Will Hochman was an economics major in college, so it's not a big surprise that he took a very business-minded approach to pursuing an acting career. After falling in love with the craft during a drama class junior year, he decided to get serious. “The way I thought about it in the beginning was like, Okay, if I’m opening a bakery, what do I have to do to get a small business bakery off the ground? I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that the cookies and muffins are good, but even if they’re delicious, how do you get people to even come to the bakery? I was thinking in that mindset,” he said. “I was like, what are the books I need to read? What are the websites I need to make accounts on? How many auditions do I need to go on every week? What’s the feedback I’m getting on these auditions? What classes do I need to take? I had spreadsheets for all of this.”
Clearly, the strategy paid off. Currently, Hochman is starring opposite Mary Louise Parker in the Broadway production of The Sound Inside a startling 90-minute stage drama written by Adam Rapp and directed by David Cromer. The play follows the story of a lonely literature professor (Parker) who forms an unlikely bond with one of her disillusioned, yet brilliant, students (Hochman) after he starts hanging around her office hours.
To hear Hochman tell it, his casting in the role wasn't solely the result of clever strategizing. There were more than a few coincidences involved. To start with, he heard about the play not through his agent or any of the other usual channels but from friends over drinks one night. The crowd included his castmates from his first professional play, the stage adaptation of Dead Poets Society, and, said Hochman “We audition for many of the same things, we’re sort of similar in type.” When two of his buddies told him about getting callbacks for a new play called The Sound Inside he was compelled to call up his manager and get more information.
Once he received a copy of the script, he said “it was like lightning hit my tiny little apartment.” He knew he had to play the part of the world weary student Christopher Dunn. “It was the style of writing, it was the way that Mary Louise’s character was describing my character, it was the questions the story was asking, the relationship, I just got all of it,” he said. “I read this thing and thought, this is the moment. This is my part. I’d never felt that before.”
He sent in a self tape and went to visit family in Connecticut for Passover that weekend. And then, while playing basketball with his brother, he fractured his foot. "I’ve been an athlete my entire life and I’d never had a real injury before,” says Hochman, who was on the squash team at Colby College and, incidentally, is looking for some opponents. He headed for the closest emergency room, at Yale University, which just happens to be where The Sound Inside is set.
After doctors put a boot on his foot—emblazoned with the name of the hospital—the actor went in for a chemistry read with Parker. When he walked into the room, he was stopped cold in his tracks. “Mary Louise looks exactly like my mother,” he said. “And she has a son whose name is Will. And it said 'Yale' on my foot.” Finally, he met with Rapp and learned that the playwright had recently sustained a similar injury, also while playing basketball. Needless to say, he got the part.
From the moment Hochman appears on stage as the 18-year-old Christopher, it is clear that the character is a tortured soul. He can’t connect with his peers (he calls Twitter “the mother of mental syphilis”) and instead idolizes depressed literary giants like Fyodor Dostoevsky and David Foster Wallace. “There’s so much that Christopher Dunn doesn’t have,” Hochman said. “Every night, when I step out of his shoes it’s really nice to, you know, live in the same city as my family. Even [to have] simple things like that."
As for working with Parker, the experience has been even better than Hochman expected. “She might actually be a genius, for real, on more levels than just acting,” he said. “She offers me invaluable wisdom for acting and for life, and we make each other laugh and have a good time. ‘We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who sometimes begin to interest us somehow suddenly all at once before a word is spoken,’ is the Dostoevsky quote from the play. And that’s how we felt.”
Depicting the literature-obsessed student has inspired Hochman to read more himself. “I’ve been reading the books mentioned in the play for the last year and a half. It’s been a wonderful literary education, courtesy of Adam Rapp,” the actor said.“Light Years by James Salter messed me up. The end of that book is so beautiful, oh my god. I loved Franny & Zooey. I had never read it. Impossibly, I’d never read Catcher in the Rye. So I read that for the first time. I don’t know what that says about my schooling. And The Bell Jar I thought was amazing."
Like many of those stories, The Sound Inside doesn't exactly end on a happy note. The last scene is so sobering, in fact, that audiences often need a minute to catch their breath before breaking into applause. “That’s one of my favorite moments of the whole play,” Hochman said. “To get 1,000 people to sit in a dark room together and impose silence on them? That’s an accomplishment.”
While he is in no rush to move on to his next project after The Sound Inside’s final curtain at Studio 54 on January 12, Hochman has serious career ambitions. “I’d really love to sink my teeth into something like an excellent film, just a film that asks hard questions,” he said. He's already wrapped two movies coming out next year (Critical Thinking and Let Him Go), and, in his free time, has been hunched over his vintage typewriter. “I’ve written four full length plays, to date, with each one maybe improving upon the last. I don’t know if any of those are producible, but I really enjoyed writing them,” he said. “I’m working on two new plays now, and I’ve been developing them for a little while. There’s a film script I’ve been working on for a while. We’ll see what happens with all that stuff.” When it comes to his future, he's not limiting himself. “Ultimately, I’m interested in anything that is excellent and asks good questions and is worthwhile and entertaining and adds light into the world.”