TTC: Why would a fellow like you, with such a strong musical theater background, want to jump into television? Was there something specific about this project that attracted you to it?
BdJ: I’ve been trying to make the jump for the last 20 years! I have not been sitting with my arms crossed, saying ‘I will NOT do television!’ My knuckles are bloody from trying to get into that world! Obviously the depth of my work has been happily and wonderfully in the theatre. The fact that this show is a combination of a medium I’ve been wanting to work in but deals with the story of what it means to be in a Broadway show, it’s miraculous. For my first series opportunity, it kind of feels like a dream in that way.
TTC: Your character, Frank Houston, is one of the few main characters of SMASH who ISN’T directly involved with the production of the Marilyn Monroe musical. Are you going to get a chance to sing?
BdJ: My character is a chemistry teacher. How do you get THAT guy to sing without bonking him on the head or giving him some strange disease? Not to sound corny, but song and music are a daily part of everybody’s life. They’re obviously going to have the big, magnetic draw of Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee singing these incredible songs, but that doesn’t mean other people you know, don’t sing in the shower. Not that they’re going to have three episodes of me singing in the shower, but the long and short answer is yes.
TTC: How do the songs on SMASH compare to the caliber of songs in shows you’ve been in?
BdJ: They could be right out of the shows that you’re rehearsing to put on Broadway. One thing I will say is that Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who are writing the music and the lyrics, are incredible in that they’re not only writing music that represents the ‘show within the show’ about Marilyn Monroe but those songs have a double edge in that they’re also reflecting the lives of the characters within the show SMASH. To be able to do those two things, it really kind of makes it epic.
TTC: So it kind of adds depth to it all.
BdJ: Exactly. “Depth” is the word. When you see a musical and it’s successful, it’s because something about it makes everything rise up and gives you a sensation that is different from any other experience. I think that’s what this show does.
TTC: One thing I found interesting is Frank’s relationship with his wife, Julia (played by Debra Messing). There’s a sort of role reversal there where she’s the career person in the family. Is it difficult to play the husband who sort of takes a back seat?
BdJ: It’s an interesting thing to play – it’s definitely interesting to explore. She’s extremely successful, and she’s been the breadwinner for a long time. My character is in a position where I love what I do but I haven’t had a chance to do it because I’ve been home raising my son. I love that aspect of finding an angle or a facet of this character that is trying to find a balance between satisfying his own inclinations and desires as a parent but also his professional desires and self-worth doing what he loves to do.
TTC: Are there any family members whose experiences you can draw upon that help you play this character?
BdJ: Not so much in terms of the stay-at-home dad aspect, but my uncle, Brian Kelly, was a successful actor and producer. He produced Blade Runner, he was on Flipper, and to me he was my way into this world of what it means to be a performer, what it means to be an actor, what it means to make a living at this. When you have someone who can sort of demystify this world you think you can never get to, it’s very attractive to someone whose mind is already leaning towards it. He would be my model for understanding this world.
SMASH BONUS QUESTIONS! For executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron!
TTC: What’s the most difficult part of producing this show?
NM: Scheduling. Because in terms of being able to back up so it gives all of the group sufficient time to write the songs, deliver the songs to the actors to LEARN the songs, to have them choreographed, and then to go pre-record….it’s like marshaling an army.
CZ: Producing this series is almost like producing Chicago every week.
TTC: Which character relationship is going to really drive the show?
NM: Ultimately, the engine for the show and the way into the show to the audience is through Kat McPhee’s character, Karen, because she is the newbie in the world. So we are introduced to the world through her eyes to a point, but then all the other character stories kind of take off.
CZ: It’s a true ensemble piece. There is no star of the show – they’re all stars. As you’ll see, from week to week, we’ll focus on this person, that person. They’ll all shine and they’ll all rise.
SMASH premieres Monday, February 6 at 10/9c (its regular time slot) on NBC. Be sure to check out thetwocents.com for our Recap & Review of this ambitious new show!