Drew by Day, Broadway by Night

By Christopher Hann

In Is He Dead?, Butz shows “the true comic genius of which he is made,” writes Ben Brantley of The New York Times.

I Honestly Don’t Think I Have a Method.
Tony Award–winner Norbert Leo Butz seems unconvinced that acting can be taught, but the star of the Mark Twain comedy Is He Dead? spent the spring semester at Drew trying to do just that.

How do you teach someone to be an actor?
I honestly don’t think that I have a method. These are performance classes, so if it’s engaging their bodies and engaging their voices to try new things and to be as dynamic as they can, I don’t really care what the technique is.

You’ve done mostly theater, but you’ve also done television and film. Can you talk about how to act differently in those mediums?
Theater is a three-dimensional medium. It requires a physical and a vocal technique that film just does not because it’s actually a photographic art. Which is not to say there isn’t great film acting out there, but it tends to be from the shoulders up, and theater is decidedly from the neck down.

In your current role, you spend most of the show playing the part of a woman. Can you tell me how you use your whole body in that role?
When you’re doing a period thing like this, you have a choice: You can either work with the period costumes, or you can work against them. I’m definitely working with them, and that’s actually where we’re finding a lot of humor in the piece. It’s not just that he’s in a dress—that’s silly enough—he’s in a corset and a petticoat and pantaloons and three-inch heels and a 14-pound Marie Antoinette wig.

What was it like to win a 2005 Tony for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?
It’s a little bit out-of-body. It’s not really until a couple days later that you think, “That really happened.” I was [also] nominated in 2001, and I was really freaked out. I actually don’t enjoy big crowds.

Now, c’mon, you don’t enjoy big crowds, but you’re in the theater every night? Are you in the wrong business?
I totally am because here’s the other thing: I suffer from terrible stage fright, absolutely debilitating stage fright.

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