Tony Award nominee Hunter Foster, whose Broadway resume includes such shows as Little Shop of Horrors, Urinetown, The Producers and Footloose, began his career on the New York stage over 15 years ago. So, he’s had plenty of experience to draw on for his last two gigs, off-Broadway’s New York-centric musicals Happiness and the currently playing Ordinary Days. In the latter, Foster stars as a transitioning thirtysomething trying to match his relationship with the woman he loves to the pace of New York City. We dialed the leading man for a quick talk about the city he loves, and what you’ll love about it, too.
Both Ordinary Days and Happiness were all about life in New York. What was your own move to this city like?
It sounds like a cliché, but how fast everyone was moving made such an impression. I think [composer] Adam Gwon does a great job of depicting that in Ordinary Days, even in the intimate setting of Roundabout Underground. Walking, eating, talking, driving, it’s all go, go, go! We’re doing everything on the run. I don’t think New Yorkers are rude. I think New Yorkers want things done quickly and efficiently, and they’re going to tell you if it’s not done the right way! But because of that, people in New York aren’t as prone to talking behind your back—they’re going to tell you what they think right now.
How does that compare to life in small-town Georgia [where Foster grew up]?
Down south everything is, “Yes ma’am, no ma’am. Yes sir, no sir.” Even adults say that to one another. The pace is extremely slow and people are almost overly nice to you. But it can be one of those things where they smile to your face and start talking once you turn your back.
At what point were you able to say, “I am a New Yorker?”
I moved here in 1992. One day I just woke up and realized I’d lived in New York longer than I’d lived anywhere else. I also remember being out of town one day, getting mad and yelling at someone, and then thinking, “Wow. I sound like I’m from New York.”
What’s one thing every New Yorker should go and see, or do?
I love Coney Island. I went right as it got warm in the spring a few years ago, walked the boardwalk and looked at the amusement park. It’s like stepping back in time. You can imagine what it looked like back in the day. It’s a little trashy now, but between the ocean and its old New York flavor, it became one of the coolest day trips I’ve ever taken. Even if it does take, like, three hours to get there via subway.
How do you escape New York when you’ve had enough?
In the summer I have to go to Bryant Park. It’s like an oasis. But usually Barnes and Noble. I don’t know what it is about that place, but I could spend hours there. It’s so civil in Barnes and Noble! That seems to be my pre-show, in between auditions routine. I’ll just look through magazines and books for hours.
OK, bookworm. What are you reading right now?
Where Men Win Glory. It’s a John Krakauer book about Pat Tillman, the professional football player who enlisted in the Iraq war and was killed in Afghanistan. I got 30% off… I don’t know why I needed to tell you that, but I did.
You’ve been a New York actor for almost 20 years. Was there ever anything else you wanted to do?
I wanted to be a major league baseball player, but I was never good enough! I’ve always been most drawn to acting and writing, but I’ve secretly always wanted to open my own restaurant. Of course, everyone I talk to says that’s way harder than acting.
Would you be the chef or on the business end?
I’m getting better at cooking—my wife [fellow Broadway performer Jen Cody] likes that. But it’s the business part that interests me. Every time we go out to eat I think about wanting to design a menu, decorate a restaurant—God, that’s all insane, I know. All my restaurant friends say, “You wouldn’t last a day!” But it would still be cool.
What kind of restaurant would Hunter Foster’s be?
I don’t like stuffy, overly fancy dining. It wouldn’t be Per Se! I’m a southerner, so it would be something smaller, in a boutique-like spot ideally in Midtown or somewhere in Hell’s Kitchen. It would probably have some southern flair. And definitely casual!
As a rising food star then, what would be on the plate for your last meal?
Oh, that is so unfair! That’s too tough a question. [long pause] Probably BBQ. Yes, definitely. I have my answer: a big plate of barbequed pulled pork.