Drew Moerlein might go down in history for the bloodiest Broadway debut of all-time.
As Paul Owen in American Psycho, Moerlein portrayed the antagonist to Benjamin Walker’s Patrick Bateman. His hilariously arrogant demeanor, perceived through the eyes of Bateman, makes Owen the character audiences love to hate – and American Psycho is a show where the anti-hero is a serial killer. Owen’s spectacular murder scene serves as an unforgettable ending to the first act, which is so bloody it requires a crew to mop up the aftermath during intermission.
And, unfortunately, it seems that Broadway has been as merciless to American Psycho as Bateman was to Owen. The show, which officially opened on April 21, will come to an end after just 81 performances on Sunday, June 5. Despite its brief run, American Psycho managed to introduce audiences to a thrilling and totally new theatrical experience, and the cast and crew have made it clear that they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished.
Before embarking on his final weekend of performances, Moerlein spoke candidly with Stage Door Dish about making his Broadway debut in the bloody thriller and his thoughts about the musical’s premature closing.
How are you approaching this final weekend of American Psycho?
I’m approaching it hoping to soak it all in and embrace every moment of it so I can remember if for the rest of my life and have a blast doing the show that we always have a blast doing. I’ve gotten the creative fulfillment, the wonderful exposure and press from it, and I’ve told the story we need to tell to as many people as we could possibly tell it to. It’s definitely going to be a sad moment on Sunday. We have a very tight-knit and cohesive group of actors. I’m going to have lifelong friends out of this cast. Just the energy and the story we tell is unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I’m going to embrace it and live in every single second for all five remaining shows.
This marked your Broadway debut. What have you learned from this experience?
I’ve learned that an eight-show Broadway week is no bullshit. I try to say this from a business standpoint to not sound not humble – I’ve learned that if you put in the work, have the determination and drive, then Broadway and anything is possible. I’ve learned that Broadway is like blackjack. It’s a complete gamble. The producers, stage managers, crew, actors, the writers, songwriters are all going in with the same gamble. The only people guaranteed to make money are those of us being paid by the producers. The producers are certainly not guaranteed to make it and that’s what happened with our show. Word of mouth was tremendously positive for us, houses were packed for the entire run, and yet we couldn’t find the profit to reassure our producers that we should stay open and that they would make money back over the next few months. The show catered to a very broad audience but our general audience are millennials who buy day and week of tickets and try to find the best price. So the projections for the producers don’t look good. They don’t have the numbers for the next six months because typical theatre-goers aren’t adding us to their lineup for the fall ticket buying.
When I saw the show it was packed. And American Psycho was the most talked about show that opened this spring. So when I read the closing notice it was so unbelievable to me. And, to touch on what you just said, buying day-of tickets is the new norm in theatre.
That’s all I can understand. The cast, the crew – we don’t understand it either. Our energy feels like we’ll be open forever. Every night the audience is right there with us and we’ve never had a show when the entire audience didn’t stand up immediately. The response on press, blogs, social media has been so positive. Your typical Broadway theatregoer maybe doesn’t want to go to a show, leave it and be affected by it and thinking about the state of our culture and society – the socio-economic, racial, sexual tensions. They don’t want to discuss the violence that happens in our society on a daily basis because of people like Patrick Bateman. Dare I say the cool kids come out and they’re the ones who come seven times to our show and tell all their friends and understand that theatre at its core was created to affect change and incite discussion. It’s one of the only free forms of speech throughout the century. Some people just maybe don’t understand exactly what we’re trying to do or they don’t like it and that’s fair if they don’t enjoy it. We’re all very proud and for the rest of our lives it will be an indelible mark on our resumes, our emotional ballot and our souls that we did this show. We all feel very honored and blessed to tell this story every day.
And the fact is that people talk about the show and it incites conversations. Whether people loved it or didn’t, they love to talk about it. As an actor making your Broadway debut, what’s it like to be part of a show that is creating so much passionate discussion?
There’s nothing better! That’s what we live for. To tell a story that makes people talk, and go inside of themselves and question their morals and decisions and look into how they approach the world. I would rather be part of a show with substance that runs for two months than a recycled fluff show that people come to a go ‘yay I feel so good about myself.’ That’s not why I got into this. I’m not saying I won’t do comedy or a beautiful love story, but there’s gotta be a journey in there. There has to be something that moves me, touches me, makes me think. I can’t tell you how honored I am to have done this show. When I go into rooms people talk to me for five minutes before I audition. I think it will forever be a credit on my resume that makes people say ‘holy shit you did American Psycho? That is fucking cool and it was gone too soon.’
I want to talk about your character Paul who is my favorite character in the entire film and musical. It’s so interesting to see him as a person versus the way Patrick sees him. Can you talk about the character and what you’ll miss most about playing him?
I’ll miss the ease, the charisma, the ownership of a room. Paul is a lover. He works his ass off but success comes to him and he’s a magnet for people, for jobs. Designers want to try their brand new suits on him. They want to give him their business cards so he can be the face and brand of the new card. He’s a good dude. It surprises me that he doesn’t have a wife because he’s such a good guy and he’s not a womanizer. He’s a respectful guy and I feel like in the next year or two, depending on how you interpret the ending, Paul will be settled down with a baby on the way and even higher up in his company. As you said, it’s interesting the difference between how Patrick sees Paul and how Paul truly is. Patrick sees him as this slimy douchebag who weasels in and takes every good job from him and every girl and has the best reservations. But Paul is really just a nice, generous guy and Patrick is just envious of all these things that Paul has and of what comes so easily to Paul. Patrick strives and strives to achieve what Paul has but it doesn’t come for him. He tries to put on all these things to be the perfect man and I think that reflects as ‘Paul is a douchebag’ for Patrick. And obviously we know that Patrick’s psyche and brain is not quite sane.
That’s an understatement! So the Act 1 closing, what is that like for you every night on stage?
It’s my favorite part of my track and one of the things I’ll miss most. Ben and I dance with reckless abandon every night. Nothing’s the same and we jam out together like two drunk, stoned morons and go to town. It’s very freeing and thrilling. The audience can feel that it’s organic and fresh and improved every night and it really is like the best diving board launch into that next scene because it gets our blood pumping. It’s like you have these drugs and alcohol in your system, you get jumping around and it recycles them into your system. It shoots me into this delusional, happy-go-lucky place and it puts me into a haze. And then the joy of doing that death, as weird as that sounds. Ben and I are very in sync and there’s a whole crew behind it with our stage manager calling the hits to the blood team. Ben winds up, swings the ax, I swing, stage manager calls cannon and the blood shoots and that happens four times. So it’s a very elaborate process but we’ve figured out an organic way to do it. They have been two mishaps during the run but mostly it’s a flawless, grotesque mutilation of a man in front of the audience. The special effects with the screen coming in and the blood hitting it just shows the audience the gore and blood that they crave in a theatrical way. We can heighten it and send more blood without seeing body parts come flying. It’s sort of a dance and choreographed piece that is very disturbing.
What is your interpretation of the series of events in Patrick Bateman’s life?
I don’t know if I’m supposed to answer that. I think I’m going to leave that open. I think it’s clear based on my costume and how Patrick interacts with me that Paul comes back as “ghost Paul” in Act 2. I’m in all white and he’s seeing Paul in his doorman, seeing Paul at the club, at the wedding. Is Paul there? Is Paul present in these places, does he exist? Does Patrick kill Paul? All of these are viable questions. That’s one of the joys of the show. When it ends people go ‘Woah, did he just say none of it existed? … Does Patrick exist? … Who exists in this world of Patrick Bateman’s mind? … Is Patrick Bateman Paul Owen?’ It opens up a whole can of worms and questions of what is true and what is reality and what is all made up in Patrick’s psyche. I gotta leave it open because the book and movie leave it open and we sort of leave it open to interpretation. Truth be told I think it’s evolved and changed for me as well and it can be interpreted correctly all of those ways I mentioned.
I want to talk about the song ‘Cards’ because I love it. Can you tell me about working closely with Benjamin on this number?
First of all, Ben and I have become very close throughout this. He is an exceptionally hard worker, exceptionally composed, responsible, patient and caring scene partner. He is literally the glue of this entire process. He has been the rock of our entire cast. Without him and his preparation and go get ‘em attitude and constant determination this show would not be anything close to what it is. He inspired all of us to be as good as we are. That song is so much fun because I get to just be charming and lovable. I get to be like ‘look at this new thing I got, it’s so cool, tell your friends and I can get you some of these cards if you want them’ and all Patrick sees is ‘my card is better than yours, bastard.’ He sees me rubbing it in his face and taunting him with the quality of my card over his. Whereas if he asked me who designed it I would have passed it right along and probably gotten him a discount.
About the song itself, we worked through it a lot of times together, found some good moments and tweaked some parts to fit our rhythms and styles better. The dance-off happened kind of organically during rehearsal. We were kind of poppin’ and lockin’ at each other and it got put into it. So we do a dance-off that is completely improv and we flow through it every night. The dork Bateman moves come out and hopefully in opposition you see the slick, hoppy flow of Paul’s move. We have a blast every night and add nuances and winks. We have a lot of fun doing that scene and the crowd seems to enjoy the call back to the movie and book and just the joy of a card being the central character in a song.
What would it mean to you to have a cast recording of this production?
That’s a sad, sad subject. I have to be honest with you when I booked this I was thrilled about everything that had happened in my life but one of the most exciting things was that I would be on an album forever. So it makes me extremely sad to not have a cast recording. I think this show is a completely different beast than the London show and I think listening to the London CD at this point is not indicative at all of the show we have. I think Duncan [Sheik] and our musical director Jason [Hart] would agree. We would all kill to have a cast recording and it’s so sad to me that I won’t be able to hear what I did and what Ben did and experience what we all had. The show has changed massively since London and I think that’s one of the biggest travesties. And again it comes down to the age old problem of money. Everybody in the cast is pretty devastated but it is what it is I guess.
What is your equivalent of Dorsia?
You’re asking a guy who doesn’t really go out much anymore but there are a couple of speakeasies downtown – Please Don’t Tell is a cool place in the side of a hot dog place. It’s a haven of craft beer and cocktails. I used to work at this spot called the Royalton Hotel and they’ve got a great mixology team so we go there every now and then and that’s always an excellent time. So shout out to them.
What moment with this cast or production will you keep forever?
First preview, my Broadway debut, all of us waiting for the blinds to open during ‘This is Not an Exit’ at the end and then we came down for our bow and it was a very emotional and insane moment for me and everyone. We knew we were opening a Broadway changing show. And, in general, every night ‘In the Air Tonight,’ we’re all singing, moving and emoting as one organism and every night everybody just drops into that. Hopefully we walk towards the audience and bring them in with us.
In terms of the production, obviously Ben Walker has been on Broadway forever and is established. Same with Alice Ripley, Jenn Damiano, Theo Stockman, etc. These are big prominent people on Broadway. What have you taken away from working with them?
As I said, Ben’s work ethic, his strictness with himself with his diet, his sleep, balancing everything in his life is something that I respect and look up to and I hope to infuse into my life, work and career. I’ve learned so much from these people. Alice has such a wonderful energy. Alex Michael Stoll is my dressing roommate and this is his fifth Broadway show and he has really been a mentor to me. Learning the ropes of Broadway there are little things you don’t know until someone tells you – dressing rooms, paychecks, vacation days – just how things work. These are rockstars of theatre who are wonderful people to work with and I know that I’ll work with all of them again and hopefully as a group. Somehow they picked people that just gelled and meshed together perfectly.
How does it feel to go from owning a landscaping company to being on Broadway?
Well that was in high school and it was years ago. But I still own a handyman business and I’m a freelance carpenter. I just bought a house with my wife and I do everything there. I build and install everything, so that’s still very much a part of my life. And now that I’m not on Broadway I’ll be doing whatever I need to do to make my money. I waited tables for a long time and decided I didn’t want to live in New York and be a full time waiter so I buckled down and focused in and that focus and drive has led to being on Broadway and the rest of the things I’ve done in my career and it’s only up from here.
I’m going to elaborate on this. A handyman business and being on Broadway seem so different. How did you get into theatre?
My mom’s a dancer and dance teacher and my dad’s a sculptor. I grew up in an artistic community. I did plays in elementary school and loved it and was always the kid that liked being in the limelight so I kept doing it. I did a couple of theatre summer camps and went to the prep high school that my dad taught at in New Hampshire and started doing plays there. You figure I’m just getting cast because I’m one of the singers in high school. But then we had a guest director come in, who didn’t know me, and I ended up booking a lead in that show. It was a comedy called A Flea in Her Ear and I realized in that moment, the affirmation that someone realized I could do it, I could act. I kept going, fell in love with it, ended up doing some big roles in high school, and played Valjean my senior year. That propelled me into following through with my dream.
I auditioned for schools, got into a few, and ended up deciding that Syracuse was the place for me. I got a BFA in acting. I was not a musical theatre major, but I always got cast in musicals because I grew up dancing with my mom and was always in chorus and state choir. I was trained vocally and could move well. That’s what I say when people ask if I’m a dancer. I say, ‘I’m an actor, a singer, and I move well.’ It’s not dancer/singer/actor, it’s actor/singer/dancer.
I moved to New York, got an agent through a showcase, booked some commercials first, and I’ve been doing film, TV, commercials, voice-over, modeling, musicals, and stage plays. I do a little bit of everything, which is one of the greatest joys and what I feel most lucky about in my career. First of all, for being entertained myself purposes, I’m a bit ADD with my career. I like change, I like newness, I like different things. I shot a TV series last year, I shot two films this summer, I’m on Broadway now, and I have a couple commercials running.
I love being on set, I love being on stage. They’re very different beasts. You have a third acting partner on stage, which is the audience. Three is an undeniable energy coming from in front of you and a response. On set, you have this crazy other type of third acting partner, the camera. Of course the vibe on a set is completely different. The joy of film is that you don’t have to get it right one time. You work until you find that bit, then ‘Oh, we caught that. Great, we got it in the can.’ Being on stage every night is the last performance. It is definitely a different experience. You have to be on point every night.
Truth be told, I’m at home now between installing wire cable under my TV and then curtain rods in the guest bedroom, and I’m currently sitting here petting my new puppy. The balance of life and career is important to me. I find immense joy in both. I understand that the career needs to be there to have a successful and happy life, but finding a balance of the two is what I strive to do on a daily basis. Whatever keeps my family afloat financially, whether it be swinging a hammer or singing my face off, both of those bring me joy because I will be able to support them.
Are you hoping to stay on stage or looking at any opportunities right now?
I’m looking for any opportunity right now. I don’t want to peg myself down. Whatever comes my way, whatever project is interesting to me and my team. We’re very focused on the arc of my career right now. I feel like I’m standing on the top of the mountain coming off of a show, and we want to traverse a higher mountain versus come down at all. We’re trying to pick the right projects, and a lot of doors have opened through this job for me, so we’re very excited about the prospects of what’s next.
What do you hope the legacy is for American Psycho on Broadway?
‘Do you guys remember that sexy, innovative, unique, disturbing, hilarious show called American Psycho that was an adaptation of the book and the film? It was awesome. We should go see it at Lincoln Center.’ I don’t know. I hope that people talk about it forever. I don’t care about the focus on it being gone too soon. Hopefully people remember the people who came seven to nine times and couldn’t get enough and thanked us for bringing something that they wanted to watch to Broadway. Broadway’s not for everyone, and I say that blanketly, but truth be told, most of Broadway is not for everyone. The fact that we could find a group of people that needed us, needed this show, needed this story was memorable.