Ten years ago, Euan Morton ignited the fall season with a charismatic Broadway debut performance as Boy George in Taboo. The short-lived musical attracted passionate fans, but its Scottish-born star didn’t fully reap the benefits of his Tony-nominated role. Morton has worked steadily, but with big gaps in his New York resume. Luckily for off-Broadway audiences, this very talented actor is headlining Keen Company’s 25th anniversary revival of Jon Robin Baitz’s The Film Society, which opens on October 1 at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row. As previews began, Morton spoke honestly with Broadway.com about how he found contentment during his recent “gap year” and why he’s excited to be back in the Big Apple.
Welcome back to New York! Were you aware that The Film Society helped launch Nathan Lane’s career back in 1988?
I was, actually, and I’m thrilled to follow in Nathan’s footsteps and play a role that did such wonderful things for him. Having had the experience of Taboo, and 10 years as an actor in America—good years and not so good years—this is not about being launched or re-launched, but about doing good work. I’ve been able to approach the role of Jonathon with an open heart, and I’m enjoying every minute.
We’ll get to Taboo shortly. What did you like about the role of Jonathon, a teacher at an Apartheid-era boys' school in South Africa?
I responded to his vulnerability and his loneliness. As actors, we are vulnerable people because there’s so much competition. I could instantly relate to this man who is trying to make connections and not succeeding very well.
Did Robbie Baitz come to rehearsal?
Yes, and it was fascinating. He said, “Jonathon is me. I was never a teacher, but I went to those schools. I was that weird boy, and I was writing about myself.” I thought, “Oh god, no pressure.” [Laughs.] It is fascinating to sit with someone who has had so much success and is still so vulnerable and so humble.
Fill us in on what you’ve been up to in the past few years. You’ve worked a lot, just not in New York.
When the market crashed in 2010, after [the Broadway revue] Sondheim on Sondheim, I couldn’t afford my apartment here anymore. I had a home in Virginia, so I decided to move there because I had been offered the musical Chess [at Signature Theatre in Arlington]. Then Parade came along [at Ford’s Theatre in D.C.], which was very successful, and then the Shakespeare Theater offered me a job [Two Gentlemen of Verona]. I moved to L.A. for five months, then back to Yale Rep and then back to California. I put 30,000 miles on my car in 18 months.
You’ve blogged about your many road trips. Why do you enjoy crisscrossing the country by car?
For me, the American dream is about the freedom to (A) own a car, (B) fill it with gas, and (C) have tens of thousands of miles of vast landscape in which to find oneself. I’ve hiked 100 miles to the base of the Grand Canyon, I’ve climbed Mount Wilson, I’ve driven to the Badlands in South Dakota, I’ve gambled in New Orleans, I’ve driven the Pacific Coast Highway through the redwood forest. I have literally driven to every state except Hawaii and Alaska. Jobs would come along, and I would do them as an excuse to drive across the country again.
Have you thought about becoming an American citizen, like your countryman Alan Cumming?
The papers arrived in my mailbox last week to begin the application to become a citizen. I hope it happens by the end of 2014.
How is your son, Iain? Is he in Virginia?
Yes, he’s my wonderful five-year-old boy, this blond and beautiful little tap dancing musical theater genius! He’s great at tae kwon do and he plays tennis; I don’t know how he’s so brilliant. Work keeps me away from him a lot, which is difficult, but thank goodness for the wonders of Facetime and Skype.
Can you believe that 10 years have passed since Taboo?
There are days when I feel like it was yesterday, and there are days when I feel like it was so long ago, it never happened. People say, “It must annoy you to talk about Taboo all the time,” but it really doesn’t. It gave me the life I have today, and it was a wonderful piece of theater; I don’t care what Michael Riedel or anyone else says. In many ways, Taboo was a little ahead of its time. It opened the door for dirtier musicals—not in a sexy way, just rough, raw, not quite ready; that’s happened a lot since Taboo. I’ll never say anything bad about it, because I’m very grateful to it and to [producer] Rosie [O’Donnell] and George.
Any desire to do another musical in New York?
Definitely. I don’t have a dream role, but I’d love to do a classic. I auditioned to play Thenardier in the Les Miz revival, which is kind of a brilliant idea because I am so not a Thenardier-looking person. Sadly, I didn’t get it, although we were all happy with the audition. I was hoping that Chess would make it because that score is amazing, The book has problems, but with Richard Nelson’s help, we fixed many of those issues. I’ll hang around until someone says “sing” again.
What about cabaret?
Actually, I’m doing a concert on December 12 at 54 Below with a six-piece brass band! It’s music of the ’20s and ’30s, sort of Prohibition-era music. Driving west through Missouri and Kansas and Oklahoma has given me a taste for that period in history. I’ll be singing American standards but also weird, secret little songs.
You’ve done musicals and plays of all kinds, and you look different in each show—is that a double-edged sword when it comes to getting cast?
I suppose so. [Sondheim on Sondheim co-star] Barbara Cook said to me only two weeks ago, “Honey, if you had been born 50 years ago, you’d be a star.” I laughed it off, but I used to think, boy, if only I could have started at the same time as Karen Carpenter, when the world was simpler—you could just sing pretty and people would make you a star. I don’t really have the gumption to sell myself the way it takes now. I’m not in it for that.
Well, it’s great to have you back in New York.
I’m much happier in my life now. Have I let things get me down in the past? Yes. Do I let it get me down anymore? Honestly and genuinely, no. At some point, no matter what you do for a living, you have to accept where you are in your life and change the things you can change. In the past 18 months, I’ve given up smoking, I don’t drink any alcohol, I go to the gym every day, I practice my singing—I do all the things I wasn’t doing for the past 10 years. My grandmother used to say, “What’s for you will not go by you.” I feel like if I am open to change and to new experiences, they will come.
See Euan Morton in The Film Society at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row.