Christian Borle's portrayal of William Shakespeare isn't exactly textbook -- his preening, plagiarizing, rock-star version of The Bard is part Mick Jagger, part Prince, a dash Mad Max, and par for the (hilarious) course in "Something Rotten!," the foot-tapping, family-friendly, sugar-high musical playing at the St. James Theatre.
The show -- a send-up of musical comedies set in the raucous Renaissance -- is a major player at Sunday's Tony Awards, with 10 nominations, including best musical and best featured actor in a musical, a category that pits Borle against his co-star Brad Oscar (who plays the wacky soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus). Borle won in that same category at last week's Drama Desk awards.
Borle's no stranger to the Tonys -- he's been nominated ("Legally Blonde"), won ("Peter and the Starcatcher") and pretended to win (playing composer Tom Levitt on TV's "Smash"). He's also co-starred in NBC's "The Sound of Music Live!" and "Peter Pan Live!" He spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio in his dressing room before a recent performance.
Finally, after years of being the "character-y" guy, you get to play a full-fledged hunk.
Ten years ago, I never would've dreamed of playing this part. In "Legally Blonde," I played unassuming, corduroy-jacketed Emmett, who was always described as the "unlikely" love interest. Try not taking that too personally. [He chuckles.] That was my slot for many years. I think a lot of it is a function of timing, luck and just . . . growing up.
What do you mean?
Well . . . [He pauses.] I'm a late bloomer. I think I've always been a late bloomer -- in terms of this career, in figuring out who I am. And I was always very small growing up. So as I approached 40, I wanted to see what I could do at the gym. I like to eat and drink and if you don't exercise apparently the whole body shuts down and you die. So . . . getting healthy has really paid off.
How often do you hit the gym?
I aim for seven days a week but it works out to being, like, six.
Slacker! How'd you come up with this rock-star take on Shakespeare?
Our director, Casey Nicholaw, and I have been friends since doing "Spamalot." We got together in a studio to figure out my big number -- and I realized if we're going "full rock star," then I had to throw in moves everyone would recognize. So I started doing my Jagger, James Brown, some Prince. Even . . . a little Britney.
It worked -- you got a Tony nomination. What's that like?
It is . . . many things. It's first and foremost the most exciting thing you can imagine. That doesn't go away. I know awards get politicized but it's still special, just to be nominated. And winning -- when that came true, it was such a nice gift. It's not about "best," because everyone there is talented. It's about the fit of the role, and knowing how people feel about the show.
I assume before the ceremony you plan to poison Brad Oscar.
Oh, yeah. [He laughs.] Hey, let's not kid ourselves -- his numbers get standing ovations every night. Look, someone's going home with that bauble, and it's very helpful career-wise. If it's not you, you get two minutes to be disappointed, then you gotta move on.
On a totally different topic -- I hear you're a comics fan.
I am. Just a mainstream Marvel and DC guy -- Batman, Avengers, Spider-Man . . . but the industry is in really bad shape right now.
They've lost their footing and what they're putting out isn't very -- well . . . I'm sure you're so glad we're talking about this.
I am, actually. Keep going.
Well, I still love it. But this was the first week I went to the comics store and left empty-handed. There was just nothing I was interested in reading.
How often do you go?
Every Wednesday is new comics day.
You go every week?
Mm hmm. It's a little microcosm of . . . sweet nerdy people.
Luckily you have other light reading. [Pointing to several thick books on his bookshelf.] There's always "Dune."
One of my favorite books of all time.
And what's that "Star Wars Costumes" book?
I have a fundamental love of "Star Wars," I'm not gonna lie.
So you're excited for the sequel coming in December?
I cannot express to you how excited I am. I'm optimistic about it, actually. Even after the debacle that was the prequels. I think they know they have to deliver a good story. There's too much at stake.
Yeah, with all the stars from the original reuniting. It's nice to know you may've beefed up at the gym but are still a "Star Wars" geek at heart.
Did you see the trailer with Harrison Ford? He and Chewie are in the old Millennium Falcon and he just says, "Chewie, we"re home." It's magical.