Farragut North, the political thriller by former wunderkind Dem operative Beau Willimon (who worked for Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, and Howard Dean while in his mid-twenties), has had a path to production longer than the campaigns he worked on (or the ones that end this week). One big hurdle was finding an actor who could play Stephen Bellamy, a 25-year-old PR guru for a Deanian primary insurgent with the political skills and dark heart of a much older man (Karl Rove, say), who finds his loyalties tested by double-crosses and dirty tricks. Next week it opens at the Atlantic starring a wunderkind of a different kind. John Gallagher Jr., Tony Award–winning star of Spring Awakening, spoke to Boris Kachka about trading rock for evil.
There are some juicy moments in this play—manipulation of poll numbers, interns sleeping with staffers. Is some of this based on reality?
Beau made it quite clear that it’s not. But I’ve been reading George Stephanopoulos’s and Lee Atwater’s autobiographies, and there are some intense stories about the risks and the tricks of people on both sides.
Your character is craven and soulless. Is that a stretch for you?
I’ve never even played a character with a job. They’ve all been teenagers— a little meek and victimized. Stephen feeds off power in a very intense way. I left my Farragut North audition and thought, That’s that. It probably won’t go my way.
You’re a Broadway star at 24. Surely you have some notion of what it’s like to be young and ambitious.
I’ve been really lucky to get ahead at a young age. For me it’s been a constant toiling away. A guy like Stephen really goes after it, and it doesn’t matter who’s in his way. [Director Doug Hughes] has been talking about ways to get me more into the realm of “You have to run the show. It’s your game. You want everybody to obey you and follow your orders.” It’s not something I’m used to personally.
This play probably won’t inspire the screaming fans of Spring Awakening.
It is a small but unbelievably passionate fan base. But that was me when I was 14 and went to see Rent. I would dress up like the characters.
Mark Cohen, Anthony Rapp’s character. He was a little nerdy—the idea that there was this nerdier guy with big glasses who still sang like a total rock star.
And now that you’re a rock star, how do you keep your head?
A lot of it might have to do with growing up in Delaware. As far as the award goes, I constantly forget that it even happened. It’s actually still in a box, from moving.
Given what you now know about campaigns, have you soured on the political process?
Cynicism is a poisonous thing no matter what the field. I’m sure we all feel it one way or the other. But there is always room for sentimental and hopeful moments. I try to hold on to that.
Atlantic Theater. Through November 29