Entertainment » Television

Christian Borle’s Smashing Year

by Jim Halterman
Contributor
Monday May 14, 2012
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It’s been a rocky road for the first season of "Smash" with fans being somewhat polarized about whether they loved or loathed the drama that took us behind-the-scenes of the making of a Broadway musical. Yet despite the mixed reactions, NBC wisely saw a hit series and the show will be back in the fall for a second season.

The big difference is that Theresa Rebeck, the show’s creator and first season show runner, has left and "Gossip Girl" Executive Producer Josh Safran is coming on board for the next chapter to bring the Marilyn Monroe musical, "Bombshell," to Broadway.

One key "Smash" character is the musical’s out composer, Tom Levitt (played by Christian Borle), who partners with lyricist Julia Houston (Debra Messing). In real-life this spring he’s seeing life reflect art for in addition to putting together a Broadway musical, he’s featured in one of the current season’s most celebrated plays: "Peter and the Starcatcher," Rick Elice’s play about the early days of Peter Pan and Captain Hook.


Hammy, plummy and delicious

New York Times critic Ben Brantley wrote, "Christian Borle (newly famous for the television series "Smash") is as hammy, plummy and delicious as a Christmas dinner from Charles Dickens. And how he turns three words ("oh my God") into a show-stopping aria is something you must experience for yourself. But there’s not one cast member who doesn’t have a moment of starry silliness, transforming low humor into high comedy."

For his performance Borle was nominated for a Tony Award (Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play) - one of the nine nominations the production has received. He also recently won the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Lead Actor for the play’s 2011 off-Broadway run, where it played at the New York Theatre Workshop for a sold-out run that prompted its move to Broadway.

EDGE’s Jim Halterman grabbed some time with Borle last week to chat about getting his second Tony nomination (his first was for "Legally Blonde" in 2007) and what fans can expect with Monday night’s season finale of "Smash."


Great chemistry

EDGE: Congratulations on your Tony nomination, but can we talk about that later? I would like to start with "Smash." The first season finale of "Smash" is here. What can you tease about Tom and Sam [Leslie Odom, Jr]?

Christian Borle: What has been refreshing to play in it is that Sam made Tom realize that he’s been self-sabotaged for many, many years in his life. He has perfectly halfway decent guys in front of him and he’d find every reason to reject them. Sam has come along and in a way has made Tom look at himself deeper than he’s ever had to.

I don’t know where it’s going to go. I don’t know if Tom is ready to ever handle that kind of relationship yet.

EDGE: Still, you and Leslie Odom Jr. have really great chemistry.

Christian Borle: He’s so lovely and he’s amazing to work with.

EDGE: Is he a good kisser? Those scenes show some really good kissing.

Christian Borle: He is! Comparatively speaking, I think I can say that he is!


Working with Debra Messing

EDGE: Tom and Julia hit a nice bump in the road recently and I feel like their relationship is very much the core of the show. How was it playing those scenes with Debra?

Christian Borle: As with anything working with Debra, there is a very natural rapport that we have and we have very similar styles of working, which is very instinctual. Very open-hearted, very trusting and the one scene in particular in the episode that just aired, we don’t usually sit in one of our trailers and run lines and talk about it. It usually happens more naturally than that.

But it felt so important to this friendship that we ask ourselves a lot of questions, we pushed each other a little bit and I’m really happy about the result. I think what’s so special about that friendship of Tom and Julia is what I find special of my own friendship [with Debra], which is, of course, you love each other and have fun together and you’re there for each other but sometimes you also have to be the type of person to hold up a mirror, even if it hurts and be painfully honest. That’s what friendship is. Julia has obviously made some mistakes and Tom has tried to be the best friend he can be and she has really pushed him to the place where he has to say ’You did this.’

EDGE: Since the showrunner of "Gossip Girl" is coming in for season 2, are you okay if the show becomes more soapy?

Christian Borle: The word soapy is bantered around so much as either something that’s good and something that’s criticism. Can you explain what you mean by soapy?

EDGE: I see soapy as a good thing. Soap opera is what I am referring to and "Gossip Girl" has a little heightened sense of reality but if "Smash" became a little lighter and, well, soapy. Does that make sense?

Christian Borle: I guess so. To me, I would like to see it continue to push into a land where people talk and behave like people that we recognize. When "Smash" is at its best, I think it’s because we empathize with these people while also recognizing that this is a world that might be unfamiliar to people, the world of musical theater. Not everybody is in the world of musical theater. If everybody was it wouldn’t be so special. There’s so much behind-the-scenes fodder that I think you could qualify as soapy but I think there’s something to be mined from that. I think it should continue to be fun and true and be a show about the making of a musical.


Second time around?

EDGE: Now let’s talk Tony and "Peter and the Starcatcher." It’s not your first nomination -- how was it the second time around?

Christian Borle: It’s a thrill because I am a human being [and] it’s something that I want. [laughs] Having been around the Tony Awards for a long time and having known people who have been nominated and who have won, that special feeling of excitement doesn’t go away. I woke up in the morning, I set my alarm, I had a cup of coffee and I watched the nominations live. Of course, I was very proud and very excited, personally... what made it so special is the attention that the show got and so it got a nomination for Best Play and the directors were nominated and it’s such a special thing that they’ve done that I think for them to be ignored would have been a crime.

EDGE: Every time you hear anything associated with Peter Pan you tend to assume maybe it’s geared towards kids but is that really the case?

Christian Borle: It’s actually really more for adults. There’s enough for kids to enjoy but you know when you talk to kids and you get better results when you talk to them like adults rather than talking down to them, that’s what I think the play does. You don’t necessarily think of Peter Pan as cool but oddly it’s cool.

EDGE: I read a review where you’re called ’hammy, plummy and delicious’ in your role.

Christian Borle: [laughs] I know what hammy is but plummy and delicious has me all confused, but I guess I’ll take it.


A balancing act

EDGE: This is so different from what you’re doing on "Smash" but how is it to play a character that is so hammy?

Christian Borle: It is a balancing act, that’s for sure. The character, Black Stache, is a ham and is an attention hog. He has very little restraint but I, as somebody who is working with actors that I like and respect, have to show some semblance of restraint.

EDGE: We all know Captain Hook as one of the great villains but do we see the seeds of that starting with Black Stache?

Christian Borle: In this play, we’re dealing with egomaniac with an identity crisis. Alex [Timbers] and Roger {Rees, directors] really wanted... there’s a desperation to everything that he’s trying to achieve until he finally meets this boy and sees his destiny and evolves into a complete villain. It’s almost a happy revelation in the way that he accepts this mantle of villainy.

EDGE: Do you get to fly in the show?

Christian Borle: That’s not for me. I leave that to the younger folks.

EDGE: For Tony night, we always hear about women putting so much thought into what they wear but have you put much thought into what you are wearing?

Christian Borle: [laughs] I have a general sense that there will be pants involved, maybe some kind of jacket, I think there will be a collared shirt, maybe pressed and looking neat. I am going to go with one of my dear friends and we’re going to go find something that feels good to wear.

The season finale of "Smash" airs Monday at 10/9c on NBC. You can catch up with previous episodes on the show’s website.

For more about "Peter And The Starcatcher," visit the show’s website.


Jim Halterman lives in Los Angeles and also covers the TV/Film/Theater scene for www.FutonCritic.com, AfterElton, Vulture, CBS Watch magazine and, of course, www.jimhalterman.com. He is also a regular Tweeter and has a group site on Facebook.

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