Aaron Tveit Knows No Limits
The versatile actor currently stars in Alex Timbers’ Moulin Rouge!: The Musical.
Actor Aaron Tveit is unafraid to explore his performing art across all mediums—appearing as Gareth Ritter on the television series BrainDead and playing Tony Silvero in Carol Morley’s drama Out of Blue, to name a few of his diversified projects—but he currently resides in Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theater embodying the innocent American writer Christian in Alex Timbers’ Moulin Rouge!: The Musical. Animating Baz Luhrmann’s revolutionary film onstage alongside a stellar cast, Tveit enlivens a world of splendor and romance, a realm underscored by a contemporary musical mash-up. Striking gold in an industry where fate is left primarily up to chance, the 36-year-old actor feels entirely at home taking on new roles in different capacities. “If you asked me what I want 10 years from now, I would say I want to do more television shows, movies, more plays and musicals and Broadway,” Tveit explains. With a plethora of career goals and an unprecedented sense of onstage charisma, VMAN sat down with the determined performing artist to talk about his early performing days, his growth in the spotlight, and, of course, his favorite books.
Read the full interview, below.
VMAN: Were you a fan of Moulin Rouge! prior to landing your role as Christian on Broadway?
Aaron Tveit: I was a huge fan of the movie when it came out. It came out when I was a freshman in college. I was studying music at the time; I had done theater in high school and I was studying music. I knew I wanted to perform, but I wasn’t really sure where that avenue was going to be for me. And then, you have to remember — this was before Glee, before the resurgence of new musical movies.
I was really struck by the idea of siting in a theater and seeing a film that was so extraordinary and spectacular. The way Baz Luhrmann works is incredible. It really made a huge impression on me because I hadn’t really seen anything like that before. I had already been a huge fan of his from Romeo and Juliet and Strictly Ballroom. I just always thought it would make a wonderful stage musical. It seemed like one of those really natural fits because of the world that had already been created. So, when I heard this was coming up, and then I knew that the creative team involved: Alex Timbers and Sonya Tayeh and John Logan… I jumped at the chance to go in, to be seen for it and met with them.
V: It seems like you’ve been super busy with television and film recently. How does it feel to be returning to the theater?
AT:I haven’t done a Broadway show in about eight years, you know, cause I’ve been working primarily in television and film. It’s just a really difficult thing: you’re putting a new musical together and you never know whether people are going to ‘get it’, if it’s going to take on and find people, or find an audience. I’ve done other things that had successful runs, but nothing like this — from the very beginning, the audience had just a very different response than I’ve ever kind of felt with any other show I’ve been in before. And I think it’s because the music in the show appeals to people that are familiar with this story, but then also people that aren’t necessarily Broadway fans can come in and have a really great time. It’s just this really unique combination of things that people are really latching on to and responding to.
V: Can you tell me a bit about growing up? Did you grow up in a very theater-centric household? Were your parents actors?
AT: I grew up about an hour outside of New York City, I grew up in Hudson Valley, when I was growing up, I was told that the more things you’re involved in, the better you look for a college application. So I played three sports, I went to a high school where all the people that played sports also did the musical every year. I did the school musical once a year in high school, but that was really my only theater background as a kid. I mean, I sang and played instruments, but I was much more focused on kind of the sports and academic part of school. And then my junior and senior year, I started taking voice lessons and becoming a little more serious about it. And then, I ended up going to school for music on a whim, instead of going to school for business. I was very lucky that my parents supported that choice and it all ended up going from there.
But yes, my dad sings, my brothers sings, just nothing professionally. There are no actors in my family. My mom was a special ed teacher, but they were always very, very supportive of all of my musical endeavors and things I wanted to try.
V: You said you picked musicals over business school. Was there a moment when you were like, ‘Okay, this is what I need to do with my life’?
AT: I was very lucky that my parents said, “Go study what you want, we’ll figure it out.” About two thirds through my freshman year of college, I was thinking about reapplying to all the business schools. And then I was home for spring break, and my parents said, “What’s wrong with you? You seem depressed. You’re never like this.” And I said to them that I thought I made a big mistake by going to music school, and I said, “I have this idea that I might want to go to the last audition for the musical theater program in my school.” And my parents responded, “Well, what are you stressed about? Go for it.” I was worried they were going to say, ‘don’t do that’ or ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘that’s not a smart choice.’ But instead, they said, “You’re 18 years old, you’re broke. Try this for five years — if you’re 23 and broke, at least you tried.” That was their attitude. So they really supported and pushed me to audition for the theater program in my school. And then I got in, and then basically a year and a half later I got cast in the national tour of Rent and started working. It was absolutely insane.
V: Was there anyone specifically in your adolescent years that inspired you or that you looked up to?
AT: Well, like I said, I was really involved with my high school chorus and theater production every year. I had a wonderful music teacher, a guy named Greg Bennett, who said to me before my junior year of high school, “If you want to be serious about this, you should consider taking voice lessons.” And that was a push that I definitely needed; it was a perfect time for me to do that. He was definitely somebody that, in my high school years, pushed me in that direction. And then once I started working, I established a very early relationship with some casting directors who really, really helped me: Bernie Telsey and Tara Rubin. They helped me find representation. And then, I just landed with a manager and representative that has been nothing but incredible in the 16 years that I’ve been with them and working. They’re vital people that landed me in those places early on.
V: You were cast for Rent — is that the point where you made the move to the city? What was that switch like for you?
AT: Yeah, I was going to school. The music director of Rent at the time was an Ithaca graduate, and he came back to do a workshop class with us. We all did a fake, mock Rent audition for this guy, and then afterwards, he pulled me aside and said: “Hey man, you’re perfect for our show. Can I get your information?” At that point, I had no contact or any experience with anyone in the “real world.” I was like, “Yeah, sure, here it is!” You know, not thinking anything of it. And then two months later, he called me and said, “I can get you into the final callback for this part.” And I said ‘okay’ and ended up getting in. And so, I went on tour for a year, I did that show for a year on the road, and then I went back to school for a semester. That would have been my senior year, but since I missed a year, it was only my junior year, and at the end of that year, I thought about actually just moving to New York full-time and not going back to school to finish.
That summer threw another crazy set of circumstances: I ended up getting cast in the national tour of Hairspray and did that on the road for a year. When that tour ended, I came to Broadway and made my Broadway debut in Hairspray in the same part — that’s what got me to New York in 2005-early 2006. Before I was in New York, I had already been on tour for two years, doing eight shows a week, and got to really figure out how to survive and cut my teeth in a run of a show on the road, which was wonderful.
V: Tell me about living on the road like that — is that exhausting? What sort of sacrifices did you have to make during that time?
AT: Well, I can’t imagine doing it now, but when you’re 20 — I was 20, turning 21 years old — I wanted to be an actor. I had just seen Rent three years before in high school, which blew my mind, and then all of a sudden, I was in it! I was the youngest person in my cast, but I was in a cast of people that was just phenomenal. It was everyone making their first big job out of school, and I had to learn really quick how to keep myself healthy for eight shows a week, keep myself engaged, telling the same story every night, eight shows a week. Luckily, I had really great examples of the people around me to look at and figure that out.
I was covering the two leads, so I kind of got to a watch these guys who were playing the parts and who are just fantastic. And then I found myself in the Hairspray tour, playing a lead part, but I felt ready for it because I had just done this other thing for a year. And that was, again, a really wonderful group of people. I think that was a key aspect for me, you know. I had friends at the time who were on other tours where the group of people wasn’t necessarily a great group of people, which made the experience really difficult. In both shows that I did, in both tours, we all became friends very fast, and almost like a family on the road. I felt very comfortable and I didn’t have a lot of days where I was feeling super homesick or out of place. Instead, it was like… I was 21, and in the two years, I went to 46 out of the 50 States. When else do you have a chance to do that?
V: Can we talk a little bit about being on television, how was that transition? Was it difficult for you? Do you prefer it more than theater?
AT: Well, television, as I like to say, is kind of the most… If you’re a series regular on a television show, especially a series regular on a television show that shoots in New York, which I got to do a couple of years ago, with BrainDead on CBS — that is like the most you can feel like a normal person as an actor, because it’s the Monday-to-Friday schedule. They have every holiday off, you have a weekend every weekend — so even though you’re working long hours, it’s the most I’ve ever felt like a normal person. I got to see friends and family more on that schedule, but it’s super long hours, and you could be on set for 14 hours a day, and you need to figure out how to manage that. I do like television for that fact.
Being in a show, being in a play, the sacrifices you have to make to be on stage eight shows a week, to keep your voice in check, to keep healthy is immense. You can’t be out late at a loud restaurant or bar because speaking over the room is really difficult for your voice; you have to commit to keeping healthy. Television is nice in that respect, but the other tradeoff with theater is that you have this incredible back-and-forth with the audience every single night, that you’re out there — which you don’t get in television or film.
V: Do you prefer one over the other?
AT: I think theater is the best because of that. It’s the hardest, but you also get the most out of it, it’s most rewarding. But I was very lucky with my three years that I did on Graceland with an incredible cast.
I mean, all the television jobs that I’ve had have been wonderful, I actually do love working in television and film now as much as I love being on stage. There were a lot of years of studying that craft before I started getting my first jobs. I still take an on-camera class now, while I’m doing this play on stage. The craft of it and acting on camera, I’ve fallen in love with that as much as I love singing and being on stage, to be honest.
V: Currently, you still have Moulin Rouge! — do you have any upcoming projects afterwards that we can chat about?
AT: This is kind of it for now, just because of the nature of it. We’re all there for a year to a year plus, and we’ll probably go longer than that. This is the primary thing for now, and as for what’s next — I don’t have anything to say specifically, but I hope to do more television and more film. Right now, this is the one thing, which is actually nice for a change because most times, I’m juggling multiple things. Even when I have been on television shows, I’ve been doing movies in the hiatus, or I did some plays in the hiatus, or I do concerts of my music stuff — so that’s kind of always happening. For me, a year of just doing one thing is actually kind of nice.
V: What are some of your professional goals, personal goals that you foresee?
AT: I’ve been so lucky. If I look at the last 10 years of my work career, I’ve gotten to very freely walk between being on television, being in movies and being on stage. And that’s all I ever wanted to do, just have the freedom to go between the different mediums and different projects.
I honestly just want that to continue. If you asked me what I want 10 years from now, you know, I would say I want to do more television shows, movies, more plays and musicals and Broadway. I’d love to do another musical on television, I’d love to be on another television series that I love. I just truly hope that, in the long of my career, the freedom and the varied, wonderful work that has come my way would just continue. That’s really the one thing that I want to be able to continue, all the different stuff I’ve gotten to do.
V: If you could pick anyone in the world, who would you want to work with?
AT: Oh man, that’s really hard. If I just think of the people that I just really admire and respect, I think Cillian Murphy is my favorite on-camera actor. I would love to do something on-camera with him. He ends up in every Christopher Nolan movie, and I think that’s not a coincidence because Christopher Nolan is such an amazing filmmaker. I would really love to work with him on film. On stage, I’ve been blessed with the people that I’ve gotten to work with — directors and actors and musicians. I’ve gotten to do two Sondheim shows in couple of years and I would love to do another Sondheim show in the next couple of years.
You know, I’ve just been very, very lucky. The people that I really look to and admire are at the top of their own craft.
V: When you’re not on stage or prepping to be on stage, what are you doing? What does your downtime look like?
AT: It’s going to sound really boring, but I’m sleeping. I’ve tried to get 9 or 10 hours of sleep a night, which people think is absolutely crazy, but it’s the only way for me to feel rested from the kind of grueling show schedule. I do PT every week, twice a week, physical therapy, I go to the chiropractor once a week, I get a massage once a week, I still take voice lessons. It’s basically the grind of it all really taking its toll on your body, so it’s a lot of recovery.
For myself, I like to get to the gym a couple of days a week, just to feel like I’m moving around. It’s much less than when I’m not in a show. Besides that, I’m an avid reader. I try to see friends when I can, and I played video games to kind of decompress.
V: Oh, what books are you reading?
AT: I’m actually reading A Little Life right now, which I had kind of picked up when it came out a few years ago, and it was absolutely devastating. I just had someone else recommend it to me again, so I picked it back up and I’m committed to finishing it now. I like to re-read a lot of fantasy series. I’m in the middle of this Mistborn trilogy right now, which is a Brandon Sanderson book. It’s really kind of an epic, world-building fantasy. And again, I like to do that to kind of allow my brain to go other places other than thinking about work every day.
V: Do you have a favorite book?
AT: One of my favorite books is by Donna Tartt who wrote The Goldfinch. She has another book called The Secret History. I’ve read it three or four times, and I think that’s probably one of my favorite books. The Game of Thrones novels are still some of my favorite books as well.
V: Solid choice! Is there any play or Broadway production that you want to be in down the line? If there was ever any production at all where you totally see yourself perfectly fitting the role, what would that be?
AT: I would still love to do Sunday in the Park with George one day. I just think that’s one of the most brilliant pieces of American theater. I know they just did it a couple of years ago, but I would still love to do that down the road one day. The way musicals work specifically, it’s so exciting because you never know what new work is going to happen. And then in terms of plays on stage, I’m obsessed with the playwright, Martin McDonagh; any Martin McDonagh play, I would do it anytime. Those are the things I kind of look for, hopefully, in the future.