November 26th, 2005 16:24 EST
Gretchen Ross interviews Anthony Rapp from the Broadway Musical RENT
Controversial Broadway musical RENT is making its way to the big screen this Thanksgiving. Debuting on first as a workshop at the New York Theater in the East Village in 1996, RENT created an immediate buzz. With its edgy music and themes paired with the untimely death of the creator Jonathan Larson, the musical has become a phenomenon that has defined a generation. Anthony Rapp who was in the original cast on Broadway played Mark Cohen the lovelorn filmmaker and narrator of the musical reprises his role in the on screen version. Not only did the musical win the Pulitzer Prize for drama, but the whole cast shares an OBIE award for their performance.
Beginning his professional acting career at the mere age of nine, Rapp made his Broadway debut in Precious Sons starring alongside Ed Harris and also was in the cast of the revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. In 2000, Rapp emerged with his music career and his debut album, Look Around. He is currently acting in independent movies directed by his brother and just finished a book regarding his experiences during RENT.
1. GR: How did you first start your career?
AR: “Two things happened: I went to a summer camp where my mom was a nurse and I was sick. The camp was doing the Wizard of Ox so I auditioned and got the part of the cowardly lion. I absolutely fell in love it. When I came home, I found an ad in the paper for an audition with a community theater production. Since I grew up outside of Chicago there is a lot of professional work there. Friends told my mom that she should take me to Chicago to audition. My first professional production was at age nine. I am 34 now so that means I have been working professionally for 25 years. I got my equity card for the show Evita.
2. GR: What was the audition process for RENT?
AR: “The audition was in 1994 which was 11 years ago. I had to go in and sing a rock/pop song. I knew it was a rock opera about the East Village. I was a little skeptical because I didn’t know much else. I was familiar with the director Michael Greif, so I was excited. I sang Losing My Religion by REM as my audition piece. I was immediately called back and sang ‘Rent’. It was the same melody but different lyrics than the one that is performed. The first day of rehearsal we sang Seasons of Love. I knew from that moment how unusual this was going to be. I could feel the music. It was profound from the first moment I sang. Most musicals don’t speak to me like that. RENT was really extraordinary. The first 10 performances of the show my family, my brother, friends, fellow actors came. I had a sense that it should have some impact but I never predicted what would happen. People in showbiz out in Hollywood are skeptical of the movie. It’s interesting; I have encountered the same thing because people were skeptical at the beginning with the musical too. People are still skeptical. Even though the show received incredible reviews when it was off and moved on to Broadway.”3. GR: Describe your character in RENT, Mark Cohen?
AR: “He is the center of the group; the bridge between all the friends. He is a filmmaker and is having frustration with making movies. He then decides to make a documentary of his friends and to honor his HIV+ friends. Mark definitely has some pent up issues. He is very loyal, driven, and lovelorn.”4. GR: What was it like working with the late creator of RENT, Jonathan Larson?
AR: “He is a real collaborator and a good friend. He is an unusual writer. Most writers want it to be as written. He wanted to make sure it jived with who we were as actors. He was totally open to changing phrases. He gave us free range during the song Seasons of Love. It was a tradition for Jonathan and among his friends to have a Peasant Feast for those who did not have enough money to go home for the holidays. They would all gather and have a potluck dinner. The night before our first off-Broadway rehearsal he invited all the cast to the Peasant Feast. He told us that we were now playing all of his friends. He wrote the show to honor his friends and now we were becoming them. That is not common among writers. When Jonathan would become frustrated when he wrote, he just kept trying and never gave up. He would always write a song a day.”
5. GR: How did you first react when you found out RENT was going to be a movie?
AR: “Back in 1996 there were six different movie rights going around and being auctioned. The movie musical was just so unheard of then but movies like Moulin Rouge and Chicago have certainly opened the doors. We were not in the mainstream then. Spike Lee almost made the movie, but it fell through. I never thought I would have been a part of the movie. Being in it is a miracle. Working with Chris Columbus the director has been a great opportunity.
6. GR: Compare starring in the Broadway version to the movie?
AR: “With the Broadway version you are working hard daily and doing eight shows a week. It is an intense process emotionally, physically, and mentally. There is a certain grind similar to an athlete or a machine. Your life is geared to that 8 o’clock curtain. I love that life. But the movie has its own life. Any moment thousands of people could be watching it. You really get to see the after effects and the movie becomes a living document. It is beyond description.”
7. GR: How was the reunion of working with the original cast?
AR: “I love being around them. They really are my family. I know that sounds cheesy but it’s the truth. It’s good to spend time around friends who are supportive and witnessing this great process.”
8. GR: Did you enjoy working with the newcomers Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms?
AR: “Very much so. I think a lot of actors come in with this chip on their shoulders but they were quite the opposite. They were both so open and eager and sweet. I spent more time with Tracie because of the Tango Maureen number. We had tons of rehearsal and worked our butts off. I went to a recent screening of the movie and there was a question and answer session afterward. I went out with the actors afterward to get a bite to eat and Rosario Dawson and her mom were there. Most actors would go their separate ways, but we enjoy being around each other. There is so something so special to that. It is different not performing the show all the time almost like an out of body experience.”
9. GR: What is the overall message of RENT?AR: “Given you don’t have much time what is most important in your life?”
10. GR: Describe your ongoing music career?AR: “I came out of the closet so to speak about rock’n roll. I wanted to be in rock band and perform everyday. With RENT I sort of got be in a rock band and a show. I was itching for that again. I met with songwriters out of Nashville. We put together a small budget, independent record. Now I am working with new people out of New York City. I am in a band called Albinokid. We are currently setting up our first gig with new writing and recordings on the way. After the movie, I want to do more live performance.
11. GR: Who has been your favorite character to play?
AR: “Marc Cohen from RENT and Henry V. Also playing Hedwig from the rock n’ roll musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
12. GR: What are some of your future projects?AR: “I am doing a workshop in New York. My book is coming out in February. My brother is a filmmaker and I am playing some supporting roles in independent films that will be sent to festivals. I am waiting to see what doors RENT the movie will open.”
13. GR: Describe your new book: Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent.
AR: “The book is about RENT during the workshop, off, and on Broadway. It also discusses two events that happened during that time: Jonathon Larson’s death and the death of my mother from cancer. Another of my friends died as well. It is an intense memoir of live changing events.”14 GR: How has RENT changed your life?
AR: “It has been fun to play cool and weird parts. I like to do parts like in RENT because it entertains and impacts the world. I like to know how the audience takes the action. It has even a political impact and a ripple effect on people. This show has been so profound and it has affected my being. It has been an enriching experience in my life. RENT has opened professional doors and I am glad I have done something with an impact.”
Anthony Rapp continues to star in different films and is ready for more opportunities with his band. To honor the late creator Jonathan Larson who died of Marfan syndrome from a disorder of the body’s tissues, Rapp recorded a Pubic Service Announcement to play before the movie at select theaters to raise awareness about the syndrome and will also be on the DVD. Fans can download RENT wallpaper for their cell phone through Sony Mobile and the Marfan Foundation. For more information on the Marfan foundation visit www.marfan.org.