Eight months into playing Guy in the Tony-winning musical Once, Paul Alexander Nolan can’t recommend a good Irish pub in Manhattan. He’s too busy being a “Broadway monk” to imbibe much. Besides, sake is the crooning Canadian’s current drink of choice. But being a Broadway monk is a fair trade-off when your face is all over Times Square and your fans have given you a lifetime supply of crazy socks to wear. Broadway.com caught up with Nolan to chat about his new onstage love interest, playing Broadway ball and rocking out on the guitar.
When you started Once, you told us that playing guitar in front of a crowd was a “great mountain to climb” because you hadn’t done it before. Has that gotten easier?
Much easier. Usually the things you’re most proud of in life are the things that were the hardest to achieve. And I’m really proud of where I’ve come. It’s really fun. It took a few months and a lot of effort, and it still takes a lot more effort than someone playing the guitar in front of people for 10 years, but now I’m relaxed and with it I feel like I’m not lying when I’m playing this character.
Your chemistry with Jessie Fisher is terrific. How does her take on Girl differ from Joanna Christie’s?
Jessie is great. She’s a really excellent actor and an excellent musician, a great company member. We really enjoy working off each other. I kind of show up to work every night and we go on a ride together that could be much different than it was yesterday. That’s really fun for us. If you take painting as an example, if you’ve got two Impressionists painting the same scene they’re going to be much different paintings. But both painters are excellent. That’s how I think about Jessie and Jo.
On Twitter, it looks like your sock collection is getting out of control. Are you getting socks at stage door?
[Laughs.] Yeah, I’ve been sent a few pairs lately. It’s not like a giant influx, being overwhelmed with socks or anything. That’s good, because I certainly wouldn’t want the world’s sock population to be decreasing because I own them all.
Is there a dream pair?
No, I don’t spend my time sweeping the Internet looking for my dream socks. I don’t buy a lot of clothes. I’m not a fashion guy. The one thing I do grant myself is fun, colorful socks. I’m looking in my sock drawer right now.
This is getting interesting. How many pairs do you have?
Let me do a quick count…I’d say there are about 30 pairs of socks in there.
Have you caught Les Miz, the show that inspired you to become an actor?
No, I haven’t seen it. We run pretty much the same schedule so I don’t get a chance to see a lot of things. I’m friends with Melissa O’Neil and the cast so I see her every once in a while. I’ve become a Broadway monk, basically. If I do too much socializing I get run down, but if I do too little of it then I start feeling lonely. It’s an interesting experiment on how to balance your life to do your job to your best ability but to also not go nuts by only doing your job.
Have you seen anything on Broadway?
I saw A Gentlemen’s Guide when they did a Thursday matinee in January. I saw Matilda on a Sunday night in February. I saw Atomic the other night, which is off-Broadway. A good friend of mine, Jeremy Kushnier, is doing that. I saw Beautiful.
You haven’t been too monk-like. Have you got away this summer?
I just got back from vacation. I went to Vancouver Island in Canada.
Did you see family?
I was out there for my parents’ 50th anniversary.
That’s awesome. You didn’t have to sing for them, did you?
I actually did. I wrote a song for them. We had a big surprise party for them. At the party, I sang them the song.
You told us last year you really wanted to play on the Broadway Show League. How has that been going?
Oh yeah. We have much a more competitive team with Once than we did with the Superstar company. We’re in the playoffs now. We go to the semi-finals next week and if we get through those we will play Rock of Ages for the final—who are a very good team. [Note: Sadly, after the interview, Rock of Ages beat Once in the final.]
You’re prominently featured in the new ad campaign for Once. Are you getting recognized more?
Funny enough, no. I’ve had as many people stop me on the street saying, “I saw you as Jesus [in Jesus Christ Superstar]” as I have people who are in this city right now seeing the massive amount of press. I’m more interested in being an artist than a celebrity. It’s fine by me if people walk past. I like to people-watch and be anonymous. I would be lying if I didn’t say it was kind of neat. When I was a kid, can you imagine if you told me when I’m 35, I’d be all over New York, all over Broadway, a poster in Times Square? No, that would have tickled me silly. Now, I look at it and chuckle to myself.
See Nolan in Once at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.