Rent Hits the Big Screen
By Jeffrey Epstein
In the September issue of Out, we speak with Jesse L. Martin (Law & Order), Adam Pascal (Broadway's Aida), Rosario Dawson (Sin City), and Tracie Thoms, who all star in the screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Rent. (Martin and Pascal were in the original stage show; Dawson and Thoms are new to the material.) The movie, which hits screens just before Thanksgiving, features honest portrayals of gays and lesbians living in New York City's East Village set to a pop rock score. In the film, Martin plays Tom Collins, a queer, HIV-positive former MIT professor who has taken up with Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia). Pascal plays Roger, an HIV-positive musician who is squatting in an abandoned building with his best friend, Mark (Anthony Rapp). Dawson plays Mimi, Roger's lover interest, and Thoms takes on the role of lesbian lawyer Joanne, who is dating performance artist Maureen (Idina Menzel). Here we present outtakes from the interview. For the complete story, pick up the September issue of Out.
A lot of fans of the show are going to want to know what has been cut or changed.
Adam: A lot of the segue stuff'not the songs proper'actually are now gone and have become dialogue that's much clearer and more succinct and helps move the story forward in a better way than it did in the show. The whole 'Christmas Bells' number is not in the movie. The important moments from the number have been incorporated into the movie.
Tracie: It's really tight.
Rosario: I think the soundtrack alone just with the singing is an hour fifty. The movie would just be tremendously long to have it all in there, as much as we'd love to. I think the pacing [director Christopher Columbus has] done is really brilliant. Anything that's been confusing to people will be cleared up, but the integrity of it has been maintained. So people who have been completely in love and savored every single word I don't think will be disappointed.
Tracie, you're sort of the new girl in town here, new to the show and to film. How did you find out you got the role?
Tracie: I found out that I got it a month and a half after I auditioned for it on tape. I found out I got it in the Village. I was ecstatic and terrified. And then the next week I booked Law & Order and both of my scenes were with Jesse. We had met and we were about to go 'Action!' and I said, 'So we're going to be spending a lot of time together.'
Jesse: And I said, 'Why?'
Tracie: I said, 'Yeah. Uh, I'm Joanne.'
All: 'And action!'
Tracie: And he embraced me so openly that day. And then Idina and I had a blind date after I saw Wicked [in which Idina was starring on Broadway] one night. We went on a little 'date' afterward. I've been fans of all these people, and to come in as the unknown, I know somewhere in their minds they were thinking, Who is this new chick and why is she here? What did she do to get here? So, yes, I was terrified. But I'm here.
Rosario, is there a difference between working with film actors on a movie and working with theater actors on a movie?
Rosario: It's definitely helped for me. A lot of actors, when you're doing a film, only think about what you're doing that day. People with a theater background, they're used to, when they're working, doing the entire show. They always have the entire arc of the story in mind. A lot of times you can feel like you're out of context when you're filming and feel a little lost. But when you're on stage, you know exactly what's going on. There's a consciousness with everyone coming to this bringing the full arc of the story. In a stronger way, communication-wise, than I have experienced before. You have people much more involved than just their own character and their ego. There's a lot that we're all bringing forward. I haven't seen that much before in film.
Jesse and Adam, did the original cast members stay in touch after you left the show?
Jesse: Definitely. I saw almost everybody at some point. I saw a lot of Daphne [Rubin Vega, the original Mimi], still do. Adam, of course, I saw all the time.
Adam: Jesse and I remained very close. I'm pretty close with Anthony, but that was it for me. We have all remained friends or friendly, but we've gone in our different directions.
Has anything been particularly difficult to do?
Tracie: Some of the simplest things are the hardest things to do. I had to come in and introduce myself. 'Hi, I'm Joanne Jefferson and this is Mark Cohen.' It took 10 million times. What's my name? What am I doing? It was ridiculous.
Jesse: It hasn't been that difficult. We shot [the song] 'Santa Fe' in a subway car. The whole number takes over the car. There are poles, and Wilson and me are swinging and flying all over. At the end of the first day, my hands were literally torn apart. The next day I was like, 'Ow!' We shot it for two days.
When you're filming, do you sing full out?
Tracie: Yeah, we do. You have to. But luckily there's a track. So when my voice is tired, nobody can hear. Thank God for the playback! Our call times can be at 5 a.m. And singing at 7 o'clock in the morning is not ideal for anyone.