By MARK BLANKENSHIP
Welcome to Building Character, TDF’s ongoing series about actors and how they create their roles.
He played a Munchkin in Wicked
and a hunchback in Young Frankenstein
, so it’s only natural for Christopher Fitzgerald to play a leprechaun, right? Apparently so, since he’s starring as Og, a leprechaun hunting his stolen gold, in the Broadway revival of the classic musical Finian’s Rainbow
But even if it seems like a natural fit, the role raises questions. How do you play a character who isn’t human? Can you avoid chewing scenery? And how do you seem like a natural part of a satirical show that focuses on hayseed farmers trying to save their land from a greedy politician?
“When I got asked to do the show, my first reaction was, ‘How do I not become the Lucky Charms leprechaun?’” Fitzgerald says. “It’s a weird part to play. There’s such an expectation that you’re going to be the fun, funny guy. I feel like it’s fun to subvert that, so I try to play him with a little bit of reality.”
Without his gold, Og is slowly becoming human, and that’s where Fitzgerald roots his performance. “One of the first things you learn about him is he’s got ‘a peculiar human feeling’ in his thighs,” he says. “I thought, ‘Who experiences that?’ And there’s this great age where an adolescent has gone through enough puberty that they’re kind of cock of the walk, but they’re just noticing girls or boys. You have that sense of status, but you’re actually a total goober.”
So instead of a cereal mascot, Og is a randy teenager in a leprechaun’s body.
But that’s just one thread of Fitzgerald’s performance. He’s also got clear ideas about his character’s magical powers. “With him, magic is not that big a deal,” he says.
Working with director Warren Carlyle and the production’s design team, Fitzgerald has created a series of nonchalant magical moments. For instance, when Og mentions birds, he waves his finger like a conductor. We hear a quick burst of birdsong, and then Og goes right back to his speaking his mind.
Fitzgerald and the team experimented with showier magical bits, like a moment where Og makes a handkerchief fly off the ground. “That was a cool trick, and it looked amazing,” Fitzgerald says, “but it wasn’t fully integrated into the show. Everything stopped just so we could see a trick.”
He adds that Og’s blasé magic teaches us something about the character: “He’s been alive for 459 years, and magic is something he’s always had. After a while, it’s a sterile, lonely existence, which is why it’s fun that he’s suddenly becoming more human.”
In other words, if Og were too impressed by his own magic tricks, then his new, human feelings would be less exciting. By contrasting the bored magical creature with the perpetually aroused adolescent, Fitzgerald creates an arc for the audience to follow.
He credits part of that arc to his wife, the actress Jessica Stone. “She’s my collaborator on every idea,” he says. “It’s really fun to talk to her because she always has such great ideas. It gives me the confidence to try things and really go for stuff. Some people use coaches, and some people use friends. I get to go home to a great partnership.”
Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online content editor.