Listen to the interview that aired on KERA FM
Michael Urie is probably best known for his work in the ABC television show Ugly Betty, playing scheming fashion magazine assistant Marc St. James. But the Plano native is no stranger to the stage, performing on and off Broadway. Now, he makes his debut in Dallas, in Buyer & Cellar. That’s cellar, like basement. Specifically, Barbra Streisand’s basement.
Watch the commercial for Buyer & Cellar:
On the setting of Buyer & Cellar….It is the completely fictional tale of a completely made up guy who works in the absolutely real street of shops at Barbra Streisand’s house that she has in her basement…someone gets hired to run those shops and he has one customer…I play everyone. I play Alex More to begin with, who is the struggling actor who gets hired to be the clerk in the street of shops. I play the lady of the house herself, Ms. Streisand…He’s not sure what he’s supposed to do until she says, “You have nice things here.” And he realizes, “We’re going to play shopkeeper.” It starts there and it’s hilarious but it goes to so many wonderful places and then it becomes really about what it’s like for a have and a have-not to be friends.
On playing an iconic figure such as Streisand….I was a fan, not a super-fan. I wouldn’t have called myself a devoted fan. I didn’t follow her every move. In 1994, she did her big comeback concert and I remember really liking it but also I remember my mother explaining it to me…I’m not just going to do an impression of her because there’s no costume changes. There’s no fingernails or putty nose, or you know, a wig or sequins or anything like that. I sort of just become her.
On bringing a piece of off-Broadway back to Dallas….I grew up here going to Fair Park Music Hall, seeing giant musicals in a giant room. And shows like mine couldn’t play in a room like that. But that is a part of New York theater. You know, because a Broadway play can push the boundaries, but it still has to have a kind of universality. You have a lot of seats to fill…This is will be my professional acting debut in the Dallas area. It’s the first time I’m coming home to show everybody what I’ve been working on and it’s crazy. I am nervous. I am nervous about it.
I had a great time talking to Urie, but couldn’t fit our whole conversation on the air. Here are a few other things you may want to know:
On his documentary Thank You For Judging….It’s actually about TFA state [competition], which is the Texas Forensics Association, which is a big, big deal here. And when I was in high school, I competed in it. It was like the mother of all speech tournaments. So we made a film about it. We followed my old coach and a few other coaches and met a lot of kids. It’s an activity where kids who might not fit in elsewhere, flourish.
On the influence of speech in acting….It’s not as known as the debate side of it. Kids are doing humorous interp or dramatic interp and that is more like acting. It’s almost like the play I’m doing because you’re acting alone and doing all the parts. You can do whatever you want in a published work, doing all the parts. You’re basically the actor, producer, and director of your own one-person show. I know so many people who have gone on to be film directors, lawyers, doctors, actors, and teachers. All of these professions not only need to be able to talk to other people and lead other people, but tell a story from beginning to end. I go back to my speech and debate training instinctively, far more than I would to Shakespeare.
On art as a competition….I don’t love that it’s a competition but it’s true. There’s two plays happening right next door to each other and you only have one night, one’s going to win. So it is. If we want to be paid as artists then we are putting ourselves out there to be judged.
On his introduction to speech….I was in theater and a lot of the theater kids were also doing speech. It’s like all the drama kids all went to the same place every weekend. Why wouldn’t I take the opportunity to be with hundreds of people like me, as opposed to being a minority in my high school?
On moving from community college to Juilliard….It was actually in a speech tournament that I decided that I was thinking I was going to go to a school here in Texas and get my degree in education and become a drama teacher. It was during a forensics round that I was doing a very dramatic poem that people kept laughing at. I said, “Maybe I’ll make this funny.” So I did and I won. I scrapped all my plans to go to state school and learn teaching and I wanted to stay here and see about becoming an actor. I went with that group to New York on a field trip and we toured Julliard. After the tour, [one of the teachers] pulled me aside and told me, “You have to audition for this place.” It seemed so impossible to me and I did it because he suggested it. I auditioned halfway through my first year at community college and I got in. I was going to stay and see where the wind took me.