Actor Andrew Burnap on Theater’s Life-Altering Powers

Meet the star of Matthew Lopez’s 7-hour epic The Inheritance.

For actor Andrew Burnap, performing on stage is like chasing a coveted state of euphoria. “Any time we go to see a play or a movie or a concert, we have this underlying desire to be moved from a stuck place,” he explains. “I can remember feeling so intensely moved [when I first sang] on stage at 8 years old, and I wanted to make other people feel as intensely as I felt in that moment.” In pursuit of theater’s ecstasy, the performer, 29, now bestows that same inspired sensation upon the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, starring in Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance

A two-part drama clocking in at almost seven hours, The Inheritance is a contemporary rendition of E. M. Forster’s Howards End, following the intersecting love lives of soul-searching gay men in New York City. The plot finds a focal point on the “It’s complicated” relationship between the honorable activist Eric Glass, played by Kyle Soller, and the lost playwright Toby Darling, played by Burnap. “When I found out that I got to play Toby, I knew that my life would change,” he says. “My life as I knew it would end and the new one would begin, and I was right about that in ways that I could never have imagined at the time.” 

Lopez openly revealed that he wrote Toby’s character based on the destructive tendencies of his tumultuous, addiction-ridden era of life, and for Burnap, exploring that mental territory is an incredibly powerful process. “Fully knowing Toby Darling is something that I’ll never achieve, which is beautiful to me,” he explains. “I think the process has been both trying to understand where Matthew came from in writing Toby and also marrying parts of myself to the character on the page.” Having originated the role in its first run at The Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End, it’s fair to say that Burnap’s portrayal of Toby is an amalgamation of both Lopez’s life experiences and his own. 

The Inheritance is Lopez and Burnap’s second project together, following their work on The Legend of Georgia McBride at the Geffen Playhouse, which debuted in 2017. Through innumerable hours reworking scenes in rehearsals and run-throughs, the two have developed a deep-rooted, creative connection, transcending that of an ordinary partnership. A mutually understood shorthand allows the duo to communicate in ways that only long-time collaborators can, and sometimes their shared intensity flares into a fiery quarrel. “We get in fights in rehearsal rooms because we both feel and think so passionately,” Burnap explains. “It gets messy because we are both passionate creators. If we weren’t getting in fights, we would be doing something wrong.” Risk-taking is vital in any creative practice, and it’s those impassioned disputes that ultimately spur those exceptionally daring ideas that elevate the entire production. On the value of his relationship with Lopez, Burnap attests, “I’m totally unafraid to fail in front of Matthew, and I think that’s a really important mindset.”

Looking to the future, Burnap’s goal is to fluidly work between mediums of television, film, and theater, though his heart will always lie on the stage. “Theater will always be my first love,” he fondly affirms. Having performed as Toby Darling more than 400 times, the seasoned actor recognizes the immediacy of theater’s life-changing effects on a surreal level. “I feel like we are yearning for the live experience because it can be nothing but true. You can’t watch it again. You are pierced or moved in that very moment, and that’s it,” he says. “I find that to be supremely gorgeous.”

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