Former “Glee” star Blake Jenner is feeling mighty grateful these days — for both his new role, and the fact that he doesn’t actually have to fight Peter Dinklage.
The two currently star in The New Group’s production of “Cyrano,” a new Off-Broadway musical directed by Erica Schmidt, with music by brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser (the first three of the rock band The National). The show, which opened Nov. 7 at the Daryl Roth Theatre, running through Dec. 22, is based on the nineteenth-century play about real-life Cyrano de Bergerac, he of loooong nose and rapier wit. But unlike the film versions (with José Ferrer, Steve Martin and Gérard Depardieu wearing giant noses), this version finds “Game of Thrones” star Dinklage as a prosthetics-free Cyrano. Talk about refreshing. When he despairs, “I am living proof that God…has a sick sense of humor,” we get it. The fact that Dinklage is leading-man handsome while standing four-feet five-inches only underscores the theme here — that how we see ourselves may bear no resemblance to how others see us.
Jenner, 27, plays Christian, the hopelessly good-looking (and brainless) chap who, like Cyrano, falls for Roxanne (“Hamilton’s” Jasmine Cephas Jones). Last seen in the Netflix thriller “What/If,” Jenner is also starring in Richard Linklater’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” which will be filmed over the course of 20 years. He spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
You step onstage and draw your sword against Peter Dinklage. My mind went straight to his “GoT” persona: “Cool, he’s gonna fight Tyrion Lannister.”
It’s pretty trippy. (He laughs.) He’s got way more experience with a sword than me. I’m lucky he doesn’t take me out or anything.
The two of you have a nice buddy chemistry. What’s it like working with him?
Incredible. I consider him one of my good friends. Onstage and off, we’re always joking around. He sets such a warm atmosphere for every actor. I think I speak for everyone when I say we all learn something each time we’re in a scene with him.
He’ll throw you a curveball, or inject a…three-percent adjustment to a moment, and it reminds you to be ready to live rather than just prepare. To always be on your toes and ready to receive information rather than having a playbook and just saying, “Okay, I’m gonna do this, this, this, this….” He’s instilled in me the idea of keeping your antennae aware of what’s going on around you.
I guess acting is like playing basketball. The ball sometimes ricochets in a direction you didn’t anticipate.
Exactly, and you have to depend on your teammates to catch it and grab a quick lay-up. That’s exactly what it feels like.
Cyrano writes these amazing poems and love letters to Roxanne. Your character is pretty lame. How about you? Have you ever tried your hand at poetry to woo a pretty young thing?
Oh, dude. I actually have a letter saved on my phone — it was a poem I wrote to some girl who didn’t like me back in, like, third grade. My cousin is actually good friends with this girl — who shall remain nameless. But, yeah, I grew up really digging poetry. I’d usually dish it out on unrequited love. So getting to play Christian was kind of a cool callback to younger Blake.
Pretty bold of your third-grade self to try to rock a poem.
That’s what you get when everything you know of love is based on rom-coms.
Ha! So true. One last thing — tell me about this new film version of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Merrily We Roll Along.” The story — the coming-of-age of three friends — takes place over 20 years, and will be shot over that same period. Crazy!
I know, man. When Rick Linklater called me, maybe eight months ago, I thought I was in trouble. I got a voicemail to call him. I looked at my roommate at the time and was like, “Is he pissed at me? What’s going on?” He was like, “No, no, call him back.” I did and he started talking about “Merrily” and asked me to do it. I was kind of in shock. We shot the first year recently, and I’ve already learned so much from just one day of working with (costar) Ben Platt. It feels like we became fast friends.
So they won’t have to age you with makeup. You’ll age for real, onscreen.
It’s wild. I was on set and looked at Rick and said, “Hey, I have a two-year-old niece.” He was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” I said, “Yeah — she’s going to be 22 years old when this comes out. (He chuckles.) That’s just crazy.