Darren Criss On Becoming Hedwig

Darren Criss
Joan Marcus

John Cameron Mitchell & Darren Criss at an After Party for JCM's last performance as Hedwig on April 26 | Photos: Getty

Tonight is Darren Criss’ second trip to Broadway, his follow-up to an incredibly popular three-week run as J. Pierrepont Finch in How To Succeed in Business in 2012. While that part, wedged in during a filming break from Glee, stylistically fit with his dapper portrayal of Blaine Anderson for the past five years on the Fox hit, a role like Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a welcome change for the actor who says he’s always gravitated toward “big weird characters” and goes crazy if he doesn’t “get to do something different and wild” as an actor. He couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity than the East Berlin rock ‘n' roller six nights a week at the Belasco Theatre. We caught up with Criss during the rehearsal process to see how he’s feeling before his big night.

What's it like wearing high-heel boots and makeup:

“The way women feel and walk in heels is a classic, time-honored source of power and self empowerment. Me putting those heels on is absolutely about that. The heels are high, the dresses are short, it’s sexualy empowering. And you feel that, I immediately walk differently when I am in it. The makeup changes everything. You suddenly look at yourself in the mirror and you just want to be a bitch. It’s your game face, it really is your game face. I’m excited about that, that’s the fun stuff.”

What will be different about his Hedwig from the others:

“I have spent more time singing with bands and screaming my face off at an audience, on a microphone, than the other guys. It’s fun to mix both worlds together. I love Broadway and I love musical theater, but it’s not something I’m really built for as well as I am for this show. I was talking to Neil [Patrick Harris] about this the other day. He was saying he really  had to learn to sing on the mic. I don’t want to sound cocky because I have my things to learn, but I’m so relieved I get to do the mic thing. He goes, “Darren, you’re used to singing out, right?” I’m like, “No, I’m terrible at that. I’m awful at that. I don’t have a big voice like you, Neil. This is right up  my wheelhouse.” Hopefully I’m not jinxing myself, but I feel right at home. As bizarre as that sounds with the heels and the wigs and the makeup, everything that is crazy about this show, I do feel bizarrely enough at home with the show because there are songs that I feel really cool with.”

What words of wisdom has the original Hedwig, John Cameron Mitchell, shared about the role:

“I feel like he’s articulated so many points about this show to me that I have to find ways to quote. The lines are very very blurry by the end of the show. Is Darren Hedwig, is Hedwig Darren? Is the whole thing Tommy, are we all Tommy? Are we all Hedwig? He said this in a very, very articulate, fascinating way (that I just ruined). What he was trying to say is there are all these lines of identity that are blurry, that make for this show to be so interesting to be played by so many different people.”

Darren Criss
Photo by Joan Marcus

What it was like knowing Broadway veteran Rebecca Naomi Jones would play Yitzhak:

“What’s funny, when the news went out that I was doing the show, instead of people saying, “Hey dude, Hedwig, that’s great!” That was a minority compared to that, “Dude, Rebecca Naomi Jones, she’s the best.” My ego’s pretty small, but I was like: “Guys, what about me?” I saw her in American Idiot years ago, and she’s clearly so insanely beloved by the Broadway community. She’s a total rock star. I feel totally lucky I’m in this with her. The only thing is, and I’ve apologized to her many times, is that in rehearsal she plays the second fiddle, literally. She plays this underappreciated peon that does get his comeuppance. But in rehearsal, however many hours a day, the vast majority of it is making sure that Darren knows what he’s doing, and Rebecca is just sitting there. I’ve turned to her on several occasions saying, “Rebecca, I am so sorry. You are such a goliath talent and I feel bad that you’re sitting there waiting for me to get my shit together.” Thankfully she does have her moment, and it’s amazing.”

How he’s excited for his physical transformations to serve the story of Hedwig:

“Dressing up and playing pretend is fun, that’s what theater is on a bizarre, base level. The stuff that is the hard stuff is the dramaturgy, it’s the character stuff,  it’s the story stuff, and making all that other fun, frilly stuff a true facade to this really tragic tale of this very bizarre person that I’m just so in love with. I am doing rehearsal in my heels and I do rehearsal in just a little slip. It changes the way you walk. If you’re going to do the drag king thing as a woman, putting on baggy jeans changes the way you slump and your physicality. I am a physical actor. I always loved physical theater, I went to Italy to study physical theater, it was my favorite part of my college education, I’ve always loved movement theater. I am not a dancer but I am a physical person. Getting to spend the time to transform this guy, me, into shoulders back, neck up, things out. Everything is about presentation. I love that stuff. It transforms you, and theater is about transformation and transforming people from one place to another.”

Darren Criss is on Broadway in Hedwig and the Angry Inch through July 19.

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