Anthony Sagaria on American Psycho, making his Broadway debut, and filming the new season of Orange is the New Black

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It’s not every day that an actor makes his Broadway debut in a show that contains 80s fashion, electronic dance music, and fake blood aplenty, but Anthony Sagaria wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sagaria is the standby for Craig McDermott, David Van Patten, Sean Bateman, Luis Carruthers, and Detective Kimball in the new musical American Psycho, based on the 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis. The show centers on Patrick Bateman (portrayed by Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson star Benjamin Walker), a handsome young Wall Street investment banker by day who partakes in far more sinister activities by night.

As he prepares for opening night on April 21, Sagaria caught up with Stage Door Dish to discuss his star-studded cast, the cultural relevance of Patrick Bateman’s story, and the lighter side of dark humor.

For those who may not know, could you explain the difference between a standby, a swing, and an understudy?

A swing is someone who covers ensemble members. Every person in our show right now is considered a principal member. As a result, we have no swings, only standbys. Swings stay offstage unless they’re needed to cover an ensemble member. Standbys are offstage as well and cover only principal members. Understudies perform onstage every night, but also cover one person in the show who’s usually a lead as well.

You’re the standby for five different roles in the show. How does that make the rehearsal process different than for someone who plays just one role?

It just makes things a little bit crazier. It’s incredible, but it’s a crazy little task to take on. Through the whole rehearsal process, we’re just kind of sitting there taking notes for everyone that we’re watching. It is a matter of making sure that we know where every single person is in every single situation because traffic changes for each person that you’re covering. Certain people have different timings for certain songs and things like that. So you just spend your time figuring out the flow of each person’s role as they’re figuring it out as well. You kind of take the journey with each of the five people that you are watching. You figure out what they’re doing with their character and how they get from one place to another and make the character specific to the scene, so that when you jump in, you can do it as much justice as they do.

Do you have a favorite role among the five that you stand by for?

They’re all honestly amazing. If I had to pick, Patrick Bateman has his four good friends that he hangs around with, and I cover three of those. Those three are just ridiculous in their own special way, and I think they’re just hilarious in what they do.

You’re making your Broadway debut in a cast that features Benjamin Walker, Alice Ripley, and Jenn Damiano. That’s not too shabby. What’s that been like?

It’s been incredible. My first Broadway show that I saw was actually Next to Normal with Jenn and Alice, so suddenly being cast in a show with them is very full-circle. It’s been amazing to work with all of them. They’re all genuinely kind humans who are just happy being able to create art and to do what they do. It’s been an extraordinary learning experience getting to watch and work with these people who I grew up idolizing, to see how they’re building their characters and how their process works to create the art that they do. I could not be more thankful to be a part of a cast like this.

Could you describe your audition process for the show?

It was actually quite simple for what I was expecting it would be. Originally I went in for the character David Van Patten. They told us to bring in an ‘80s song and to prepare the sides that they had given us. They gave us a song called ‘Cards’ that’s in the show and then two or three sides. I ended up picking the song ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ which, as it turns out, is actually in the show, which I found comical. But I didn’t have to sing that; they just wanted me to sing the song that was actually in the show and to do one of the sides. So I did that and left feeling really good about what had happened. I thought, ‘Okay, I feel like that went well, so we’ll see what happens.’

Then two days later, I got an email from my agent saying that they wanted to see me for Patrick Bateman’s brother, Sean Bateman. I thought, ‘Okay, I probably looked a little bit young for what they may be looking for.’ So it was then the dance call that I was invited back to. Lynne, our choreographer, put on one of the coolest dance calls I’ve ever been to in my life. I had a blast. We ended up doing these combinations with improv and all this 80s dialogue, and her style is just spectacular in everything she does. So I did that, and then I got asked to go back at the end of the day to Telsey and Company, where they were casting, with the full creative team again.

I went in and read for the brother, and as I was about to leave they asked me if I still remembered the sides from two days before for the character I originally went in for. Thankfully, I still had those sides in my backpack. I said, ‘Yeah hold on, let me go grab it.’ I quickly put on my suit jacket that I’d brought with me and read for this other character as well, and it went incredibly well. As I was leaving I thought, ‘I think I may have booked that.’ And then a month and a half later I got a call saying that I was going to be in it.

Had you read the book or seen the movie prior to auditioning?

They sent us the script and asked us to read that before we auditioned. I had actually not seen the full movie. I had seen clips and pieces of it, but I’d never sat down and watched the entire thing. I hadn’t read the book either. So once I got cast, I watched the movie and read the book. It’s amazing how oddly the subject matter relates to today’s society, which is why I think it’s such a relevant piece to be on Broadway right now.

Following that same vein, in what ways do you think American Psycho remains relevant in today’s culture?

It’s especially noticeable in a place where you can walk through Times Square almost every day and see all these ads for everything. It’s gotten to the point where people are always saying, ‘I want to have the latest iPhone, the latest this, the latest that.’ We have all this stuff that we want. Yet, like Patrick Bateman, we still aren’t satisfied with where we are in life. It’s fascinating because in the book, he has this stream of consciousness, and at one point out of nowhere you get this glimpse into Patrick Bateman’s real self. He says, ‘I just want to fit in.’ That took me aback, and I thought, ‘Oh, we may have just gotten a sentence of Patrick Bateman being the real Patrick Bateman.’ The whole story is told through the first person and what he is seeing versus what could actually be happening.

So it opened my eyes to see that we’re all just buying stuff because we want to fit in with everybody else who’s buying stuff. At the same time, we’re living in this world with all these terror attacks and atrocities. It’s sadly become a very common thing where you see it on the news and think, ‘This again? This is still happening?’ It’s weird how these violent actions are becoming something that people see as somewhat normal or something that they could even think about doing.

Then you look at Patrick Bateman and it’s creepy because in all reality, we all have that little bit of Patrick Bateman in us. We’re not going to go on a murder rampage, but it’s like something we were talking about with the cast. If you could hear people’s thoughts while they were stuck in traffic or when they’re running late to something…we don’t act on those thoughts that pop up into our head. But I think that’s why it can relate to so many people. Each person has that tiny bit of Patrick Bateman in them that allows them to see themselves in this show.

The music and lyrics for the show were written by Duncan Sheik, who’s known for bringing such a unique sound to Broadway. What’s your favorite aspect of the music he’s written for American Psycho?

He had this idea to do American Psycho and to take on this kind of EDM sound, and he fully embraced it. I think that’s one of the best things about the score. I’ve been watching the show essentially every night, and I’m not tired of it yet. Every song fits so well into the show and they’re all so catchy. The music is so interesting and different from anything that’s on Broadway right now or that ever has been on Broadway. It ranges from full-on dance club music to almost requiems and a cappella versions of songs. He’s taken all these amazing styles and combined them into his Duncan Sheik sound but with an 80s/EDM vibe to it. I think it’s something that should not be missed because it’s so new, so original, and fascinating to listen to.

Director Rupert Goold is well known for his stagings of Shakespearean plays. What’s it been like to work with him in this kind of production?

His vision of this show is astounding, because this show is by no means an easy thing to take on and figure out how to transform it for the stage. He did it over at the Almeida Theatre in London, where he is the artistic director. It went really, really well over there, so then they came over here where they have more space and a slightly higher budget. He’s very much one of those directors who, if someone says, ‘Hey, what if we did it like this?’ he says, ‘Cool, let’s see it. I want to see how it sounds and how it looks. If it doesn’t work, we’ll go back to the other way.’ He never says, ‘No, I don’t really think that would work.’ He wants to find the perfect way to do it, and he’s great about taking options that other people provide. It’s not easy to put up this very trippy, kind of mind-bending show where you’re wondering what’s actually going on, but he has made it so clear and the story comes out so perfectly throughout the show. It’s so impressive to have watched the whole process.

Have there been any significant changes to the show during previews?

Yes, actually. From the London production to the one we have now, it’s already quite different. A lot has been changed musically. A couple weeks ago, we got about 60 pages of rewrites and changes. They’re all so beneficial to the story. The creative team is doing a very, very good job of figuring out what is working and what isn’t, and our audience reaction has also been great in helping us figure that out too. We’ve been implementing those rewrites, and the show is becoming tighter and more clear. The story is coming through more. Everyone has been really great about not settling and always looking for ways to make it better. They’ve been doing a great job of constantly saying, ‘Let’s see what else we can do.’ If it doesn’t work, the next day they say, ‘Cool, let’s change it. It’s out.’ It’s a very different show than what people saw in London.

I’ve heard a rumor that the first couple rows of the audience have been designated the ‘splash zone’ on account of the large amount of blood. I’m not sure that’s something Broadway audiences have ever had to worry about before. 

I think we accidentally hit somebody with some blood. It’s not supposed to be a ‘splash zone,’ but there is blood that we do have onstage. So every now and then, there’s a casualty or two. I just read that article about us getting blood on somebody, and we apologized. But we try our best to keep it on the stage.

What’s it like being in a show that isn’t exactly your normal, run-of-the-mill Broadway musical? 

The studio that we spent most of our time rehearsing in had no windows in it, so we would be rehearsing this weirdly dark show for about eight hours. It would be dark out by the time we left because the days were still shorter, and I would just want to go home and watch Pixar movies. It took me a little bit to get into a Patrick Bateman-like mindset. It took a while to get adjusted to staging the show and figuring out deaths and things like that because the show is very dark. It’s actually a hilarious show too because of the satire in it, but without an audience laughing, it’s very easy to take in that dark atmosphere. But it was good. I would go home and turn on the TV, relax a little bit, and then wake up and do it again. It’s living the dream in all reality.

It’s also been such a positive environment. The cast has been so nice, and they’re all very funny. In the breaks between those dark moments, there would always be somebody making a joke or otherwise lightening the mood. It kept us in that space while still allowing us to have a good time and relax around each other.

Do you have a favorite song or scene from the show? 

There are so many. There’s a number in the first act called ‘You Are What You Wear’ done by the girls in our cast. The choreography and the song and the way the girls sound…everything about it is just perfect. I honestly love the entire show, which sounds really cheesy, but it’s so brilliantly done. I do have to say that the lighting and set undergo this huge transformation in act two of the show, which nobody really gets to see when it comes to press photos and publicity. Everything about that transformation is just remarkable to watch.

I was watching it with one of the other people in our cast during the 13th or 14th preview and I just heard her say, ‘It’s beautiful.’ Everything about this show is so visually stunning, and then you add to that this phenomenal score and book. You watch it and you’re just enthralled by living in this world that it’s so hard not to embrace all of it. That’s what’s so fascinating about our show and it’s something that people don’t expect coming in. They’re going to be completely drawn in, because everything about it makes you lean in a little bit closer to see and figure out what’s going on, but it’s also visually gorgeous.

Besides watching the show, what other shenanigans do you get up to backstage? 

There’s always something happening backstage. We’re pretty busy because there are a lot of costumes and a lot of changes going on, but it’s always funny seeing the pictures that everybody takes backstage. At the beginning of act two, everyone’s in a very similar costume, and one night they took an American Gothic-style photo with their matching outfits. We realize that we’re in this dark show, but again, it’s a very funny, very satirical show, and the cast embraces that wholeheartedly.

Like you said earlier, American Psycho made its world premiere in London. Would you ever be interested in doing a show across the pond?

Oh yes, of course. It’s such a different world and the people over there are very different from us. There have been so many instances of things that have been a hit in America, but when it transfers to England where you’re expecting it to be amazing as well, it just doesn’t translate. Some of the jokes that were originally in our show had to be changed a little bit to make it more appealing to our audiences. Some things that did amazingly over there just don’t quite register with people here. They have a very cool eye about the way things work, so it’s always interesting to get their take on the way that they view art.

If you could star in the stage adaptation of any other book of your choosing, which book would you choose? 

That’s such a hard question. I think it’d be cool to see a version of The Catcher in the Rye. I would not be correct for that at all, but that would be interesting. And it’s cliché, but I’d like to do any sort of Harry Potter adaptation like what they’re doing over in London right now. Anybody would love to be a part of that, let’s be real.

Who would you be in Harry Potter?

If we’re going by type, not to sound cocky or pretentious, but I would probably be called in for Cedric Diggory.

I hear tell you’re also going to make your screen acting debut in the fourth season of Orange is the New Black. What was that experience like? 

That was incredible. I went in for it here in New York, and I found out two days later that I was going to be filming at the end of that week. It was a very quick turnaround, and it was one of the coolest experiences. We went up to Nyack and filmed in this little town, but I can’t give away too much. It was my first time being on set for anything, and I was working with great people. I’d seen the show, which is amazing, and then I got to work with those people, which was fascinating. I ended up keeping in touch with some of them as a result.

It was very interesting being on a film set versus on the stage. You’re aware that it’s different, but then suddenly you have two or three cameras a couple feet away from your face as you’re trying to do this scene, and you just have to transition a little bit and figure out how to navigate that. But everybody was really kind and helped me out a lot. It was a genuinely nice company, and everyone who’s on that show seems to be having a fantastic time. Just being on set, I was like, ‘You all know that you’re creating some amazing art.’ So I’m excited to see it once it comes out. It’ll be interesting to see myself onscreen=

Do you have a favorite Litchfield inmate?

I’m a big fan of Red. They’re all amazing, don’t get me wrong, but Red’s a boss.

What’s the last really great show you saw onstage?

I was a really big fan of Hand to God, the play with Steven Boyer. It’s about a kid who’s in a church puppet group that his mom runs, and he’s good at working with this puppet but his friends think it’s a little weird. Then the puppet ends up taking over his hand and it becomes Satan, essentially. Watching Steven have full-on conversations with himself and not even questioning it and believing that this puppet was real in its own sense was extraordinary. From an acting standpoint, it was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen onstage. It’s kind of similar to American Psycho in its use of dark humor, and it’s unsettling but still so funny and so captivating to watch because you’re intrigued by what’s going on in front of you. It’s one of those Broadway shows that pushes the boundaries, and audiences ended up loving it. I was so happy to hear that, because it was a fantastic show and a fantastic cast all around.

If you had to be trapped in an elevator with any three Broadway stars, who would you choose?

I would probably say Ben Walker, because he’s genuinely one of the funniest people and would keep the atmosphere very light. Maybe Billy Porter? I feel like he would keep things very calm; we could have some nice conversations. And then maybe Kelli O’Hara.

If you could do your own cabaret show anytime soon, what kind of show would you like to do? 

I don’t know if anyone would come, but I’d love to do some of the much lesser-known indie music, music that is slower and doesn’t really have that mainstream sound. I’d like to do the stuff you don’t always hear but when you do hear it in concert, you’re intrigued. So maybe I would do a concert of songs by Death Cab for Cutie and Bon Iver and Frank Ocean, the styles you don’t quite get to hear as often because they don’t translate in an audition room. You would need an orchestra or a full band. A full concert of that would be very cool.

Opening night is just around the corner. Why do people need to go see American Psycho?

Because it will surprise you, 100 percent, in any way possible. It is incredibly original. It is a story that should be told in this day and age; it’s very weirdly relatable. The music is phenomenal and the book is hilarious. Our audiences laugh out loud throughout the entire show. It’s unlike anything on Broadway. There are so many good things on Broadway right now, but this type of dark humor isn’t easy to translate into a musical, and they have found an astonishing way to do it. It’s going to be one of those shows where if you don’t see it, 10 years from now people are going to say, ‘Oh my God, did you see American Psycho? Ah, you should have seen it. You missed out.’

Follow Anthony on Twitter and Instagram: @Anthony_Sagaria

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"Don't wait for people to tell you who you are. Show them." - Laura Benanti

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