Patrick Mulvey is a newbie when it comes to New York theater. But his Broadway debut in the Tony-winning Billy Elliot is all the more a testament to his unwavering talent.
Although Mulvey is no stranger to the role of Tony, Billy’s close-minded, yet passionate older brother (he played him in the Chicago and Toronto productions), this marks his first Broadway musical in the lead role.
A Joliet, Illinois native, Mulvey attended the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan before being accepted into the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, Scotland.
Mulvey turned heads in Britain, landing a role in the BBC drama River City straight out of college. Roles in regional productions of Rock ‘n’ Roll, When She Danced, and Something Wicked This Way Comes helped Mulvey cut his teeth in theater.
But nothing prepared him for the excitement of Broadway–not even his first professional role as George Clooney!
The humble, thoughtful actor recently revealed to The Improper the humor, impersonations, and enormous talent he plans to share with the Great White Way.
The Improper: What made you decide to pursue a degree in Scotland? One would imagine that it’s not the first high school seniors think of when considering where to attend college.
Mulvey: The Interlochen Arts Academy, where I went for my final year of high school, had a class that prepared us for all of our auditions. The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama auditions about one thousand Americans, and they accept four. I got into several schools in the United States, but when I got into this school, I couldn’t pass it up. It had such a good reputation. In the U.K. you don’t have to choose whether you’re going to go into musical theater or whether you’re going to go into film and television. They have programs that do a little bit of everything. Billy Elliot is actually the first musical I’ve ever auditioned for, but I’ve always loved singing and musicals…but I didn’t want to focus on that, I wanted classical training. Shakespeare is probably my favorite thing to do, and they’ve got a great program for that. I was 17 years old when I got in, and I thought, ‘How many kids from Joliet get the chance to go over to Scotland to study acting?’
IM: Obviously you made the correct choice. You barely had a chance to graduate before you started working on a television show!
Mulvey: Glasgow was such a good town to be a student in, it was great to me. The day after I graduated I started in a television show for a part that was written for me! I really lucked out. It’s called River City, it’s a BBC drama. Some of the producers came and saw our school’s showcase and called me in for a part that was supposed to be played by a Scotsman. On the third audition they called me in and said, “We’re considering writing this for a boy from Chicago.” So they did. I was in that show for two seasons.
IM: What is your earliest memory of yourself performing? Would you dance around the table at Thanksgiving dinner?
Mulvey: No, that stuff would embarrass me. My mom would be like, “Sing for your grandma.” I just can’t do it. You know that moment in Billy Elliott when Billy comes out and he says, “I changed me mind.” And the dad says, “Get back in there, you little sod!” That’s my first memory. I was auditioning to be in the kids’ choir of Joseph. I didn’t know anything, this was my first audition ever and I had a really high voice for a thirteen year old boy, so I was singing Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On” in my falsetto voice. I walked into the audition room and there were only cute girls. I thought, ‘I cannot do this.’ When I turned around my dad said, “You are not getting back in the car until you do that.” That was my first audition. I got the show, and I had the most fun I had ever had. When the show was over I got depressed. That’s how my dad knew that I should probably keep doing shows.
IM: You’ve mentioned that you tend to turn to roles that are somewhat dissimilar to your own persona. Why do you think you do that?
IM: When I was a kid I always did really good impressions of people. That’s why my dad thought I should be an actor. I would do a good impression of my teacher, or I would do a really good impression of my mom yelling at me. I think I studied people. It’s the thing I like to do the most, study and watch people and behavior. I think I find characters like Tony, or some of the characters that I’ve played before, fascinating. I have so much fun playing these characters that I think it shows in the work. I was in the U.K. for over five years, and I always played the American guy. I always wanted to be playing the Brit or the European, but there were Brits and Europeans there to play them. So here in the U.S. it has been a lot of fun because I get to play all the guys with accents.
IM: Billy Elliot’s Tony is a difficult character to like. Audiences don’t really get on board with him until the end of the show. How do you tap into his humanity?
Mulvey: Tony is disappointed throughout the entire show, whether it’s by his father, his brother, the union, the government… He was raised a miner, and mining is what they do in this town, and it’s what they believe in and it’s how they’ve grown and it’s where they’re going. As much as the audience might not understand why he’s screaming and shouting, throwing the kid on the table, they have to remember that he’s a guy who has lost his mother, and now his father is failing to help him understand the change. I think everything he does is coming out of loss and confusion, not anger or resentment. It all comes out of a young man who doesn’t know what to do.
IM: Which role have you had that is most like you?
Mulvey: I can go as far as to say, I don’t think any of them. Since I left school I’ve played a thirteen year old touring with the national Theater of Scotland. I did the hot-tempered chef role on the BBC drama, and I played a famously depressed, alcoholic, Russian poet, which is nothing like me. None of them!
IM: How did you pull off playing a 13 year old boy?
Mulvey: The National Theatre of Scotland turned Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” into a play, and they did the first stage production of it. It follows two young boys around Illinois at this carnival that comes to town. They had me shave my legs everyday, that was interesting. I don’t think I had ever looked more ridiculous. A 24 year old trying to look 13 and shaving his legs. It’s not easy, by the way! If you cut yourself in the knee, you’ve got yourself a situation!
IM: At least you didn’t have to do your armpits too.
Mulvey: I just did them for fun (laughs).
IM: What is your dream role?
Mulvey: I would love to play Iago in Othello. I would love to do some Pinter. There’s so much. Bobby in Company. The part of Jack Kelly in Newsies! I grew up watching that film, I love it. I’d love to have a shot at that one.
IM: Which performers have inspired you?
Mulvey: I was pretty inspired by Mark Rylance. When I saw him in Jerusalem I thought, ‘That’s the type of work I can only hope to be doing in ten, twenty years.’ What he was doing every night was very special. He leaves a part of him out there every night, and it’s fantastic to watch. And as funny as it sounds, Jim Carrey. When I was 11 and 12, and Jim Carrey was jumping around as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, I pretty much thought he was the greatest thing!
IM: Before Billy you had spent only a handful of days in New York. What has been the most surprising to you about the city, now that you live in it?
Mulvey: I’ve lived in Scotland, I lived in London, I lived in Chicago, but New York, what a city! There’s work and inspiration everywhere, whether you’re on the subway, or whether you’re walking down the street, or whether you’re in a theater. There’s so many people with an artistic objective, that the city just has this energy and it’s a pleasure to be in it everyday. I said to my girlfriend the first time we were here, “You don’t need coffee in the morning here, because all you have to do is step outside and you wake up.”
IM: You have attested to the fact that you can do a mean impression. How did you come to impersonate George Clooney?
Mulvey: It was one of my first professional jobs as an actor, I was paid to be a George Clooney impersonator. I would pretty much be a guest of honor. A fabric company was getting rid of one of its managers, and this manager was obsessed with George Clooney. She was an older Scottish woman and so what they wanted to do was hire an actor to come in and pretend to be Clooney and be her date for the night. They called my drama school, and the school was like, “Pat, can you come in to the office?” I go into the head dean and I was so excited, thinking, ‘Yes, I got a gig!’ So I said, “What is it?” They said, “We need someone to be George Clooney down the street at the fabric store, they said they’d pay $75 for the night if you show up in a tuxedo, and you’re all we’ve got.” So I show up at the fabric store for this party, and the woman goes, “You don’t look like George Clooney.” I said, “I know, I’m sorry, I’m all the drama school had.” And she said, “Okay, I guess you’ll do. Come on in.” It was the most painful three hours I ever spent! (Laughs) I didn’t do much impersonating. Something fun came out of it, and hey, I made $75! Beggars can’t be choosers at the beginning of their careers.
To catch Patrick in Billy Eilliot visit www.Telecharge.com.