that came up. Then 54 Below called.
L: How’s your voice doing?
S: It’s good. I’m 100% and ready to go, and ready for people to see I’m OK again.
L: Everyone was kind of worried about you.
S: Honestly, it’s so common in our business. It just so happens that mine happened right at the end of my contract. So it seemed like there was drama behind it all. But the reality is that this happens to a lot of people. And we feel this stigma in our business that we can’t talk about having vocal problems. But each year, the keys in musicals keep going higher and higher, and people are out of shows a lot. We’re trending toward more pop and rock and it’s just harder on your voice.
L: Can you tell us what the songs are about?
S: It’s hard to say that there’s a running theme, but they deal a lot with loss. They deal a lot with love. They deal a lot with broken hearts. I have some hopeful tunes in there, but even my hopeful tunes are a little melancholy. And I’ll do some covers. They’re both Damian Damien Jurado songs. He’s one of my favorite artists. And I’m also doing a Ryan Adams song.
L: You’re talking about all these melancholy, emotional songs that you wrote. And I feel like this idea about you is so common. That you actually are Guy in Once.
S: It’s not true at all, actually. That’s the funny thing. People felt like I wasn’t actually working that hard in Once. But in reality, I was working really hard. Because that’s just not me on a personal level. It might be me on the inside, but we all have that. We all have that sadness. And early on, one of the critiques of the show was like, ‘How could that guy not have a girlfriend?’ and ‘How could that guy be broken hearted?’ but it’s a silly thing to think that looks or your career or your personality or anything keeps you from being sad. We all feel it. Everybody feels sadness. But I’m not bleak or that melancholy. I went through a lot of stuff last year. And that was people’s introduction to me, even though I’ve been kicking around for a while. And unfortunately sometimes the first image that you give to people is the last image that sticks in their minds. It’s fine.
L: But is it really a bad thing for you as an actor if people are all like, ‘Now there’s a deep, introspective guy.’
S: I think people like that a lot, yeah. I think people dig the hopeless romantic thing. I really am a hopeless romantic. When I fall in love, I fall in love. But when you do that, you also fall out of love. I was actually talking to a friend of mine recently about this and I said that I would much rather love really hard and lose really hard than to never really love all that hard. You know what I mean? I always go into it like, this could epically fail. And it will be awful and painful and hurt, but you get more out of it. And if you get lucky enough to find the one that is really special, it was all worth it in the end.
L: And then you get to use all that stuff in your work.
S: Well there you go. But I’m not too method-y like that. I don’t spend hours in the dressing room like, getting myself worked up. Usually I’m rushing in five minutes to get dressed and get out onstage.
L: Did you always want to be an actor when you were a kid?
S: No. I didn’t get involved until I was in college. So I was kicking around doing a thousand other things before I did theater.
L: What kinds of things did you do?
S: I worked at a yogurt shop in Kentucky. I worked at Applebee’s. I’ve done it all. I worked at a movie theater as an usher. Then I went to law enforcement school for a year. I thought I was going to be a cop. I’ve been all over the place.
L: What were you like in high school?
S: I was a loser. Well, I didn’t think I was a loser, but like… I was poor. I didn’t have a ton of friends. I didn’t have cool clothes. I was quiet and withdrawn, and I kind of kept to myself. I had a spiked haircut with a mullet and I wore an army jacket all the time and a Metallica t-shirt. I didn’t even like Metallica, but I liked that black t-shirt with the bones on it. I was kind of loner. But then when I got into my junior year of high school, I transferred to a smaller school, and it was just easier on me. I met a lot more people. I played sports. There weren’t as many cliques there and it opened me up a lot. I started singing in the choir.
L: Is that when you started singing?
S: I sang as far back as I can remember, but I started playing guitar at 12, but never really for anybody. It was always just for me. It’s funny to look back on. I never knew at the time that it would become such a thing. It was always just a hobby.
L: So many actors have stories where they graduate from high school and come straight to New York. It sounds like you had a whole other path.
S: I did. I left college in the middle and traveled the country two years. I was just working at any little theater I could work at. I worked at a couple of community theaters in Syracuse, one in Palm Springs, a place called Oceano, California, which is up north near Pismo Beach. I went to Florida – anywhere I could get a job. I did summer stock in North Carolina. I was getting paid like $200 a week, and they’d let me stay at some theater patron’s house. And it was the greatest life, you know?
L: Are you in the midst of auditioning for stuff right now?
S: Not really. It’s kind of a dead zone right now. Everything is open for the Tonys. We’re kind of in a holding pattern until after the Tonys and then the workshops will start picking up. So maybe by the summer or the fall I’ll have some kind of plan, but I needed a break, frankly. After everything happened with my voice and I needed to leave the show prematurely, I needed a break. And this has been a good break.
L: Are you headed right back to musicals, or is Hollywood knocking on your door?
S: I don’t think Hollywood is knocking on the door, no.
L: That’s honestly pretty surprising to me. You won a Tony. You hung out with Anna Wintour.
S: I did hang out with Anna Wintour. That was so last year, though. You’ll notice that I did not get invited to the Met Gala this year. But I think it’s just a matter of waiting on what’s next. I’m not opposed to doing another musical. It would have to be something that meant something to me. There’s a lot of really interesting people that I’d like to work with. I worked with Adam Gwon once, and I’d really like to do something with him. I’d like to do something new and fresh.
L: Required question: Where do you keep your Tony?
S: On a shelf. Everybody always asks that question. It sits next to my couch on a little stand.
L: Do people ask you if they can hold it?
S: Nah. Not really. Actually, my friend from home asked if he could hold it. I do wake up every once in a while and just spin the medallion. That’s always fun. Then some days I see it and I can’t actually believe that it all happened.
L: OK, lightening round. What’s the last book that you read?
S: Um… The Hidden Reality of Parallel Universe… and… Hold on, I have to look it up. It’s a really good book. It’s by this guy Brian Green who is a theoretical physicist.
L: You’re reading this for fun.
S: Yeah. I’m a bit of a nerd. The Hidden Reality of Parallel Universes and the Deep Walls of the Cosmos.
S: Yeah, it’s pretty deep.
L: What’s your favorite kind of cookie?
S: I would say white chocolate chip macadamia nut.
L: What’s your favorite mid-to-late nineties pop song?
S: “Mr. Jones.”
L: What is a word that you use too often, and a word you don’t use enough?
S: I use “fuck” way too often. Can you put that on your blog?
L: On our blog? Yeah, no worries.
S: A word I don’t use enough? Ostentatious.
L: Did you have a favorite stuffed animal when you were a kid?
S: My favorite stuffed animal was an all-black Pound Puppy. I was so stressed out that I was not going to get the all-black Pound Puppy and that Santa was going to mess it up and get me a white one with a brown spot or something. There’s a photo of me opening said Pound Puppy. I named it Bart.
L: Did you know that Sierra Boggess had a Pound Puppy too?
S: No way. Mine got chewed up by an actual all-black dog.
L: Last question. What question would you love to be asked in an interview?
S: Anything about quantum physics.
L: OK. Explain quantum physics in two minutes. Go.
S: Yes. There’s an experiment called the double slit experiment, which is basically at the root of quantum physics. It’s an experiment where they pass little bits of matter – so like, little electrons – through these two slits onto a wall, or onto a recording plate. And what they found was that until you actually observe what it’s doing, a particle can either be a wave – like a wave in water – or it can be a solid piece of matter. So the idea is, that until you look at this countertop that we’re looking at right now, until we observe it or feel it, that it’s just a random set of wave functions. So it’s not actually “there” until it’s observed. Which then sort of opens up the question of which came first, consciousness or the universe. So was the universe there and we were born into it? Or were we born, and the universe came from there?
L: Thanks, Steve.