Where Are They Now: Anthony Rapp
By Dustin Fitzharris
Fourteen years after he inaugurated the starring role in the original Broadway production of Rent, Anthony Rapp is still a sought after talent in the theater community. He recently directed a workshop of Born Blue and his musical, Without You, based on his own life experiences, specifically the death of his mother, made its New York premiere this fall. In the meantime, he's patiently waiting for the feature film he acts in, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, which costars Natalie Portman and Lisa Kudrow, to hit cineplexes after playing to good reviews at film festivals earlier this year.
Out caught up with Rapp to chat about how his new musical has made him stronger, his childhood, and his thoughts on Rent today.
Out: In 1996 you were honored on the Out 100 list. How is the Anthony Rapp from that time different from the Anthony Rapp of today?
Anthony Rapp: Wow. My goodness. I guess I'm a lot more established in my life in every respect. Work is sort of taking care of itself to enough of the level that I can finally come from a place of being very wonderfully picky and choosy about when and where I do what I want to do. I'm not as much at the mercy of the fickle finger of fate. That all began with Rent. Then my mother was ill in '96 and then she died in '97. So, I lived through that experience. I don't mean to be dramatic, but being motherless is transformative.
This brings us to your current musical Without You, which is based on your memoir, Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical 'Rent.' Tell us about it.
It's something I never thought about doing. The book itself was such an intense experience to write and was very fulfilling. Somebody I didn't even know that well, who is in the business, said, 'Have you thought about adapting it?' I really hadn't. But when I began talking with my friend Steve Maler, who became my director, he thought it did have potential. What we've discovered in the process is the fact that I can be on stage telling the story is proof that one can make it through these experiences and become stronger, wiser and more fully human because of them -- I did. There's a phrase in the show that says, 'The only way out is through,' and I believe that to be true. In a way my show has become proof of that.
Is it difficult going through the painful experiences night after night?
It's actually proven to be very cathartic and also very comforting. I'm literally talking to my mom every night. I mean, I'm having conversations that we've had. Relationships continue past the death of someone, in a certain sense, but at the same time she is gone. Ultimately, I feel very uplifted by it. I don't feel ripped apart by it. The audiences have been responding with enormous support and people are sharing their stories with me. That was part of the intention of doing the book in the first place. By telling one's story, you can help others who may be in similar situations.
The show also addresses your audition for Rent. You sang "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M. What else do you remember from that audition?
I was late to my audition because I was coming from the memorial service for a friend, which I always thought in retrospect was this wild coincidence. I just went in and sang that song. I messed up. I jumped a verse, but I got called back on the spot. That does not always happen, believe me.
The music from Rent was written and composed by Jonathan Larson, who died at 35. What is your favorite memory of him?
It was at the middle of rehearsal and he had met an actress friend of mine, and they had become friends. He was really developing a crush on her. He had been a little unlucky in love, and she had had a very famous ex-boyfriend, so that was kind of intimidating to him. He was just asking me for advice in this kind of junior high school way -- like how he should approach her and if I thought she had felt the same way. It's a very sweet memory for me. It's a private moment that we shared.
Where does Rent sit in your heart today?
It's made every difference in my life in every respect. So where it sits in my heart is with the most profound gratitude and place of honor.