Hometown: Guerneville, California. “It’s in the relaxed area of the wine country—a good place to be from.”
Currently: Making his Broadway debut as Rodolpho, the charming Italian immigrant who woos Scarlett Johansson and clashes with a jealous Liev Schreiber in the Broadway revival of A View from the Bridge.
Nerd Alert: Spector first took the stage at age seven, playing kids’ roles in a rep company formed by actors who had moved north from San Francisco. “I took a break from acting in high school because I got oddly self-conscious about it,” he recalls, “and I swore I wouldn’t major in theater in college. I wanted to do something more ‘useful,’ but acting was the thing I was most inspired by.” He headed north to Reed College in Portland, “a fantastic place with a self-selecting population of nerdy, eccentric kids who go there both to get a serious education and to be and do anything they want.” The actor seems far from dorky today, but he insists, “I have a bit of closet nerd it me! It’s an ongoing battle.”
Bay-Area Boy: After college graduation, Spector enrolled in the American Conservatory Theater’s three-year M.F.A. program. In addition to loving San Francisco, he admits that romance played a part in his selection of A.C.T.: “I had gone to college across the country from a girl I was dating at the time, so I wanted to go to grad school in the same place. And I wasn’t ready to move to New York.” A casting director for The Lion King spotted Spector in his pre-graduation showcase and, six months later, he joined the show’s national tour as standby to Scar and Pumbaa. “There are people who open their mouths to sing and your ear rejoices, and I’m not that person,” he says. “Scar sings, but it’s character singing—you can sort of growl it.” His year on the road proved to be a great learning experience in what Spector calls “a beautifully built show. Julie Taymor is a brilliant director, and it was a privilege to work with such massively accomplished singers and dancers.”
Climbing the Bridge: Called in to audition for Gregory Mosher’s Broadway revival of A View from the Bridge, Spector was startled to discover he’d be reading for the man who directed Glengarry Glen Ross and produced celebrated productions at Lincoln Center Theater before stepping away from the stage a decade ago. “Oh my god, I Wikipedia-ed him and was blown away that I was going to be in the room with this guy,” he says of Mosher. “He’s a piece of American theater history! And he was a pleasure to audition for because he has enormous respect for actors.” Spector won the small role of Tony and was tapped to understudy Rodolpho—then, less then two weeks into previews, he was thrust onstage as Scarlett Johansson’s lover after Santino Fontana suffered a concussion.
Step Right Up: A morning call from the stage manager saying “You're going on tonight” began Spector's journey from standby to star. “It was one of the more terrifying phone calls of my life,” he says now, “because we had had no understudy rehearsal, and Scarlett and I had not really spoken to each other. I didn't want there to be a chance that I would be embarrassed or not live up to the standards of this production. And I felt terrible for Santino—but I was excited for the opportunity.” Like any good understudy, Spector knew his lines, so he and fellow Broadway novice Johansson jumped right in. “We were both nervous, but Scarlett is such a professional,” he says. “We've built a really strong working relationship.” What about Rodolpho's distinctive blond wig, which the very brunet Spector dons every night? “It's not so bad!” he says with a laugh. “When I was wearing Santino's wig, I lost two inches of forehead, but I like the one I'm wearing now. There's something exciting about being unrecognizable onstage.”
Home Fires: Away from the theater, Spector enjoys strong support from his family in California and his girlfriend, Rebecca, who manages a Manhattan architecture firm. “Before I knew I was going to replace [Fontana permanently], my mom flew 3,000 miles on a day's notice to surprise me at a matinee,” he says. “That was one of the more wonderful things that ever happened to me.” Meanwhile, his first call after being summoned to go on as Rodolpho was to Rebecca, alerting her to grab a ticket for his first performance. “Her job is as foreign to me as theater is to her, but I think that's good for both of us. You need someone in your life who grounds you and makes you feel good on a day-to-day basis so that when situations like this arise, you can be emotionally stable enough to take advantage of them. I have a lot to celebrate.”