By MARK PEIKERT
Welcome to Building Character, TDF Stage's ongoing series about actors and how they create their roles
Tackling multiple roles can be an invitation for an actor to finally employ some of those accents he lists as special skills on his résumé, but with a little finesse, it can also let him steal the show.
Enter Rory O'Malley in the new rock musical Nobody Loves You, a spoof of reality dating series that's now in previews at Second Stage. As dimwitted roommate Chaz, dismissive dating show contestant Dominic, and reality TV super fan Evan, O'Malley chooses restraint over funny voices.
"You could just do things that are outlandish for each one and make each one stick out in a different way," O'Malley says, "but you have to remember as an actor that you're telling a story. That's what these characters have been created for, to tell a story and not just be the coolest kid you can come up with. That's a priority."
Jessica Pabst's costume design has been especially helpful in clarifying each role, and though O'Malley's quick changes were grueling during early previews, he says they're vital for switching from character to character. Even in rehearsals, for instance, he used the glasses that Evan wears for his scenes.
"It's not necessary for me to have glasses or a piece of costume to become characters, but it helps," he says. "Especially when you don't have anything else in that rehearsal room to say, 'I am this person now.'"
Once audiences started coming, their reactions also shaped O'Malley's work---particularly with regard to Evan, who speeds through several episodes of the dating-show-within-the-show during a patter song. As he bounces around his apartment, oohing and ahhing over the contestants, he's an avatar for the overly enthralled television viewer in all of us.
"I felt like I was maybe going to have to justify his enthusiasm, and there's just none of that," O'Malley says. "Instantly, I feel the audience go, 'Oh yeah, I know that guy, he's my roommate.' And that's been so nice, because once you don't feel like you have to push or explain who your character is, you can just be."
Much like Evan's glasses served as an entry point for the character, the physicality of smaller roles Chaz and Dominic has helped O'Malley keep both parts delineated. The amiable Chaz---"Is he on drugs? Is he socially awkward? We're trying to find him every day"---wears a slouchy hat that complements his posture, and the aggressive, blissfully un-self-aware Dominic leads with his chest.
Dominic is the character that has changed the most since O'Malley first came onboard. Originally intended to be a Jersey Shore type, he's now more of a meathead. As O'Malley says, "There's no way I could survive a summer on the shore. My skin tone alone would give me up!"
All of this exploration and collaboration is something O'Malley has relished in his first project since being nominated for a Tony Award in The Book of Mormon.
"We're rehearsing something today that will go into the show tonight for the first time," he says. "It's thrilling to get new pages every day and see the writers and creative team come up with new ideas that come from an audience's reaction."
Mark Peikert is senior editor at Backstage
Photo by Joan Marcus