It is immediately clear upon meeting F. Michael Haynie that he represents everything right with Broadway today; Haynie exudes boundless energy, his deep passion for the arts is expressed through dynamic conversation, and, by his own admission, he’s not a traditional leading man yet his charisma and talent make him exactly the type who shouldn’t be underestimated and the kind of leading man intelligent audiences are yearning for today.
In fact, despite originating two roles in the cult favorite off-Broadway musicals Carrie and Dogfight, Haynie admits that he’s “not really a musical theatre guy” and “don’t come to theatre as a fan of the sparkle of it.”
As both a writer currently working on creating his first musical and an actor who has been part of two Broadway shows in addition to several successful off-Broadway productions, Haynie said, “I love theatre and will talk to someone about craft all day long but I don’t know who won Tonys when, I don’t know what show grossed the most at the box office or people’s resumes.”
In addition to his personal endeavors, Haynie collaborates with three of his best friends – Tony nominee Alex Brightman, Andrew Kober, and Drew Gasparini – as The (M)orons.
Haynie is in the process of wrapping up a successful four-week run as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. Haynie described playing the beloved outcast as “the role of a lifetime” because of the challenges emotionally, mentally, and physically to step into the titular character’s shoes eight-times a week.
Haynie, who adamantly denies the existence of dumb luck, spoke with Stage Door Dish about his passion for the arts and why he always strives to remain open and grateful for every experience.
This show, in particular, is a very weird process. Most times you’re doing the regional premiere, it’s usually coming from the Broadway production or the Broadway production and the national tour. It’s a very odd circumstance that we find ourselves doing this show because I did not get the opportunity to see it at La Jolla or Paper Mill but it was all of the elements that make Broadway shows. For whatever reason, this show did not find itself on Broadway. I think it has the makings of some very good show, better than a lot that have been on Broadway in the last few years. I’m not sure what happened, but they were able to capture the essence of that in an amazing cast recording. It really does encompass what the scale and gravity of the show was, which is rare.
I sent Michael a message through Andy [Mientus] that basically said, ‘I want to thank you for this person that you created.’ Guys that look like me don’t get to play the lead. I’ve probably auditioned for about three different roles that were the lead for guys like me and not someone being like, ‘Let’s call him in for Raoul in Phantom.’ This is the role of a lifetime. If I play never play a role that’s this vocally demanding, physically demanding, mentally demanding, emotionally demanding again in my career, I’m not going to be considered a failure. That’s a pretty high bar. Michael created it. There’s going to be a hole inside me when I let this man go, and I’ll long to do it again. I’m thankful for the people that created it: the original director, Scott Schwartz, Alan [Menken] and Stephen [Schwartz], who wrote it, all the producers who believed in it to get it that far to create an exciting piece of theatre.
It’s unstintingly poignant at this moment about immigrants, about disenfranchised people, about hate and judgement, about mob mentality.
A lot of people are going to the theatre with the expectation that it’s solely based on the Disney film version but the original story of Hunchback is so much darker. Could you talk about the elements that make this musical?
It’s not just a regurgitated Disney movie, it’s ‘I want to make it where Quasimodo is almost deaf and has a speech impediment and is not cute and not beautifully voiced by Tom Hulce and so unfortunate.’ Quasimodo is not a good guy in our show. He’s battling a lot of demons.
It doesn’t say in our script what happens to Quasimodo between Esmerelda dying and the end of the show. Part of me thinks he sat down and died. He couldn’t do it anymore. he didn’t live his life, he literally sat there and his body ran out of energy and died. He lost everything. It was really brave of the original company to create that, and we are so fortunate that it got licensed. I’ve done a lot of readings that are on par with this kind of depth and never got a production or a cast recording and are on someone’s Dropbox as a file, and no one will ever get to see them.
To the people from the original production, I am so saddened that they weren’t able to take it to that magical, weird, kind absolutely pointless title of Broadway. I don’t think that’s the pinnacle of success for an actor or a show, but it’s a brand that makes us all breathe easier for some reason. But anyone who is fortunate to work on this show should be incredibly proud, and I don’t believe in luck, but it’s about as close as it gets when something like this exists in the world and you get to work on it.
All of your characters are so human and real and flawed. What’s it like as an actor to embody a true individual?
I think it’s unfortunate when people find the inhumanity in people. It kind of bores me. As it shows on my resume, I never get hired to do shows that have already been done. It’s weird. When I go in to audition for the ensemble of a show, I’m honestly not gifted and talented enough to be in the ensemble of most Broadway shows. You have good people who have a beautiful look about them and a uniqueness that blends into a company of people. Their voice homogenizes with everyone and their legs kick at the right height. Every ensemble I’ve been a part of, I’ve been a person. Like in Carrie, I’ve gotten the opportunity to be ensembles of principals. I find myself going in for principals all the time and then when I go in for regional gigs, and it’s for characters that already exist, people don’t know what to do with me.
I wish I was talented enough to do the ensemble stuff. It takes such an amazing amount of skill that I wish I possessed but instead I wait for a very odd little aberration to come along that encompasses what I could possibly do, like a Quasimodo.
You’re best friends with School of Rock leading man Alex Brightman who, by all accounts, isn’t really a traditional leading man but is killing it on Broadway right now. He fits that mold with you of being your own brand of Broadway star.
What Alex created in School of Rock is one that guys who look like me look at and go ‘I’m going to take that from you someday, when you’re ready to give it up.’ I love that show. I think it’s sad that there are so few leading roles for men that aren’t Disney princes. People like Jeremy Jordan, Derek Klena, Cory Cott all three of those guys always go in for the Tony role and the leading man. They’re all handsome and their voices are like magic and they’re the three nicest guys so I say this with no ill will, but they very seldom go in for ‘fat best friend.’ The number of breakdowns I’ve read that are literally offensive. When a girl who is blonde goes in for a role and the breakdown is ‘she’s stupid’, and they say ‘Oh I hate going in for roles that say she’s stupid.’ But the thing is you have to be really smart to play stupid and it’s actually really challenging for people to play stupid because they don’t know how to do it. When it says ‘you are fat,’ I’m like you know that’s just talking about me right? Like the whole joke of ‘It gets better’ when you get older is true in most professions except for acting, where they’re allowed to call you these things.
My ex-agents called me one day when I was going through the worst breakup of my life and I started losing weight because I was taking care of myself and going to the gym. He called and said ‘We’re worried if you lose weight you’re never going to work again, cause you’re a ‘fat guy.’ And I was like well ‘1. Ouch, 2. How dare you, and 3. Maybe you’re right.’ I’ve had descriptions when you walk in for a film and TV spot and it says ‘Seth the frat guy, he needs a stick of butter to get through the doorway.’ And it’s like how is that okay to say to people? To someone’s face. So to get to play leading roles that I don’t have to worry about someone saying ‘he’s a little fat to play Quasimodo’ or ‘he’s a little short to play Quasimodo.’ With this role people just get to take it at face value and watch my performance and it’s not about the prosthetic on my face or anything else. Our director didn’t even want me wearing that much makeup because he loved the idea from the last production to do almost nothing and let the audience not have to get over the appearance the whole time. To let Quasimodo be a real person.
I love that there isn’t really any pretentiousness to how you play Quasi – he’s broken and raw. Most of your characters have been realistically flawed, too.
I love playing roles that are real people because the people that inspire me to do this for a living are all character actors, like Gary Oldman. If I had the opportunity to meet Gary Oldman I’d go down a rabbit hole saying ‘I love that people don’t know who you are.’ When you see Tom Cruise in a movie, he’s playing Tom Cruise. When you see Gary Oldman, you have no idea because he’s another person – from Fifth Element to Sid and Nancy or something like The Professional. He’s maybe one of the most incredible line readers I’ve ever seen in my life. That’s what I want to do in my life, play characters. Not that there’s not interest in playing flat, easy things, but if I’m not challenged everyday with how to do it, I might get bored.
Who are your theatre icons or those you look to and want to emulate in your own way when you’re on stage?
It’s crazy to think that I have these couple of idols and some of them are weird ones that most people wouldn’t guess but like Martin McDonagh, everything I’ve ever read of his I love. I’m writing my first musical right now and I’m considering getting a book writer. I’ve talked to some producers who have asked who my ‘dream world’ book writer would be and it’s Martin McDonagh. If he’d ever write a musical – Martin, call me! His movies and plays are incredible.
I did actually get to meet the only person I’d really consider my musical theatre idol and it’s thanks to Jen Tepper. She called me one day and said ‘I have a surprise for you, Ben Vereen is doing a solo show and I have a ticket for you.’ I lost my mind. So I’m sitting at the show and he just crushed it. This dude is still crushing the game at the highest level. Jen asked if I wanted to go upstairs and meet him and I was like tongue tied.
I still remember the day I met Roger Rees during an iteration of Ever After and I planned what I was going to say to him for days. I’ve been a fan of his for so long and learned comedy from watching him and think he’s one of the better minds I’ve gotten to meet. So I walked up to him and before I could say anything he goes ‘Hi, you’re very funny, I’m Roger.’ And of course I didn’t know what to say, but then we became like buddies! There was a big hurricane while I was doing Wicked and we all had Wednesday matinee comps to see Peter and the Starcatcher, which is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. And he was pacing at the back of the house. I walked up to him and said ‘Roger, what are you doing?’ and he said ‘All of the alternates are on because of the hurricane and I’m nervous because some of them haven’t done the show before and I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ And I was thinking ‘You’re nervous?’
I’m glad you mentioned Wicked because it’s such a beast of a show. Can you talk about your experiences with that production? And I’m really happy to say I saw you as Boq back in the day, you were so charming.
I spent only nine months in Wicked, but I got to see a lot of women play Elphaba and Glinda. I have a list of all the people I went on with because I never missed a show out of 312 shows. I went on with something like seven Elphabas and six Nessaroses. Sometimes, at this point, that show can become a pastiche of what it used to be and caricatures. What Norbert Leo Butz created in Fiyero isn’t always what you get. I’m not accusing any of my co-stars in that show, that’s not what I’m saying at all. The people that I saw really gripped the humanity in him, same thing with Elphaba, same thing with Glinda. Glinda is maybe one of the harder roles to act in that show. Kristin [Chenoweth] created a fucking monster for people to tackle.
Even when I was playing Boq, it looked like I could beat the shit out of half the Fiyeros. I’m one of the bigger guys to play that role but they have gone outside the box a bit with that character sometimes because they can afford to. Telly Leung, Josh Lehman, Alex Wyse, Alex Brightman – all these people who are so varied that have played it. And then you look at the Fiyeros and Norbert is probably the weirdest guy who has ever played the role. I mean I think he’s a really handsome man but he’s kind of a weirdo. He’s someone I look up to.
Even nine months of playing Boq, I was still finding things and learning how to play it off different people. I remember the first night I played it opposite Katie Rose Clarke, I realized I line we had been doing wrong. The first time Boq comes on he says ‘Miss Galinda, Miss Galinda, I know I’m just a mere munchkin …’ and in the line there’s like two dashes and I never got it. Like you have to chase her down into a corner and then she turns around to you. The first time I did it, I didn’t get it. The first time I did it with Katie Rose Clarke, her hair flip caught the light and her eyes caught mine and I finally got the ‘Miss Galinda’ moment right. It took my breath away. I learned stuff even on my 300th show. And those are the shows I’m interested in – the ones that are devastating when you don’t get them and so exciting when you do. I’ve known about Hunchback for a long time because my first audition was in March and I’ve been foaming at the mouth to get here to do it.
I asked readers if they had any questions for you and so many of them wanted to hear about Dogfight. It’s interesting that both Carrie and Dogfight are cult shows now.
Well those two shows are a really special part of my career. I got cast in the first lab of Carrie and I had to pull out because I was doing a movie at the time. Then my buddy Andy Mientus got called in to do it and I thought maybe they’d have me back if it came around again. So they did another lab that summer and they called me in. I called Andy to find out what happened and he said he wasn’t able to go because he was doing something else. Ultimately two of the people from the ensemble of that lab were kept for the show and everyone else – and they were all incredible in it and all are stars – they didn’t go forward. I found out that I was going to do the show with Andy and Cory. So we were working with Bernie Telsey and MCC on this. Then I met this new guy, Derek Klena, from UCLA and he’s all tall and pretty and I thought ‘who does this guy think he is?’ If you look at an opening night press shot from that show it’s all these people who just weren’t known at the time. You have Andy,Wayne Wilcox, Carmen Cusack, Marin Mazzie, Molly Ranson, Jeanna de Waal, Christy Altomare – so many of us took off from this.
I always say that Bernie Telsey is like the Willy Wonka of musical theatre because the Telsey Company sounds like a behemoth of a company and then there’s this very nice man, a very real man who will smile at you on the street and I went to his son’s 13th birthday party. He’s an amazing man and a good dude who loves theatre, loves art and loves actors and loves giving people a chance. I think he’s an incredible human being and with what he does for the arts, I can’t wait for his lifetime achievement awards that will just all come rolling in. But he’s still got plenty of time.
Carrie and Dogfight together were a whirlwind for me. They made my career happen. I hadn’t auditioned for Wicked for five years and I got an offer to do it because Joe Mantello and David Stone during one tech day at Dogfight decided it would be perfect for me. I had been typed out for that role and they made it happen for me and I’ll be forever grateful for that. It was a whirlwind of shows that led me to Wicked where I made my Broadway debut the first time I was ever replacing in a show. It was the first time I ever joined a company and didn’t open and close the same show. I bawled like a baby when I left and I still haven’t performed on another Broadway stage because my next show [Holler If You Hear Me] I never went on. Hopefully I make it back some day.
Most of the shows you’ve been part of have taken on a life away from Broadway and New York, too.
People come up me and said, ‘Are you F. Michael Haynie? I played Fector in Dogfight and I can’t believe I’m meeting the real Fector.’ It’s cool that I can tell them where lines come from and what’s what. I still have my original dogtags from the show that were misprinted. His name is Stewart Fector in the book of the musical, but one of the dogtags says Sezzard Fector. So only the people that I work with who’ve done that show get that story. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram knows me from Carrie and Dogfight, not from the Broadway shows I’ve done. At the time we didn’t know what was happening. Audiences loved it, artists loved it and there was something special there.
To this day I apologize to any director I work with because he/she is going to be compared to Joe Mantello because he is one of the best I’ve ever worked with and I know it sounds crazy but that list is now one and two. Joe still stands at the top of the list and Shaun Kerrison from Hunchback I would move mountains to work with again, and then Hunter Foster – if he ever calls me for a show I will absolutely answer. I can’t wait for the show that explodes for him. He’s one of the most insightful, kind directors I’ve ever worked with. I worked on the first show he ever directed called Summer of ‘42 at Bucks County Playhouse and we immediately clicked.
I’ve been a writer since I was 18 and started writing songs for my high school girlfriend. I’ve written songs all the time. I stopped doing concerts because I hate the hustle and bustle of getting people to come. I hate that grind. I’m an introvert at heart, so I love writing music but I have trouble sharing it. Drew [Gasparini] is amazing at press and getting people to come to shows. I suck at it. I sold out my first show and had great turn out at my second show and still don’t know how. People keep asking me when my next one is, and I say, ‘I worked so hard on those two and I’m so scared people won’t come.’ I’m writing my first musical right now, and when I talk to music writers, I have no problem saying that I write music and lyrics. I write songs, not musicals. There are people so much younger than me that have been working on it so much longer.
I would say Benj, Justin, and I are contemporaries, but they’ve been writing musicals for so long. Who knows? Maybe the next part of my career will be writing music and lyrics. I’m impressed with people who can split music and lyrics. I can’t share. I’m not gifted in that way. It all has to come out of my head or it doesn’t make sense to me. If I could collaborate with them, I would do it in a heartbeat. They are two of the most talented writers. I can’t wait for Dear Evan Hansen. I saw it at Second Stage. Ben Platt is a character actor at heart, the role is challenging in the same way Quasimodo is. It is a real person with every flaw, internal struggle, and external struggle. I hope that people can see it. His performance is breathtaking art. I am in awe of that man. We met doing a Band Geeks reunion concert and we’ve been friends ever since.
You end up working with the same people over and over again. What is it like working with these people as friends and as performers leading the show?
It is the best thing in the world. I think it is foolish to make enemies in this business. I always want to be the first one at rehearsal and the last one to leave. I’ve never called out a day in my life. I always come fully prepared. I love to go out and party, but I’ve not been drinking since April to prepare for this role. I want to go out and hang out with my cast, which I do sometimes, but I have to take care of myself to get through the schedule. My job is really important to me and my relationships with people are very important to me. I don’t believe in luck. For any job I’ve done, I can take you three or four jobs back and tell you why I’m in that production. There are times it doesn’t work out. There are shows I’m perfect for and my friends are doing, and I don’t get the job. It’s not like someone is just going to give me something. If my show is finished and there’s a job that Alex or Drew or Kober is perfect for, I want them to audition. This is a small thing, but I went out one of our first nights here and thanked the ushers. One of the ushers wrote me a note on Facebook saying, ‘In my entire time here, I’ve never had someone come out and thank us.’ That’s the shit I always think is important.
Getting to work with people I love is so important to me. When those friends are people that no one has ever heard of, and I go, ‘You’re going to hear from this guy some day.’ I got to do Peter Pan Live! with Christian Borle, and later we did a reading together. It was cool. When I saw him in Peter and the Starcatcher, I told my friend I would go back to see it that week. I finally told him, ‘I was so nervous to meet you, more nervous than meeting Allison Williams or Christopher Walken, because I saw you in that show and it was one of the most incredible pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen.’ Now when we have rehearsal together, we compare Star Wars t-shirts and talk about the animated series. He’s my kind of nerd. I want to have a Broadway board game club and have him in it.
At the end of every bio I have, I have a bunch of letters. The last one, ‘FFFA,’ stands for ‘friends, family, and fellow artists,’ which is everyone I share the stage with, every artists who comes to see the show, and everyone who makes this crazy thing called theatre possible. That’s my philosophy. The opportunity to work with people over and over again comes from the fact that I’m never not working hard, never not full-out (unless I’m taking care of my health). I’ve turned down two or three auditions in my entire career. I’m always game. I do so many 54 Below concerts. I only turn down one or two a year, and it’s usually because I have something else that night or I’m out of town. I love singing with new writers, I love singing with old writers, I love doing readings of new plays, and you never know who’s going to be your boss tomorrow.
I love that you’re so passionate about kindness because you have such a fantastic energy about you, you really walk that walk.
Being nice to people is really easy. I’m always impressed that people who are assholes have made it this long without feeling stupid. There’s no sense in it. During Wicked, I went to the stage door every time. Some kid stopped me in the parking lot after Hunchback the other day and asked if he could talk to me. I’m exhausted, but I love talking to people about it. It’s important to me to be accessible.
I cried in Dear Evan Hansen when he finds all the Facebook messages because I found all my old messages from my time at Wicked like, ‘Hey, I loved the show. I have a question about this.’ I was devastated because some people wrote some really mean shit. ‘Well, I guess I’m not a fan of yours anymore because you didn’t write back.’ I wrote back after all these years, ‘Sorry. I’m sorry you took it so personally. I didn’t see it.’ I try to respond directly to every tweet or at least like it. It means so much to me.
I want to talk about The (M)orons. Only Alex is in School of Rock, but you’re all sort of in it. Even the paper he throws out at the beginning has your logo on it. What’s it like to have this friendship where Alex gets a Tony nomination and brings you guys with him through the process?
I’ve known Alex since college. We were in the same a cappella group in college and we’ve been friends for a decade. We’ve both been through some of the worst times of our lives, been through the happiest times, and talked the hard truths together. When we met Drew, we all went out drinking and immediately clicked. It was the same way with Kober. The four of us had this belief, which a lot of people in this industry have, that our success individually is our success as a group. We like to write together, work together, celebrate together, and grieve together. It’s nice to have those people that you can share your sadness with. It’s always a toss-up between my mom, my amazing girlfriend, and my three best friends for who gets the first text of good or bad news. I really love those guys. I would do anything for them.
The fact that people know who we are from a thing that we made up one day, and we have hats and t-shirts and a pilot for a sitcom that maybe no one will ever see or maybe will happen one day is incredible. I get to do what I love with my friends. We all sing at each other’s concerts. Alex’s success in School of Rock is awesome and we are so happy to share it as friends, but it is not, ‘Oh shit, we got nominated for a Tony!’ No, no, Alex did. His success is his success and we support him. We don’t do it to climb some ladder. There are people I believe in, and if I can ever give them them an opportunity, I want that, because not only are they right for it, but they’re good people. In my concerts, I always ask people I know and believe in.
Our friendship is one of the greatest things to happen in my career because it makes my career hanging out with my friends and artists I love and respect. That sounds like the craziest, lucky thing, and I hate luck. It’s not a real thing. Luck is which side a quarter lands on, not the galvanized path you’ve created for your life. That’s happenstance, that’s timing, but it’s not luck. But the fact that the four of us encountered each other might be the closest thing to luck.