Stark Sands, American Idiot’s resident rocker turned military man, is no stranger to sporting camouflage. He’s played soldiers onscreen in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers, the Emmy-winning HBO miniseries Generation Kill and Day of the Dead. Sands also marched onstage in 2007 in his Tony-nominated Broadway debut performance in Journey’s End. In addition to his current stage gig, Sands recently filmed a role in the much-buzzed-about Broadway-centric HBO pilot, The Miraculous Year. We talked to him about his own miraculous year, which has included singing at the Grammys, getting engaged and, of course, rocking out at American Idiot.
You’ve played many soldiers. Are you drawn to those roles?
It’s just how things have played out. My first soldier role was in Flags of Our Fathers. Casting director Jay Binder saw that movie and was looking for soldiers for Journey’s End, which led to Generation Kill. Once you’ve done something and people know you can do it well, if someone needs a soldier, they’ll say, ‘Oh that guy Stark Sands can do it.’ I’ve played a soldier in World War I, World War II, twice in Operation Iraqi Freedom and in a zombie movie! I know a lot about it now, and have so much respect for those guys.
Have you gotten feedback from actual soldiers?
Tons. It means a lot because it’s a big responsibility not just to portray a soldier, but to play a wounded soldier and to imagine what it’s like to lose such an essential piece of your body. I’ve learned a lot from people writing me letters saying, ‘This happened to me and your performance was so moving.’ Everything they’ve told me has helped inform my performance. A group of about 40 wounded veterans came to the show and one guy actually popped his prosthetic leg off and asked me to sign it!
You’re such a nice guy, yet you’re playing this angry jerk onstage.
It’s fun. A lot of roles I’ve done have been a lot like me. For this, I have to dig deeper to find rage and things that upset me. One thing I decided a few weeks in is that underneath all the tattoos and attitude, there’s still a bit of me inside. There really is a nice guy there. He’s just been through a lot that makes him wear this "Don’t mess with me" type of mask.
Filming just wrapped on your new Broadway-themed HBO pilot, The Miraculous Year. We’re dying to hear about it!
My dream has been to do both stage and camera work, and this show is a melding of those things. I’m playing a young composer working on a Broadway musical, like a young Tom Kitt, who’s the protégé of Norbert Leo Butz’s tortured composer character…and I’m Patti LuPone’s son! There’s all these terrific Broadway actors cast in a show about Broadway. I just feel honored to be in this group because a lot of them are my heroes.
Were you intimidated to play Patti’s son? She’s playing an outrageous Broadway diva, right?
I had a bit of an "in" with Patti already. My [American Idiot] dressing room was Boyd Gaines’ room during Gypsy. Boyd and I did Journey’s End together, so when I came to see Gypsy, I met Patti backstage. At the table reading, I said, "Hi Patti, I’m friends with Boyd Gaines," so right there I was able to grease the wheels [laughs]. She’s been so wonderfully loving and motherly to me because I am one of the younger actors in terms of Broadway experience.
Until the success of Glee, TV and musicals didn’t really go together. Will The Miraculous Year use a similar format?
At the table read, we decided we want to make a show about the creation of a legitimate, great Broadway musical and its composer who, in real life, would probably win Tonys. That’s ambitious, because then you have to actually create great original material. It’s not like Glee where they’ve already got the songs. Nothing against them, but for this, we have to create everything new. We’ve got [The Light in the Piazza composer] Adam Guettel composing all the music, so he was there to teach me little tidbits about piano and rhythm.
As if you weren’t busy enough, congratulations on your recent engagement [to British writer Gemma Clarke]. It must be crazy planning a wedding with eight shows a week.
We’re looking at our schedules and figuring out when the best time is with future work options. I don’t want to plan the wedding and then find out I’ll be working that week. She’s seen the show 11 times and has been incredibly supportive and moved here [from England] to put up with me and this schedule. I owe her a lot. We’re going to take a long break and honeymoon. I just want to make her as happy as I can.
In September the Idiot cast is performing again with Green Day on Monday Night Football. How pumped are you?
These performances are getting surreal! At the end of the Grammy performance, which was in front of 20,000 people, I walked offstage and said "That was amazing, but I’ll never play to a crowd like that again." I spoke too soon! The [New Meadowlands] Stadium holds over 80,000! We just rehearsed, and it’s going to be fantastic.