What's New on the Rialto
Interview With Dan Amboyer
by Michael Portantiere
Michael Portantiere: You've worked with so many well-known actors: Jane Alexander, Victor Garber, and Jean Smart in "William & Catherine"; Christopher Walken in a CSC reading of The Tempest; Sutton Foster in "Younger"; and several great playwrights and directors. I see from your bio that you were in David Ives's The Metromaniacs at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in D.C. I saw and really enjoyed the show when it transferred to Off-Broadway, but you weren't in that cast.
Dan Amboyer: No, only in D.C. I played Christian Conn's best friend. I didn't do the show in New York because that was last year during pilot season, so it was crazy; I was flying back and forth to L.A. But I loved that show. I grew up loving Davids Ives's work.
MP: I did see you Off-Broadway in Squash, which I believe was the last play produced during A.R. Gurney's lifetime.
DA: That's right. Primary Stages did another play of his last year, but that was after he passed. We were the only play in our theater, but there was another Gurney play running in a smaller theater in the basement. It was kind of an evening of Gurney, two different options.
MP: Did you get to work with him directly on Squash?
DA: Oh, yeah. Our director wasn't able to be at the auditions, so [Gurney] was the one who cast me. When I was in middle school, we had done a production of The Dining Room, and before we started Squash, I had seen two of his shows revived on BroadwaySylvia with Annaleigh [Ashford], and Love Letters. Having the chance to work with him after that was great. He was so engaged in the process, so lively and agile and present. He was an agile guy. I remember him climbing over chairs at rehearsals. I was, like, "Oh God, let's create a path for you so you don't have to climb over chairs during tech."
MP: I think it's wonderful when younger actors get to work with legends.
DA: Yes. When people have achieved so much, there's a beautiful ease they have in endowing you with their trust.
MP: Squash has gay-related subject matter, but you hadn't come out publicly as gay when you did that show, correct?
DA: Yes. It was interesting, because PeteMr. Gurneydidn't feel my character identified as gay. It was interesting to hear the perspective of someone from a different generation talk about the subject, the experimentation.
MP: I remember the point was made in the press materials that it was the first time in his career that Gurney had ever written about gay subject matter.
DA: Yes, and he wrote it about an experience he had in his own life, back in the '70s, that he used as the seed for the play. So it was fun for me to play a version of him.
MP: You've been married for more than a year now to your long-term partner, Eric P. Berger. I admire you so much for coming out publicly, but when someone does that, I understand there's a danger that it's all people want to talk about in interviews.
DA: I think it's important to talk about it, because as much as we've progressed in our society and our business, I still encounter roadblockswhich is why I hadn't come out before.
MP: You went to school at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. Tell me about that experience.
DA: I can't imagine if I didn't have my theater program growing up. Such influential teachers, from fifth grade on. At Interlochen, everybody lives and breathes theater. But we need more theater programs in schools right now, we need more arts funding.
MP: After Interlochen, you went to Carnegie Mellon. Were you happy with the training you got there?
DA: Yeah, Carnegie was amazing. I think so much of the college experience is who you're surrounded with, who your classmates are, because you're learning from them. I had a double major in musical theater and acting, and I loved my classmates. Let's see, who would you know? Well, PatinaPatina Miller. We moved to New York together, and we lived together for a while, in Queens. Of course, there were challenges at Carnegie. It was a rigorous experience. It's kind of like they take you apart to figure out what's going on underneath the hood, and then build it all back up. You have to be very trusting and vulnerable.
MP: You got to play the lead in Compleat Female Stage Beauty at Carnegie Mellon. And you played Bert Cates in Inherit the Wind at the Old Globe.
DA: Yes, with Adrian Noble directing. I was so eager to work with him, because I saw some of his RSC productions on tour when I was growing up.
MP: Now, I've heard you sing in video clips of your appearances with The Skivvies, but you haven't been focusing on musical theater in your recent professional career. Is that just the way things fell out?
DA: Yes. Our big senior musical at school was Urinetown; I played Lockstock in that. Agents come to Carnegie to see you, so the agent that I got saw me in that and said, "Great, you're a musical guy." That was my first agent when I came to New York, so I got some jobs in musicals at The Muny and North Shore Music Theatre, and a musical at the Zipper and some other random musical stuff in the city.
MP: You played Kenickie in Grease at The Muny.
DA: With Kristy Cates and Donna Vivino. There were so many Wicked people in that show. Donna was my Rizzo.
MP: And you played Jesus in Godspell.
DA: Yes, back in the day. I took a gap year between high school and college. I went to Carnegie Mellon's summer program, so I got accepted there after my junior year at Interlochen. Once I knew I was accepted to Carnegie, I had finished all my high school requirements, so I said, "Why am I doing senior year?" So I didn't, and I ended up interning at a theater. There's literally one LORT theater in Michigan, the Meadow BrookI did an internship there for what would have been my senior year, they gave me my Equity card, and I did Godspell at the end. It was great to be there for a year, because I was assistant to the artistic director. So that was a full experience to have before coming to New York, to really understand how a production works. And then I got to work with Victor Garber later [in "William & Catherine: A Royal Romance"].
MP: In submitting for the role of William, it obviously must have helped a lot that you look quite a lot like him, especially when you both were younger.
DA: It was a big audition process. I auditioned for a casting director in New York, and then I had a chemistry session with the girl who played Kate, Alice St. Clair.
MP: Had you done an English accent before that?
DA: No, but I watched YouTube videos of William to prepare for the first audition. I knew they were auditioning people in London, so if I didn't go in with a perfect accent, it wasn't going to happen.
MP: Did you get to meet William at the time, or have you met him since then?
DA: No! But Alice is close to the royal family, so I got to pick her brain about that.
MP: A few years before you did that movie, I saw you Off-Off-Broadway in The Play About the Naked Guy, playing a porn-star-turned-actor named Kit Swagger.
DA: Oh, my God. That was not a musical! I don't know what me today would think of that show now, but at the time it felt smart-funny and ridiculous and great. That was my first big part in a show in New York. I was, like, 22.
MP: Despite the title, I don't remember it being terribly explicit.
DA: No, there was a full-monty flash at the end of the show, and that was it.
MP: You also had a brief moment of nudity in Squash, but ironically, in the clip I saw of you with the The Skivvies, you're not in your underwear. You're wearing lederhosen.
DA: Yes, I was like, "We're good. This is really sexy to someone in Bavaria."
MP: And now you're in the thick of rehearsals for Whirlwind, your directorial debut. Tell me a little about that.
DA:: Directing is something I've always wanted to do. It's always been in the back of my mind as something to work towards, to explore that direction. I met this playwright, Jordan Jaffe, a couple of years ago, we started incubating a few different plays together, and this was the one that seemed most ready. It's a dark comedy, I would sayvery smart and very political. What I really appreciate it about it is the environmental discussion. We don't see a lot of that in theater, but it's very germane for our time today. It's set against the background of, "We have to do something to make a difference with global environmental issues, because once we reach a certain point, we can't go back." The play has those high stakes underneath it, but it's a comedy on top of that.
Doing the play has been an amazing experience, because there are three people in the cast and I've worked with all of them before as an actor. The Metromaniacs was the first time I worked with Christian Conn. Annapurna Sriram is sort of the lead in this play, and she and I did a workshop of it that I acted in. And Johnny Wu and I did a pilot for John Cusack for CBS. So this is kind of bringing everyone back together, people I trust and love. What's great about being an actor going into directing is that I've had the opportunity as an actor to work with such a range of directorsfrom Adrian Noble of the Royal Shakespeare Company to TV directors who don't give you any acting notes. I think it helps me judge how I can help somebody, and when to back away and just let them have their process.