Of course there's nudity! Mark-Paul Gosselaar will be full-frontal for the majority of the show.
Justin Kirk hasn’t been onstage in New York since 2002, but he’s never been far from sight. Kirk had a three-season run on the comedy series Jack and Jill, gave an Emmy-nominated performance as Prior in Mike Nichols’ miniseries adaptation of Angels in America, then nabbed another major TV role, that of deviant, pot-smoking “Uncle Andy” on the Showtime hit Weeds. And now, theater fans, he’s back, starring opposite Tony winner Julie White and Mark-Paul Gosselaar in Roundabout Theatre Company’s off-Broadway debut of Theresa Rebeck’s The Understudy. We caught up with the amiable Kirk to find out what’s up with his long overdue return to the stage.
It’s been seven years since your last play [The World Over at Playwrights Horizons]. What made you sign on for The Understudy?
It’s a terrific play! Theresa Rebeck writes for actors, and I love working with [director Scott Ellis]. He directs a lot for Weeds now, which is how this project came up.
We can guess from the title, but what’s the show about?
Let me break it down for you: The play is a real time understudy rehearsal of a lost Kafka play being mounted on Broadway with two Hollywood action stars. One is an offstage character named Bruce, and the other is Jake, played by Mark-Paul. Julie is the stage manager, and I am the titular character of The Understudy.
Have you been an understudy?
I don’t think I have? I have been a replacement, which is one of the scariest and most exciting gigs an actor can have. I think it’s similar [to being an understudy] in that you work on it on your own, go see the show a lot and then show up onstage.
Has anyone ever had to go onstage for you?
Yes, but I try to keep that a rarity. I do know that I was the only cast member of Love! Valour! Compassion! that never missed a performance, and we played for over a year, so I was very proud of that.
You’ve appeared naked on Broadway, in HBO’s Angels in America and on your current series, Weeds. Will you keep the streak going in The Understudy?
Thank you for noticing! From what I can tell, there’s no nudity in our show as such. Maybe I shouldn’t say that though? Um, I mean, of course there’s nudity! Mark-Paul Gosselaar will be full-frontal for the majority of the show.
If you could appoint anyone to be your personal understudy in life, who would it be?
I’ll have to go with Mark-Paul Goesselar. Yes, him, for sure.
This is Mark-Paul's New York stage debut. As a theater veteran, did you have any words of wisdom for him?
If he were to ask me for advice, I’d only try to sabotage him to make myself look better. No, Mark-Paul is new to theater, but he’s played the lead on television shows for about 20 years, so he’s certainly a veteran actor. Somehow I think he’ll be fine.
In addition to Mary-Louise Parker and Hunter Parrish, you're the third Weeds star who’s a Broadway vet. Who’s the next actor Weeds will send to the New York stage?
Demian Bichir, who plays [Mary-Louise Parker’s onscreen baby-daddy] Esteban Reyes, would be great, but he’s off shooting some movie in Ireland. I guess you’re stuck with me holding down the fort for now off-Broadway. I wouldn’t mind seeing Allie Grant [Isabelle Hodes] in Rock of Ages though. She’d be great. Actually, that’s my prediction: Allie Grant will be the next to tread the boards. She’s a very talented young lady.
Have you brought Uncle Andy’s pot-smoking ways to The Understudy?
Of course. We’re stoned all day long! No, that hasn’t happened. It’s been a while since I did a play, and there was a point early in rehearsal where I thought I’d never be able to learn these lines. I’m fine now, but I think too much pot smoking might get in the way of that process.
You’re probably not going to leak any details about the next season of Weeds, are you?
If you watched through the season finale, you know exactly as much as the writers know. They write themselves into a corner every year, and then meet up in January and try to figure out how to get the show started again. I wouldn’t leak anything if I did know, but fortunately there’s nothing to know right now.