Zachary Quinto’s Broadway Debut
The American Horror Story actor discusses his new role.
There are an ever-escalating number of reasons why fans might stop actor Zachary Quinto on the street. Perhaps they worshipped his deliciously evil role as the serial killer Skylar in the hit sci-fi TV show Heroes, which ran from 2006-2010. Or they are Trekkies, pleased with his interpretation of a young Spock in Star Trek and this summer’s Star Trek: Into Darkness. Maybe they loved his Emmy nominated performance as another serial killer, Dr. Thredson, on Ryan Murphy’s cult hit series American Horror Story: Asylum. It could even just be his magnificent eyebrows, equally adept at expressing malice and vulnerability.
Now, they have yet another excuse to love Quinto, 36, as he makes his Broadway debut in the gorgeous revival of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, opening at the Booth Theatre on September 26 after an acclaimed run in Cambridge earlier this year. Under John Tiffany’s direction and before a set designed by Bob Crowley, Quinto is Tom, the restless breadwinner and aspiring poet of a St. Louis family consisting of his domineering, former Southern belle mother (Cherry Jones) and his shy, crippled sister (Celia Keenan-Bolger).
Between previews, work for his production company Before the Door, founded in 2008 with two of his Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama classmates (next month they’ll release All Is Lost starring Robert Redford), and gearing up for Sunday’s Primetime Emmy’s, Quinto discussed his latest work.
Tom is both a narrator of and participant in this play, that’s a lot of components to juggle. What in all of that did you find most challenging?
There’s a fine line I think when you’re speaking such opulent language, I always felt the need to measure the connectivity of it, the groundedness of it, and it always has to be rooted in emotional truth, even though it’s so heightened. So the production is stylized and the language is very heightened, so always finding that balance and keeping it rooted I think is an ongoing calibration and I kind of love playing with it.
How would you describe your interpretation of Tom? He can be sympathetic, but he can also come across as incredibly selfish.
Tennessee [Williams] helped me out a lot. In his description of Tom he says he is not remorseless, but in order to survive he must act without pity. I just started to really think about what that means and I can understand what that means in my own life in relationships and different experiences I’ve had where I’ve had to choose myself and I think that’s the humanity of the play and that’s the humanity of the character and I didn’t need to think beyond that. Everybody can understand that and anybody who’s ever really strived for something or really defined some level of success for themselves can understand that.
In one of his big speeches, Tom goes on about how only the people in the movies get to have all the adventures and how everyone else has to just stand back and go about their normal lives. I’m wondering what you think about delivering that as a movie star?
Well the irony of me delivering that speech isn’t lost, but I can also relate to it at the same time. I understand what he’s getting at there and that sentiment has never been truer than in today’s world when people are left and right numbing themselves with movies which can be substituted by Facebook or Instagram, we’re putting these things in front of ourselves to numb us or disconnect ourselves. So I understand Tom’s sense of frustration.
You started in musical theatre in Pittsburgh when you were 9 or 10. How did that happen?
It happened because my mom was looking for an outlet for me, she was a single mom [Quinto’s father died when was 7] and she wanted to make sure I had some place to go after school. So I started studying and performing. And my music teacher in fourth grade sent some note home to my mom saying you should look at auditions for this performing group and my mom took me, I had no idea, I had never performed in my life. so it was getting thrown into something, but once I got thrown in, I was like this is my jam, I knew right away.
What was the first musical you did?
The Wizard of Oz. I was a munchkin. At the Civic Light Opera in Pittsburgh when I was 10 or 11. It was my first professional gig. Before I hit my growth spurt.
What would be your dream musical role now?
One of the roles I could really identify with that I really wanted to play was Sweeney Todd. I really want to do that when I’m old enough, which is probably in another ten years.
You like the dark stuff?
It’s just that experience as a kid seeing it in the theater changed me. I wasn’t aware how much you could feel. I felt so scared, I felt so many things watching that.
Well American Horror Story is pretty dark. I suppose the only downside to your current theater role is you’re not in the third season of American Horror Story.
Yeah for sure, I’m bummed not to be playing with them, but it feels right. I feel like Dr. Thredson for me was such a full circle experience because Heroes is the thing that really changed my whole experience and trajectory and I became known in such a big way as this psychopathic serial killer. So the decision to play another one wasn’t one I took lightly.
You don’t want to get type cast.
Certainly not as that! But I felt like A, it was rooted in the real world, which I appreciated and gave me a different experience as an actor to play someone who could have existed and versions have existed throughout history. And I kind of wanted a sense of coming back to that archetype in order to complete an experience of it. Because I really am totally not interested in playing dark murderous evil characters for the time being in the foreseeable future. And I wanted to go out with a bang.