Before getting cast in the 2017 West End revival of Tony Kushner’s sprawling, two-part AIDS epic Angels in America, it had been five years since Nathan Stewart-Jarrett acted in a play. Instead, the 32-year-old pursued television work in his native England, appearing on shows including Misfits and Utopia. How lucky for all of us he returned to tread the boards as Belize, the sharp-tongued hospital nurse and part-time drag queen opposite Andrew Garfield’s Louis and Nathan Lane’s Roy Cohn, in the new production brought over from London. Stewart-Jarrett makes his Broadway debut here, but his performance all but guarantees he will be back again.
NAME: Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.
PREPARING TO AUDITION: I panicked. I’m not a great auditioner. I just focus on the scenes, I rarely focus on character. My wonderful little cousin helped me read. She read for Lois and Roy. She must have been 16 at the time, so I was like, “You can’t swear.” Every now and then she’d say “Bleep,” and I’d have to say, “Don’t do that, you’re making me laugh.” Now that I’m cast, she likes to say, “I got you that job.”
THE WORLD OF THE PLAY: I wanted to leave all the character stuff for rehearsals. Because we had a three month rehearsal period, so I was like, “If I over-prepare now, I’m going to peak too soon or get bored.” Instead, I tried to understand the culture of New York in the ‘80s. I read David Wojnarowicz; Cookie Mueller came up. I ended up staying here for Christmas, before rehearsals began. Me and my friends watched films like Philadelphia  and How to Survive a Plague . It was kind of depressing, actually.
BUILDING CHARACTER: What’s interesting about the play is there’s not much history given for Belize. So I have great freedom in terms of what fuels me to get into those scenes. I have a lot of leeway. I wrote a very detailed backstory for him, and then I re-jigged it this year. I never finish my backstories; they’re so detailed and so long, so at some point I have to stop writing them. It’s usually at some point after high school that I stop writing it. But I always go into great detail about their family history.
PRE-SHOW RITUAL: I use music in a very immediate sense. I have a playlist I listen to right before going on stage. I went through the Top 20 songs for the previous years of the play, like the big songs of ’75, ’77, and picked ones that I like. It’s mainly a thing I do for [part one of the play], Millennium Approaches, I don’t do it with [part two] Perestroika as much.
NEW YORK VS. LONDON: Someone asked me this question a few days ago, and I said that British audiences were really lacrimal, and that hasn’t been the case here in America—until recently. Lately I’ve been hearing some sniffles and people crying. And the guy I was telling this to said, “Oh, it’s allergy season.” [laughs] I think it’s a testament to Tony and Marianne that they’ve gotten British people to loose their shit. They’re usually very stoic.
TV VS. STAGE: There’s a difference, for sure, but ultimately it boils down to telling the truth. You play the truth of the moment. And you play to the size of the room. I approach the characters in the same way. In theater, though, you have control of the journey. You are in control of so much. It is definitely the actor’s medium, in a way that television could never be. On TV, you have editors who can save a performance, or ruin it. I do think working on screen has beat the rigid perfectionism out of me that I got from drama school. It’s loosened me up.
FIRST JOB: I did a commercial for Trident chewing gum, for which I had to scream at the top of my lungs into a megaphone: “MASTICATION FOR THE NATION.” But then the commercial got banned, because the general consensus was that “mastication” sounds too much like “masturbation.”
NATHAN STEART-JARETT STARS IN ANGELS IN AMERICA, NOW PLAYING AT THE NEIL SIMON THEATRE.
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