Andrew Keenan-Bolger is one of the most recognizable names on Broadway. After originating the role of Crutchie in the hit musical Newsies and creating the web series Submissions Only, Keenan-Bolger became a fan-favorite among the Broadway community.
And now, though he’s remaining tight-lipped, Keenan-Bolger is making the leap from stage to screen in what he describes as a “major motion picture.”
With the new season of Submissions Only on the horizon, and an exciting new venture on the way, Keenan-Bolger talked about everything from transitioning from stage to screen to why he’s “embarrassed” to show up at the Newsies stage door.
SDD: You have been here, there and everywhere so far this year. What would you say is the biggest highlight for you so far?
AKB: I would honestly have to say that it was getting to work on the new season of Submissions Only. I feel like my dreams for what this show could be are actually becoming a reality. We actually have a real budget and a real production schedule and we’re getting to call the shots. It’s amazing. We aren’t only relying on favors from everyone. We just wrapped filming a couple days ago and we are no doing post-work to shape it into the series that it is supposed to become.
SDD: How many episodes are there this season?
AKB: There’s going to be eight by the looks of it.
SDD: The Kickstarter went above and beyond what you were asking for. Did you expect that to happen and what was it like when you saw the final total?
AKB: No, of course we weren’t expecting to go above it. Worst case scenario was that we would just meet it and that we would figure out some other way to get sponsorship. Not only did we get past our Kickstarter but legendary Broadway producer Kevin [McCollum] noticed us at this point and at first gave to the Kickstarter but then decided, ‘I’m actually going to help you guys out in a major way. I’m actually going to help you not only make the series that you want to make, but also help you find the distribution and hopefully find a new platform.’ Not only do we feel like we’ve been really supported by our friends and fans, but kind of supported in a real way by a big Broadway player. I guess it’s the universe telling us that hopefully we’re doing something right.
SDD: What has it been like for you to see it transform over the past few seasons, where it was something you started for fun with some of your friends and now you have the support of basically the whole Broadway community and a famous producer?
AKB: Honestly, it’s incredible. When we were made it, we were hoping that at the very least our friends and family would tune in. The fact that there are so many people who are fans of it that I haven’t even met. I feel like when I was doing Newsies the most common question that I was asked at the stage door was when is there going to be a season three? These people are from all over the country, so that really blew my mind. Having the support of this community has been really amazing. I have been acting and performing in it since I was ten years old, but being validated not only as a performer but as a creator has given me a lot of confidence. I have really fulfilled my life goal and dream.
SDD: I have been dying to ask you this question for quite a while about your character in Submissions Only. You could have played anybody, why did you want to play the geeky receptionist?
AKB: Part of it is out of necessity. I realized that if I was going to be the director of photography, it’s just hard to work on both sides of the camera. Kate [Wetherhead] does an amazingly well in that she can kind of get a different perspective while acting in a scene with other people. So she is able to really bounce back and forth from being a director not just as far as acting goes. Also managing the technical elements when you are in front of the camera is really impossible. I definitely wanted a small cameo that was fun. I feel that most of our characters are so likeable and so real. Honestly, this is kind of that real person that everybody knows in this world. Just making him something more than just the ‘bitchy gay guy’. Especially in this new season, he gets to have some funny stuff happen.
SDD: I love his little one-liners. With the Kickstarter and everything that’s changed this season, what changes should fans expect?
AKB: I think what you are going to see is a shift in production values. We have a new camera and a bigger crew so I think that will be the most immediate change. I think having the flexibility to set a real production schedule- we filmed it in two and a half months rather than ten months, which we have been doing for the past few seasons- we were able to build an ensemble and really play in the moment. We were able to construct a timeline for it where people we were continuously, and where it wasn’t like something they would just do every couple weeks. Characters grew so much faster and so much richer, just getting to be on set every day. Our cast grew so close together every day this season and I think the character relationships have really strengthened this season. When we’ve been building these plotlines for almost three years, naturally they become more fun to write and more real. I think that there’s a lot of great story to be told this season and I think it looks a little nicer as well. I think everything is just pumped up.
SDD: Are there new recurring characters, or is it the same that we have been following?
AKB: It is mostly our same ones. Of course, Jared Gertner- who is currently in London doing Book of Mormon– is there in the beginning and then he makes a departure. There’s actually a whole bunch of new characters. Also, the character Penny gets a job performing in the off-Broadway show Jeremy Fort. We not only get to see what it’s like to be in an audition room but we get to see what it’s like to be in a rehearsal. There’s a bunch of new writers and creators, all of her cast members and her stage managers. It’s definitely a huge new batch of characters, but also a lot of people’s favorites who have been with us since the beginning.
SDD: Switching gears a little bit to your new film. What can you tell me about that?
AKB: I actually can’t tell you much. I think you guys are the only people who have actually covered it. As soon as I made that tweet, I got a call from the reps saying, ‘Hold off until we make a real announcement.’ I can say that I am currently working on a movie, it just doesn’t have a title or a project yet. I actually started shooting and it’s a major motion picture.
SDD: Can you talk about transitioning from being a stage actor to working in this blockbuster film that you ‘can’t say much about’?
AKB: Yeah, absolutely. People think that there’s a really big difference between stage acting and film acting. To a degree, there’s a little bit. You can’t necessarily be as big because your face is blown up on a movie screen. I think there is this sort of stigma in the business like, ‘Broadway people can’t do film and TV and understand subtlety.’ I think that this couldn’t be further from the truth. I think doing some of these things has proved that. I love having the opportunity to act on film. I think some of the best film actors have come from the boards. My first day of filming, I was on set with my new cast and my new director and it was the very first day we were filming. I made a ton of notes and tried to figure out everything that my character would have leading up to this moment. It was definitely a lot of homework that I had to do. When you’re in rehearsals, you start from the beginning and work your way through it; but with this it was straight to work. In a movie you are working on a particular scene any given day and nothing else. That’s a difficult challenge for me but I think it was a good mental exercise. I think if I hadn’t done Submissions Only, I would have been a bit more in the weeds.
SDD: With Submissions Only as a jump starter and your new film, have you thought of moving away from stage productions and working more in “mainstream” television and film?
AKB: I truly think that my first love is doing theatre. It’s what my training is in and it’s what I’ve done my whole life. I think the reason that I am trying to do other stuff now is because usually in a Broadway season, there are maybe twenty new shows. Within those 20 shows, maybe there’s a role for me in like four of them. If you want to work in the big leagues, that’s what you’ve got to work with. If you are holding out on those big projects that may be right for you, I think it’s a little bit hard. The amazing thing about film and television is there’s a ton of new projects all the time. I think that really works for me more so than some of the things on Broadway. I mean, sometimes something will come along that I think is a great match for me. But I am definitely interested in exploring film- I think there’s a lot of cool stuff you can do with it and there are a lot of ways you can do it, both cheaply and with a ton of budget to get it seen by people. Whereas when you do Broadway, a few thousand people see it ever night and you can only see it in New York City.
SDD: Talking about roles that were perfect for you, what was the decision like for you to leave Newsies?
AKB: It was definitely a tough decision. I have been a part of that show since the very first reading of it. At the time that I left it, I had been the only person to have spoken Crutchie’s lines. So I definitely feel like I brought a lot of myself to that piece. It was one of those roles where as a kid, I imagined getting to play that. It was a tough decision. One of the reasons I was leaving was because I wanted to focus on directing and getting to do film work. But really one of the biggest reasons I was leaving was to do Tuck Everlasting, which unfortunately just got postponed. I’m still holding out that that’s going to make it to Broadway. It’s an incredibly beautiful piece and it’s a shame it’s not happening until the summer, but I think it will happen soon enough.
SDD: So you are staying with Tuck?
AKB: Absolutely. One of the things about this business is that it’s truly a business. There’s a lot to do with it and with Tuck it was theatre availability and for us to be able to get the right theatre. They didn’t just want to throw us into any theatre and it’s already so crowded with shows as it is. It just wasn’t the right time. Hopefully something will open up for us in the future. I am definitely still attached to it. The first reading I did when I moved to the city was Newsies and I think the second was Tuck. Newsies was always the very commercial Disney piece and I feel like Tuck was my more Indie project that had writers who were not known at all. I still really believed in the piece. Getting to see both of them make the trajectory to Broadway has been exciting and I hope that I get to do both of them on Broadway!
SDD: Is there any tentative timeline right now for Tuck or is it all up in the air?
AKB: I think it’s still up in the air. I’m sure the producers have an idea, but there is much that I have been told that they are trying their best to make it happen.
SDD: Going back to Newsies because I have received a couple questions to ask you about that. If you could play any character in Newsies, who else would you want to play?
AKB: I would want to play one of the actual newsboys who dances. I am not very much of a dancer but I don’t think there’s anything more exciting to watch on stage than those boys being able to do that athletic and crazy acrobatic dancing. I feel that Crutchie goes and sits on the sidelines, while the other boys go and do the heavy lifting. It would never get old to get to watch from the side. I would like to say maybe a Specs or Race. They look like they’re always having a lot of fun on stage.
SDD: Maybe you can come back for a special engagement and take over the role without telling anyone and see what happens.
AKB: I don’t think anyone would want to see me play any of the roles other than Crutchie. The talent that I have in dance is nothing compared to what those boys have.
SDD: You and the other guys were really close. How often do you hang out with the Newsies boys?
AKB: Yeah, they were my best friends and are my best friends now. I am always coming in between shows to meet them. I feel like a little embarrassed but I am that guy that always waits by the stage door for the boys to come out. They are the greatest guys I could ever wish for. I remember our director saying on opening night, ‘These are the good old days that we are in right now. These are the days that you will look back on when you’re older and remember what an incredible experience it was.’ I feel that way about Newsies. There is no cooler cast. If I wasn’t in that show, I would be like, ‘Oh, I want to be in Newsies. They look like they are having so much fun.’ We truly did and the relationships I made are ones that I am going to have for the rest of my life. I am looking forward to getting to work with them again in future things.