Marc Kudisch has crushed it in the career department. His body of work is remarkable and continues to impress. He’s played the conniving King Claudius, the sleazy Franklin Hart, and pretty much every other meaty male role ever written. Now, Marc is gracing the Broadway stage as another cool character, the adorkable Pastor Greg in Hand to God. No matter who he’s playing, Marc Kudisch will knock your socks off.
MC: When did you catch the theater bug?
MK: When I was in college. I was a political science major and took theater courses to lighten the load. At the end of my sophomore year when I was supposed to be studying for a political theory exam, I was building sets at 3 AM. Kind of figured it out from there.
Did anyone or anything in particular inspire you to pursue a life in the theater?
His name was J. Robert Dietz, one of my professors in college at FAU. A brilliant man, a brilliant actor, and a brilliant director. He was a lion of the theater in the 50’s and 60’s; worked at the ACT with Bill Ball, worked at Stratford every season, and was a very close friend to Tennessee Williams. He was the person that told me I could be an actor, that I could make a career of it. When everyone else was telling me the reasons it wasn’t possible, he was telling me the reasons that it was.
You got your degree in theater from Florida Atlantic University. What training did that school provide you with to help set you up for a successful career?
Florida Atlantic University taught me everything. I was very fortunate to have incredible teachers, all of whom had retired together to South Florida after their careers to begin the program at FAU. Let me be clear, when I went to college I did not sing, that came later in NYC. I was trained on the classics; Shaw, Ibsen, Shakespeare, and especially Williams. I was also extremely fortunate to have experienced incredible guest eminent scholars: Zoe Caldwell, Hume Cronin, Joshua Logan (Yep, THE Josh Logan)…so my education was very old-school. That set the bar for me for discipline and for stagecraft.
What goals did you set for yourself when first starting out as an actor? Have you achieved them? If so, how?
Honestly, my main goal was to get a show off-Broadway. At the time I moved to the city, the place to work was Circle Rep: they were doing the kind of work that every serious actor wanted to partake in. I didn’t sing, so the idea of Broadway was completely outside the box. How I ended up where I am now, how I ended up creating so much music theater, it’s still surprising to me.
Your “big break” was as Conrad Birdie in the National Tour of Bye Bye Birdie. What did the strenuous tour life teach you about being a working actor?
It taught me that we are athletes, like baseball players, like football players, and if you’re going to do eight shows a week over the course of a year, you need to be disciplined and you need to have stagecraft. Talent isn’t enough—you need to be Practiced. Our job as actors is to take a pre-rehearsed situation and make it seem spontaneous for eight shows a week…for possibly a year or more. Discipline and Craft.
You’ve played quite a few villains in your career. As an actor, what work do you do to justify and understand the character’s devious actions to make your performance effortless and believable—like I saw you do in Hamlet at the Yale Rep?
First, you have to change your semantics. I don’t like the word villain; I think it’s a very judgmental word to use. Especially when you’re playing the role, you have to go to the characters frame of logic. So I like to say that I’ve made a career on playing the FOIL, the character that is usually creating tension in one form or another, be it comedic or dramatic (and really, they’re both the same thing).
Let’s take Claudius for example: Claudius is termed to be the villain in Hamlet because he kills Hamlet’s father, the previous king. By doing so, he has saved lives. King Hamlet was a brutal man, a war-like King who has killed thousands in the name of the throne. Which killings are worse? The court of Denmark certainly doesn’t seem to mind, they are finally experiencing a time of peace in a diplomatic King.
Now, I’m not defending Claudius and his actions, I’m just pointing out he is as human as everyone else in the play. In structure, he’s actually a classic hero. He has a moment of recognition of what he’s done, and the hope to reverse his conditions. In truth, if you really want to point a finger at a villain, Shakespeare seems to think it’s religion. Claudius cannot find redemption or forgiveness because the religion of the day states that his is the eldest, primal murder. And the ghost, King Hamlet (who I also played), is no better off. Stuck forever in a fiery purgatory for all of his actions as King because, again, that is the religion of the day.
Go to the truth of each character, without judgment, with as much empathy as you can muster, and you will always find the human condition—you will always find the human connection.
How did your role in Hand to God come about?
I was working on another project with Moritz at the time Hand To God was running at Ensemble Studio Theatre.
My business partner and I wanted to work with Moritz [von Stuelpnagel, director] because of the work he’d done on the play. Later, when they had asked my interest in doing the play, I was very excited about the potential of what I might be able to add to it. It’s so rare to work on a piece of theater in New York City nowadays that is unapologetic, original, and has such a unique voice. The pastor is such an interesting role, and so different from what many people have seen me do previously. But strangely, not very different from Claudius.
What has the transition from off-Broadway to Broadway been like for the show? Did you guys making many changes?
The transition has been smooth as silk. Everything is as it was off-Broadway, except a little bigger, a little more set technical, and quite a bit deeper; much tighter, more focused, and even more truthful.
What has been the biggest take-away from working on Hand to God, so far?
The response from the audience. It’s different every night, and it’s fantastic to hear an audience realize they are about to see something unlike anything they’ve ever seen…
Oh yeah, and there’s nothing like a great group of talented people listening and collaborating together to make some really good theater.
Like most people, I’m an avid House of Cards fan, so I must ask, what what is like working on an episode of the show this season?
It was too cool for school. Seriously, it’s the one show I’ve always wanted to work on, especially being a [former] political science major. And now I’m working on it. It was a lot of fun to be in a scene with Kevin Spacey. And impressive how present he was, not only for his takes, but for when it was the other actors takes as well. I look forward to seeing what’s going to happen in season four.
What’s typically your pre-show routine?
Right now, if I’m being honest, it’s binge watching House of Cards.
What’s your advice for aspiring Broadway performers?
You’ve got to stand for something, you’ve got to have opinions and instincts to start with, always. And then, you’ve got to be confident enough to throw it all away. ♦