As Luke in the Naked Angels’ phenomenal play Next Fall, Patrick Heusinger is one half of the most intriguing couple on Broadway. In Geoffrey Nauffts’ piece, Heusinger plays a devout Christian to Patrick Breen’s atheist.
The play moved from Off-Broadway to Broadway in February after being extended three times.
Although Heusinger is gripping his audiences eight times each week on stage, he may be most familiar for his work on the screen. He conquered the teen scene when he played Lord Marcus on “Gossip Girl,” and made his film debut in the award-winning “Sweet Land.”
This summer he will be making an appearance on “Rescue Me.”
Although he enjoys acting in any medium tremendously, the stage has become Heusinger’s true love after starring in Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof and the national tour of Spamalot.
Next Fall is sure to be only one of a long line of meaty roles in which the talented actor can sink his teeth. He recently chatted with TheImproper about his road to the Tony nominated play.
The Improper: How does one get from Jacksonville to Broadway?
Heusinger: It was really quick! I was 18 years old and then I just walked onto Broadway and started doing this play. It was really crazy. It was a very smooth transition (laughs). Honestly, I never thought I was going to be an actor of any sort. I graduated high school with a friend of mine, Daniel Breaker, who played Donkey in “Shrek.” I had a done a play in high school. It was just a three person play, and it had Daniel Breaker, and Ryan Key who was the lead singer of the band Yellowcard. Anyway, Daniel got into Juilliard. We were talking on the phone one day, he really encouraged me that he thought this is somewhere I could probably get into. So I auditioned and I did get into Juilliard.
IM: You were so young! Was the experience of making that transition difficult?
Heusinger: I really felt too young to be at Juilliard. I took a year off from Juilliard because I felt like I was too young to be there. There were a lot of people there who were a little bit older who had gone to college prior to that. They included Michael Urie, Jessica Chastain and Luke McFarlane. I had only lived in Jacksonville my entire life. So I was a little bit lost being there. I took a year off, worked odd jobs, I was actually a cater waiter. The really odd thing was that I worked myself way up in the cater waiter company and became the administrative director for that. Then I went back to Juilliard and joined a class. It was another really talented class while I was at that school, and it allowed me an opportunity to kind of grow up a little bit and get some experience. I graduated from Juilliard.
IM: When you were fresh out of school, was it difficult to find work as an actor?
Heusinger: I was jobless, and I couldn’t get an acting job right away. I looked very different. I was doing a type, actually. I played character roles at Juilliard. I ended up booking my first job six months later. I did this little independent film “Sweet Land,” it did very well, and it won Best Feature in the Independent Spirit Awards. Then I did Fiddler on the Roof, and a day on “The Nanny Diaries.” Almost a year after I finished Fiddler, I got the Spamalot national tour playing all of the Hank Azaria roles and that was a job that was really intense because I was a kid. Everybody else was really well-developed, and they were smart, talented actors with a lot of experience. I got this comedy education because I had no idea what I was doing.
IM: That must have been a testament to your acting abilities. Spamalot is a very physical, comedic musical.
Heusinger: It was tough. I feel like I played a big old trick on them in getting into the show. I mean, let’s be honest. When I got the show, audiences probably didn’t know that everybody else who ever played the role was probably about one hundred times better than I was, but the cast sure did, and I did! (laughs) But they also knew that I really wanted to learn. I was 25, and literally everybody who had ever played the role prior to me was almost two decades older than I was at the time.
By the time I finished that tour almost two years later, I really had a better idea of how to be an actor. It was a great show to do, because it’s really Acting 101. What’s your intention? What do you want in this scene? I mean those characters have to be pretty realistic even if they’re theatrical, they have to be believable. Anyhow, that’s when I booked “Gossip Girl,” and did that for about ten weeks. And then I booked Next Fall. It was billed to me as, ‘Hey, do you want to do a show for three weeks, with a week of previews, and you’re not going to get paid anything?’ It was just around $100 a week. That’s what we were all doing that for!
IM: With that sort of pitch, what appealed to you about taking the role of Luke?
Heusinger: What appealed to me was that somebody handed me the script and said, ‘Hey take a look at this,’ and I read it. I immediately fell in love with it. I thought it was the most beautiful play I had ever read in my life. I was aggressively, passionately interested in being a part of it. Frankly, I didn’t think that they would take me seriously as a player within the company of actors because of my past experience. I had the college credit, but I didn’t think that being on a silly TV show, and having a couple of minor TV credits would make them think that I was a serious play actor. Plus, this was my first professional play. I had no live acting credits that were plays.
IM: The entire cast of Next Fall gives award-worthy performances, yourself included.
Heusinger: If there was ever a case made for any of these awards to give one for an Outstanding Ensemble, this is the play. I don’t think anybody leaves the theater saying, ‘You know, that person sure wasn’t good.’ I think everyone leaves the theater and says, ‘What a talented group of actors.’ I can’t help that every time I go on stage I acknowledge how much better all the other actors that I’m working with are than me. I love working with people who I have such a deep, high respect for, artistically, professionally, and personally.
They’re wonderful people, and you can’t wait to go out there and throw a ball at them as hard as you can and know that they’re going to catch it, and that they’re going to catch in a different way every night, but also throw it back to you in a different way than they did the night before. It’s really thrilling, and when you close your eyes and think about the things you’d like to be a part of when you’re training as an actor, it’s just kind of one of those things.
IM: Luke is such a complex character. In which ways are you and he alike?
Heusinger: I feel like I’m nothing like him at all. A good friend of mine in the business said to me, ‘I feel like there’s so much of your heart up there.’ I am naïve, like Luke is, to a certain extent. But I think there are a lot of things that Luke is not naïve to. Luke is sort of brilliant with a lot of subject matter. It’s sort of incredible about how completely ignorant he is to the whole other set of subject matter. I think I’m similar to that. There are certain things that I know a lot about just because I love those things and I get to know them and I become intimate with them.
IM: What are the “things” that you know a lot about?
Heusinger: I think I’m going to leave that one blank! But there are so many things that I just don’t know much about. I consider myself a fairly stubborn person. I think Luke is pretty stubborn about things he believes, there are some things that I feel like I believe in that I won’t let go of, to a fault in some cases. I think I share that with him. I speak differently than him. The specific religion that Luke believes in is not my specific religion. These are the loudest characteristics. Luke is gay, I am not. I think Luke is interested to learn about ways of life, and interested in learning about other people and the way they do things. He is free in judgment about that. I’m similar to that with the exception that Luke has no desire to really get to know what those things are. He wants to know what Adam’s religion is, and he wants to know how Adam feels about that.
Adam has none, but Luke doesn’t judge it that he doesn’t have one. I’m more similar to Adam in the sense that while I do have my own personal religious convictions (I’m not an atheist like Adam), I love learning about the way other people do things. I have complete respect for it, and am truly fascinated by it, and I don’t believe that any of them are wrong. What I love about the play is I’m interested in how all of these belief systems do the dance of life together. I think Luke is interested in that sort of harmony, don’t get me wrong, but Luke doesn’t aggressively want to be familiar with that.
IM: Has being in the play changed or affected your viewpoints about any of the controversial subjects addressed within?
Heusinger: Before the play started I wanted to be a part of it so much because I already felt it was representative of my beliefs. It has a central moral of, ‘Why can’t we all just get along? How can we all just learn to do the dance of life together, whether you’re gay or straight, whether you’re religious or not, believer or nonbeliever, republican or democrat?” That spoke to me very loudly. In fact, I have a friend named Luke who is gay, whose parents are divorced.
IM: What is the most challenging aspect of playing Luke?
Heusinger: I love life, and I think that I have a real zest for it. I think I’m a lot more intense and passionate than Luke is, so we’re different there.
IM: So you find it difficult to tone down that energetic sort of happiness for the play?
Heusinger: Sometimes. For the most part I’m usually in wonderful, bright spirits. And some days, I have a headache. Some days I’m worried about my family, or my parents back home. I’m still a human being as well as an actor, and I want to keep a consistent performance, and also make sure I’m telling the story the playwright gave me, so it’s most effective for the audience and the story as a whole. Sometimes it’s tough to go in there every day and be truly, divinely happy.
But hopefully throughout this play too, for the most part with the exception of moments here and there, Luke always finds the wonderful parts of life to embrace, and that’s tough when your head hurts. Recently I had softball practice and I sprained my ankle. I didn’t want to freak out the cast, I did the show with a sprained ankle. It’s hard to run around the stage physically impaired, but also to run around the stage pretending like nothing’s wrong.
IM: Your role is very physical! Plus, you’re on stage for most of the play. That must have been tough!
Heusinger: It was tough, but I can imagine if I had just broken up with somebody, it would be even tougher to go out there and do that play. Maybe if the run is long enough…(laughs) But I can imagine that pain would be tough. For the most part I’ve been really fortunate to have nothing too splashy happening within my personal life, so I can really go in there and just channel what I’m feeling on a given day. That’s part of my job as an actor too. I walk out on stage every night and I look over at Patrick Breen, I see Sean Dugan and Maddie Corman and Cotter Smith and Connie Ray, and it’s like, ‘Man, am I happy to be here! Boy, I’m doing a great play!’
I’m so fortunate to be on Broadway right now, playing this character, how can you not be happy now? I imagined at this point in my life it would be harder to play people who are going through more difficult circumstances through most of the play. But for me right now, being more or less a baby among giants within this Broadway community and within this cast, I can’t help but be thrilled. The challenges that I’m given in this play are the kind of challenges that you hoped you would get to do in a play. When you’re in acting school, you search for a play like the last scene that Patrick Breen and I have together. I don’t get freaked out or worried, I get like, ‘Man, am I lucky? How many actors crave this opportunity?’ And I have to sit around and thank my lucky stars and appreciate that I got to be the guy right now at this time.
IM: When you get a day off, what do you find yourself doing?
Heusinger: Watching movies. I recently saw one of my classmates, Ben Walker, do Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and I loved it. I think it’s important to get out there and see other actors. I saw American Idiot, which I loved. I think I’m going to try to see Fela!
IM: Which dorky television shows would TheImproper readers make fun of you for watching?
Heusinger: You can make fun of me for a lot of them lately. I love “24” and “Lost.” Here come the dorky ones though: I love reality TV, I know, it’s bad. “The Amazing Race,” so good, I’m a huge fan of “Extreme Home Makeover.” I love watching it, I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful than watching the look on a family’s face who desperately needs a home, find out that they’re getting a home for the first time. I don’t understand how a human being can watch that show and not weep. It’s gorgeous. The classic American dream is owning your own home, and there is a TV show about people who desperately need it and are good, wonderful human beings and then being rewarded with it! It’s pretty thrilling.
IM: So you watch thoughtful reality?
Heusinger: I watch respectful reality.
IM: You’re not an “American Idol” fan?
Heusinger: (Laughs) Oh no, I watch American Idol and Survivor. I also like 30 Rock and The Office. Oh Friday Night Lights, don’t play! That show is so good. The other shows on my list are The Wire, Battlestar Gallactica, and Breaking Bad.
IM: Young fans of “Gossip Girl” must come in to see you in Next Fall. How do they react to the material?
Heusinger: People mention, ‘I watched the show.’ First of all, when I walk out there after Next Fall, I am so dramatically different than that “Gossip Girl” guy, Lord Marcus, and I’m nothing like him in this play. I’m nothing like him as a human being. He’s a sexually repressed Englishman who’s also physically stiff, and Luke is a really confident, loose, Southern gay man. It’s literally opposite ends of the spectrum. One of the writers of “Gossip Girl” came to see the show and she was like, ‘I can’t wait to tell the writing room about your performance in the show!’ I think most of the response I’ve gotten was, ‘Wow, it’s so different.’ No one actually spends much time talking about it. People get more interested in this character because they’ve seen a deeper portrait. I’m a human being in this play, and they get to see more than they did in the four episodes of “Gossip Girl” that I did.
IM: It’s so exciting that you’re going to be on “Rescue Me” this season. Now that is quality television!
Heusinger: You know, I’ve got to be honest, when I wrote my bio, it was like, ‘It’s recurring, you’re going to be on it all the time.’ But I’ve only done one episode! Don’t get too excited yet!
IM: Who will you play on “Rescue Me,” even if it is only for one episode?
Heusinger: They created a mirror crew of the main crew, where it’s like a bizarro crew sort of thing. They show up to a call one day and we rolled up, and we’re all like their twins more or less. For example, they have Black Shawn on their crew, on our crew it’s Yellow Steve. I’m the mirror of Steve Pasquale’s character, Sean. I’m Steve. But literally we went in and we shot a week for one episode, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you guys are coming back,’ and then didn’t hear anything. They could still potentially bring it back. It’s just one of those things. I have to tell you, I had a lot, a lot of fun on that set. I was like, ‘I’m going to put on a firefighter uniform!’ There were certain shows about which I was always like, ‘I would sweep the floor on the background of your show, I love it so much,’ and that was one of them.
IM: Tell me something that no one else would know about you.
Heusinger: I literally just leaned back in my chair (laughs). I’m a pretty open person. I’m a horrible dancer. Watching me dance is like watching your least favorite show on repeat. Actually, a lot of people know that. Okay, nobody knows this except for people who know me really well. I don’t have any favorite things! I don’t have a favorite color. I don’t have a favorite food. I don’t have a favorite song, I don’t have a favorite band. I don’t have favorite weather. I really don’t, I don’t have anything favorite except for a movie. It’s not the best movie ever made, but it’s “Life is Beautiful.” I saw that movie in junior high school when I was going to start acting. Is the acting great in it? No. Is it a well made movie? No. Is the script good? Yes.
Is it one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever seen? Yeah. It’s pretty amazing. One of the things that just represents the good in everything. I think when I watch that movie I see the father I would like to become and I see the father that mine was or is. I like the idea I would do anything. It’s like the last couple of lines in the movie when he says, ‘He gave me the gift of life.’ It’s so beautiful, because life is beautiful! That’s my dad, that’s what I want to be.
IM: Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?
Heusinger: I try not to get too caught up in what will be. The actors’ life has taught me to really embrace what’s right in front of me now, because you can’t predict what’s going to happen. I had no idea when I took this play that it would be where it is today. If I had said to myself, ‘I want to have A, B, C, and D done,’ none of those things would have happened, and by all nature of labeling out those goals, I could potentially consider myself having failed. But I look back on the short career I’ve had so far, and I feel like I’m doing great. I’m doing things I’m passionate about.
I don’t really see myself anywhere specific in ten years. I see myself happy. I think that’s what I would like to be. Love goes with that and family goes with that. Who knows? That’s something I desire in the long run, but I also acknowledge that may not happen for me. And that’s okay. I’m trying to take life a day at a time, trying to enjoy what’s right in front of me, and the gift that I’m being given because all glory is fleeting, it all does disappear. But right now, I’m a working actor on Broadway, and I can’t be more grateful or thankful for the gift of that. I think the idea is just to be nice to people, and stay that way.
To visit Patrick at Next Fall, you can purchase tickets at Telecharge.com. For more information about Next Fall, visit www.nextfallonbroadway.com.