Age and Hometown: 44; Oxford, England
Current Roles: A scene-stealing Broadway debut as witty maid Maria in Twelfth Night, plus dual roles Hastings and Tyrrell in Richard III.
Ladies First: Audiences can’t get enough of Paul Chahidi’s hilariously imperious Maria, especially in tandem with two-time Tony winner Mark Rylance as his “mistress,” Olivia. “I felt a huge responsibility,” the charming Chahidi says of donning six layers of women’s clothing, porcelain makeup and a helmet-like horsehair wig. “There are precious few women’s roles in classical theater, so if I was going to take this part, I wanted it to be real, not an over-the-top drag act.” By getting dressed in candlelight on the Belasco Theatre stage, Chahidi explains, “We’re saying to the audience, ‘You and I are going to go on a journey together, and we’re going to use our imaginations. Yes, men are playing women, but just go with it.’ And they do! There’s something magical about that.”
The Other Kate & George: While attending an all-boys’ school, Chahidi took on his first drag role at 13 in a Tom Stoppard play. “I never played a woman again until Maria—I don’t want people to think that’s all I do!” he says. He honed his skills at Cambridge University and London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, and has worked steadily at the Globe, the RSC in films like Notting Hill and on TV’s The Hour. Married to a children’s charity founder since 2006, Chahidi is the proud father of two-year-old George. When Britain’s royal couple chose the same name, “My wife had a day of grumpiness when she went, ‘Oh god, everyone’s going to be called George now,’” he recalls with a laugh. “And her name is Kate, so she said, ‘You might as well change your name to William and be done with it.’”
New York State of Mind: In spite of his stellar London resume and Olivier Award nomination, Chahidi is positively starstruck about making his American stage debut. “Broadway is so immense as an acting job, I didn’t dare dream that I would make it,” he says. “The response to these plays was amazing in London, but I can honestly say that it’s been even better here.” Personally speaking, the actor finds New York “brilliant” for children and has already taken George, his “hilarious handful,” to the Central Park Zoo and the pumpkin patch at the Bronx Botanical Garden. “Living here, and being part of New York for a few months, is absolutely extraordinary.”