Introduce Yourself(ie): 10 Questions with The Play That Goes Wrong Star Clifton Duncan
After starring as The Balladeer in this summer's acclaimed Encores! revival of Assassins (as well as performing in Twelfth Night in the Park, Kung Fu at Siganture, and Clue at Buck's County Playhouse), Clifton Duncan makes his Broadway debut as Robert in the hilarious Olivier and Tony-winning comedy The Play That Goes Wrong. BroadwayBox caught up with Clifton to hear about joining Broadway's longest-running play, meeting Sondheim, and more!
1. How do you get your body ready for this super physical performance:
It starts before I even hit the theatre—proper rest, hydration, and nutrition are key. I also work to stay in good shape—I think anyone who does theatre should have some kind of fitness regimen. You owe it to yourself, to the production, and to ticket buyers to be in mint condition, or as close to it as possible!
I actually focus more on my vocal warmup, which includes some light stretching and gets my body activated. I like to wait until half hour is called to warm up, so by the time I'm finished I'm still warm and ready to go!
Fortunately the structure of the show allows me to warm into it as things get more and more extreme!
2. What’s the most fun part of the show for you:
Watching my castmates! There's a slew of funny moments, but if I had to single one out, it's watching Ashley Bryant do her "hysterical episode". Cracks me up every. Time.
She's gonna hate that I wrote that. But she'll just have to deal with it!
3. Who was your first call when you found out you’d be making your Broadway debut in The Play That Goes Wrong:
Well I didn't exactly make a phone call, but that whole day was pretty amazing, really:
I was doing a workshop for a new musical, and our final presentation coincided with the first day of Assassins. I had to miss our meet and greet, but the flipside is that Christopher Plummer was among those attending that final showing; later I heard through the grapevine that after one of my songs he turned to his wife and whispered "that guy's got it!"
Then after the presentation I shot over to City Center, and into a rehearsal studio with some of the most celebrated performers in New York, and we read through Assassins. THEN, as I was leaving I checked my phone, which I hadn't been able to do for hours, and I had a voicemail from my genius manager, Michelle Kittrell. I called her back, she said I'd gotten it, and I screamed "ARE YOU [expletive] KIDDING ME???!", much to the chagrin of the pedestrians hurrying home for the day.
While on the phone with Michelle I made my way to the bar where my colleagues from that workshop were hanging out, and I broke the news to them. They were amazing and wonderfully congratulatory, especially since they knew how much crap I went through to book it!
TL;DR: Got the stamp of approval from Christopher Plummer, had first day of Assassins, found out I'd booked my first Broadway show, and then got to share the news with my peers!
4. What’s your favorite British film or TV show:
I generally don't watch much TV, but I highly recommend Luther for anyone who hasn't seen it—the first season is especially good! I also enjoyed the first season of the UK version of Law & Order.
5. What movie can you watch again and again and always laugh:
AIRPLANE! Airplane! is, to my mind, just one of the funniest movies ever made. It isn't an exaggeration to say that there's a gag or joke in virtually every frame of that movie.
6. What do you credit for most shaping your sense of humor in real life:
Well I've always been a smart-ass—I was voted "Most Wittiest" by my high school class. I accepted the award wearing silver Hammer pants. I don't even remember where I got them from.
We moved around a lot, so I learned to use humor as a way to make new friends and keep the bullies at bay. I was also obsessed with Gary Larson's The Far Side as a kid—probably contributed to my drollery and wryness.
7. What was the biggest pinch-me moment of Encores! Assassins:
THERE WERE TOOOOO MANY: getting the initial offer; opening night when we had to hold for a glorious eternity during "Ballad of Booth"; the Sitz Probe; hell, I'd be in the wings every night during "Everybody's Got the Right" just smiling, I was so stoked to be there.
But far and away, the biggest "is this real life?" moment was shaking hands with Stephen Sondheim.
I won't share all of our exchange, I want to keep that for me, but he was incredibly effusive and said some of the nicest things anyone has EVER said to me.
After all the heartaches, all the disappointments, all the years of things "just not going my way" after coming so close—winning the emphatic praise of a living legend felt like vindication.
If the maestro himself is comparing you to some of the greats he's worked with, what can anyone else really say to you at that point?
8. Your IMDB page says your nickname is Scooby. How did you acquire that:
I loved Scooby-Doo as a kid! I'm searching for a new one as an adult—any ideas?
9. How do you think growing up here and abroad affected how you view the world:
It gave me a broader perspective on life. As a result I'm often at odds lately with much of the current cultural climate in America, which has become so polarized, so obsessed with demographics and labels that I feel it sometimes overshadows our core humanity. It's very frustrating to watch.
10. Typically, how are you spending your day off from the show:
I will let you know when I have one!!!
I spent last week moving, then this week I did a benefit reading with the good folks at Red Bull Theatre, now I'm workshopping an intriguing new musical opposite Jessie Mueller. I would say that once that's over I'll relax, but that's probably a lie...
Don't miss Clifton Duncan in 'The Play That Goes Wrong' at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre.