Gavin Creel on his early days finding auditions in a newspaper, Elder Price’s arc and sharing the stage with a ‘great group of people’
Gavin Creel exudes lots of charm in his first villainous role on Broadway. In “She Loves Me,” he dazzles as Kodaly, a womanizer who has Illona, played by Jane Krakowski, under his spell. They join Zachary Levi and Laura Benanti on stage as close-knit coworkers in a parfumerie, where drama naturally ensues.
An Ohio native, Creel studied musical theater at the University of Michigan and came to New York in 1998. He said he “got lucky very quickly” in the theater world, and it’s not very hard to see why.
At 40, he’s already earned his status as a Broadway veteran, earning two Tony nods, one for his Broadway debut in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and the other for his performance in “Hair.” Even though the stage has become a second home, he still revels in his experience. “There’s a part of me that’s always going to be kind of pinching himself, going, ‘I do this for a living. They pay me to do this.’ I don’t ever want to lose that,” he said.
What was the audition process like for you when you first got here?It was a different time. The Internet was just getting started. We had phone services, trying to get meetings with agencies and stuff. “Backstage” was still a paper; it wasn’t online, obviously. You just had to grab your “Backstage” newspaper and circle the auditions that you thought might apply to you. I got an agent and found my first big audition in “Backstage.” It was a North American tour of the musical “Fame.” I went to the audition and got a callback and my agent was like, “You know, we’ll send you on those kind of things.” And I was like, “Well you didn’t, so I went.” I ended up getting a callback and they took care of it and I got the job. And that was sort of my first big job. We rehearsed in the fall, so I got lucky pretty quickly. I had a job for a year and was touring the country and then came back. It’s just one of those things where I just worked. Wherever I could get a job that seemed interesting or even just seemed like something where they would hire me, I just got jobs and worked. I was very lucky very quickly.
You played in Elder Price in “The Book of Mormon” in London and on Broadway. I read an interview with you where you said you didn’t think that show was a fit for you at first.Yeah, I didn’t. I felt like it was a brand of humor that I wouldn’t really succeed with or didn’t really get. It was just intimidating because it was so brilliant and one of my good friends originated the role that I was eventually going to play. It was one of those things that as an adult you kind of go, “Oh boy, I don’t know if I can do this.” But my good friend Casey Nicholaw, who is the director and choreographer, said, “I really think you can do this and I would love it if you would consider it.” I got an offer I couldn’t refuse and it was a great, great time. I grew a lot, I think, as an actor during that time. I really enjoyed it. It was hard work. Hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it changed my life in a lot of ways.
My younger sisters wanted me to tell you that they’re fans of yours from the Eloise movies.That’s very sweet. The nice thing is that one of them is a Christmas movie so it shows up every Christmas on the Hallmark Channel or ABC Family or something and gets replayed so I get new little fans and they’re like, “Oh you’re Bill from the Eloise movies.” But then a lot of people now come and tell me they love me from Eloise and they’re like 25 and I think, “Wow, that was a long time ago.”
I read that you played the role of Kodaly in college.I did. We did a little student production of it in the summer after my sophomore year. It wasn’t really a theater, per se, but we put something together and did it. It was a lot of fun. Actually Ilona was played by Rachel Hoffman who is now one of the biggest casting directors in the theater in New York. All friends from college did all the leads and stuff, so it was a lot of fun. We did it in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. So I got a chance to try it on, but it’s nice to be able to professionally explore it with this incredible cast and the team and the Roundabout Theatre Company. So I feel very fortunate to be there.
How do you feel about playing villainous roles? Did you base him off anyone?I don’t have any experience with playing quote unquote villainous roles. And I kind of enjoy it. I mean, Elder Price is kind of a d**k, but he comes around. That was really fun to play because his arc is long and slow, like he’s sort of a d**k the whole time to get what he wants and at the very end he goes, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been a d**k,’ and then comes around. So I don’t have a lot of experience in it, but that’s what’s fun. It’s kind of fun to play a role that I’m not used to playing. And I didn’t really base him on anything. The idea I had though is that he moves artfully and smoothly. Because he’s a womanizer and making his way around the world of women in the ‘30s, which is a classier time. The architecture is so beautiful. It’s Budapest. I thought, “I think this man takes dance classes to meet women. I think he goes through elocution lessons and knows how to cook. He’s training with a chef because women love it.” Just all the feminine things that certainly men in our country, but maybe not men in the ‘30s in Budapest, would turn their noses up at and say, “That’s not a very manly thing to do.” I think he willingly and joyfully does them with the sole purpose of endearing himself to women so that they’ll open up to him and then he can ruin their lives. I had a lot of fun thinking about that.
What is it like working with Jane, Zach and Laura?Jane is a force and Laura is a force and Zach is a force. It’s humbling to be on stage with them. Michael McGrath, Byron Jennings, the young Nick Barasch is nailing it. It’s a really great group of people to be up there with. I don’t do a whole lot in the show. I have a nice part, but it’s not huge or anything. But the nice thing is to know I’m sharing this moment with some of the best, so I feel like I’m in a alright place cause I’m up there with them. I guess they look across the stage and think the same thing.
“She Loves Me” runs until July. What are your plans after that? Do you have any dream roles you still want to pursue on Broadway?Yeah, I want to do new pieces. I’d like to spend a better part of my 40s doing new pieces. Whether I’m writing them, I hope to write some stuff. I hope to get on the other side of the table, directing and creating. I love teaching, so I hope to do some more of that in the next 10 years. I just want to get more into developing things myself and also helping other people develop new works. I’ve been very lucky doing a lot of revivals and I intend to do more of them if the parts line up. But in the next couple of years, I hope the next projects I start working on are new pieces written by people I respect and love and hopefully write some myself.
More on the show at www.roundabouttheatre.org