Actor, filmmaker, singer, host: Michael Urie brings back his kaleidoscopic talents to Town Hall on June 4th to reprise hosting duties for the annual Drama Desk Award ceremony. Here’s a reprise of John Istel’s pre-show interview.
What makes some performers so irresistible? For many audiences, it’s the glint of manic joy they emanate in front of theatergoers. As Brecht insisted, “From the start it has been the theater’s business to entertain people … it needs no other passport than fun.” Michael Urie’s visa page must be peppered with stamps. From Juilliard, he traveled the country acting in classics, became a household presence via the adored television sitcom Ugly Betty, and traipsed across New York stages hauling in awards, including two Drama Desks, for such a wide variety of work as The Tempermentals, Angels in America, How to Succeed in Business, and his one-man show Buyers & Cellars. All the while, he’s kept that trademark impish glow that can’t help but plaster smiles on audiences’ faces. On June 5th at Town Hall, Urie will offer a tour of his brand name idea of fun by hosting the 2016 Drama Desk Award Celebration. Before he does, though, he was kind enough to submit to Drama Desk’s inquisition.
Before you won a Drama Desk Award, can you describe your earliest pre-professional theater accolade, award, or other sign of encouragement?
This is perhaps cheesy, but I was the national champion in dramatic interpretation at the National Forensics League championship in 1998, performing a monologue from a one-man play about Tennessee Williams. The tournament was in St Louis, where TW is buried, and my wonderful coach Mrs. Wilbanks took me on a special trip to visit his gravestone. It was only slightly creepy, but mostly very moving and special and nice. Added bonus: seeing TW’s mom’s and sister’s gravestones. On the latter was inscribed, “Blow Out Your Candles, Laura.” I MEAN COME ON!
Your Drama Desk Awards were for two opposite talents—ensemble acting and solo acting. What do you most remember—an image, thought, or memory—about either of those Drama Desk Award ceremony wins?
Both were very special—accepting the ensemble award with my onstage family from The Tempermentals was particularly memorable, as we’d come directly to the ceremony from our final performance after a collective eight-month run. A very nice closing night gift. Winning for Buyer & Cellar was a huge shock. I was in an impossible category against heroes of mine. It was an enormous honor to have been selected.
What would you say is the single most important theater project, audition, mentor, or moment in the great chain of events leading up your being chosen to host the 2016 Drama Desk Awards?
I’m sure there are a lot of benchmarks along the way that helped get me to the Drama Desk host podium—aka the greatest and most lucrative gig in show biz (right guys?), but I do think Daryl Roth taking a chance on me and The Temperamentals back when we were in a tiny room at the Barrow Group, and transferring us TWICE was instrumental in making me a New York theater actor, and more than just a guy from television. Big kudos to Stacy Shane, Johnny Silverstein, Jon Marans, and Kevin McInerny, who also made me and that show a success.
Best advice you’d give an actor just starting out that you wish you had been given?
Never underestimate the power of that thing you do that others like watching you do. Embrace it, and do it until such time as you’re no longer available.
Most Americans rate speaking in public as their greatest fear. Yours?
Speaking in private. Just kidding, it’s sharks.
If you could give out a special “Michael Urie” Drama Desk Award who might get it and for what?
Jayne Houdyshell. She knows why.