If there really is such a thing as the luck of the Irish, then Brian d’Arcy James has it.
In recent years the three-time Tony nominee’s career has exploded, his resume flush with Broadway musicals (“Titanic,” “Shrek,” “Something Rotten”), searing film dramas (“Spotlight,” “First Man”) and provocative TV series (“Smash,” “13 Reasons Why”).
Now he’s starring in Jez Butterworth’s Irish saga “The Ferryman,” one of several American actors who’ve just replaced some of the original Irish stars in this acclaimed Broadway production running at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre through July 7. James plays Quinn Carney, a farmer and patriarch of a sprawling Irish clan, who’s juggling seven kids, two aunts (“Orange Is the New Black’s” Blair Brown jumps in as Aunt Maggie on April 16.), a wee tipsy uncle, a (maybe) widowed sister-in-law and her son, plus Dublin thugs, a wayward goose, assorted rabbits, and a grim and gruesome family secret that’s about to be revealed.
This summer he’ll flaunt his Irish accent again opposite Melissa McCarthy in her new gangster movie, “The Kitchen,” and start shooting Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake. He spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
So I’ll start with the question you ask at the top of the play: “You’re on a ship with the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. It hits an iceberg. There’s only room in the lifeboat for you plus one of those legendary combos. Three seconds. Go.”
I’ve got it. (He’s chuckling.) My character would pick the Stones. But I gravitate more toward the Beatles.
You and your wife have a daughter, Grace. Does she know who the Beatles are?
Oh, yeah. She’s 17. Music is a big part of our family life. And she has a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of her father’s era of music. But she’s constantly turning me on to new music. Last night she sent me a text about Billie Eilish (he pronounces it “IH-Lish,” then “eye-LEESH”). Is that how you say it? She has a new album out and Grace is like, “Yeah, you’d like this. Check it out.” So sweet.
The show features a brood of kids, barnyard animals — what’s it like backstage?
It’s a beautifully choreographed dance. Everyone’s got a place to be. The animals have a little pen downstairs. I’ve never turned a corner and accidentally run into the goose. But all these elements make the show unpredictable and super-exciting.
In “Ferryman” you’re father to seven. In “13 Reasons Why” your child commits suicide. You’re a reporter in “Spotlight,” but the fact that you’re a dad plays a key plot point. Have the dads you’ve played affected the kind of dad you are in real life?
If there was ever a time when a role informed my life as a parent, I guess it would be ”13 Reasons Why.” Here’s a story of a quote-unquote “normal family,” suburban life — the story really pushed me to try to understand what’s happening with this terrible, growing epidemic of teenage suicide. The things to look out for. That opened the door to conversations with my daughter about...what she could or couldn’t relate to in that TV show.
Next up you’re Melissa McCarthy’s husband in “The Kitchen.” She’s another actor who zigzags between comedies and dramas.
She’s a remarkable person and actor. Both Melissa McCarthy and (“Kitchen” co-star) Tiffany Haddish are possibly two of the funniest people on the planet. But they’re playing characters that are … not comedic at all. So that was really cool to watch these women being their hilarious selves (off-camera), then shift gears (on-camera). It’s based on a pulp novel about three women who take over from their gangster husbands or boyfriends after we go to jail — and it turns out they’re way more capable … and brutal.
Then you’ll play Officer Krupke in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”
Getting the call that this was actually happening was astounding. Every person involved is iconic, from Spielberg to (screenwriter) Tony Kushner and (choreographer) Justin Peck.
And they’re making a part for Rita Moreno.
They’re all like these monuments existing in our cultural identity.
My first onstage solo was in a Hauppauge Middle School production of “West Side Story.” Which we did — get this — in the round.
Whoa. (He starts laughing.)
In the big musical number dedicated to you — “Dear Officer Krupke” — I got to sing … with a New Yawk accent (singing): “Gloryyy-oskyyy, that’s why I’m a joik!”
Oh my God. (Now he’s really laughing.) That’s hilarious.
I was so proud.
You should be. I can just see the eighth grade version of you doing that.
Now you know the proper delivery — so if Spielberg has trouble with whomever he casts …
I’ll give you a call when they’re shooting that scene.