Five Burning Questions with Anastasia Star John Bolton
February 28th, 2018
by Josh Ferri
John Bolton made his Broadway debut in the Tony-nominated revival of Damn Yankees. He's gone on to appear in three Best Musical Tony Award winners (Titanic, Spamalot & Contact) and star as J. Pierrepont Finch in the '90s revival of How to Succeed and The Old Man in the Tony-nominated A Christmas Story. On screen, he co-stars as Attorney General Henry Nolan in the popular CBS series Madam Secretary and will appear opposite Matt Smith in the upcoming Mapplethorpe biopic. Currently, John thrills Broadway audiences with his hilarious and endearing performance as Vlad Popov in the hit musical adaptation of Ahrens and Flaherty's Anastasia.
BroadwayBox caught up with John Bolton to discuss his comedy spirit animal, making a career onstage, finding joy offstage, and his unconventional Broadway grad school.
1. The Anastasia fandom is quite remarkable. What’s been the most memorable fan gift you've received?
I love the fan art. I love seeing how different people interpret Vlad: either poor streets of Russia Vlad or snazzy man-about-town Paris Vlad. Sometimes they portray me decked out in one of Anya's glam dresses—Vladastasia, as it were—and those always make me howl. Also, our Broadway.com vlog "Royal Misfits" has a running joke where Derek beats me in a different competition each week, so the many fans who have brought me trophies and sent cards and letters declaring me the "real" winner always put a smile on my face. And they're fun to show to Derek just to rub it in.
But the stage door gift that was so thoughtful and literally took my breath away was the stunning framed portrait of my dog that I will keep forever. But huge props to the nice young lady wearing a t-shirt that said "John Bolton is my spirit animal".
2. Who taught you the most about comedy? Who were your early influences when finding your comedy?
When I first moved to New York after college I worked renting the infrared headsets at the Broadway shows. My two regular theatres were The Barrymore, where The Sisters Rosenzweig was running, and the Shubert, which housed the most recent Tony winner, Crazy For You. Watching the brilliant Madeline Kahn work her very special magic in Sisters was a nightly master class, and over at Crazy For You, studying how pros Harry Groener and Bruce Adler would get (and occasionally lose and then re-find and re-invent) laughs over time was like grad school.
My early comedy influences were the Saturday night line-up on CBS: the brilliant casts of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show. Harvey Korman is MY spirit animal.
I am proud to count the brilliant actor/comedian/raconteur Orson Bean among my closest friends. Time with him is time with the Comedy Gods. He is a joke teller par excellence. And all I can do is listen and learn and laugh my ass off.
3. You’ve had such a long, varied stage career, which includes appearing in three Best Musical winners. What’s the most common misconception about making a career as a working New York actor? What would you tell people who look to your career as an inspiration for their own?
People not in the business often don't seem to grasp that there are thousands of us who work regularly who aren't household names. Just because you haven't heard of us doesn't mean we're "aspiring" actors. We're actors. And we keep showing up and we work all the time and we're thrilled to be making a living doing what we love to do. It's not a lark. It's not a hobby. It takes diligence and thought and preparedness and guts.
For those who may look to my career as an inspiration I say, "it ain't easy", but having as many skill-sets as possible can only be beneficial. Do readings. Do workshops. Take classes. Grab roles that show another side of you. See good theatre. See bad theatre. Watch and learn from people you admire. And be good to yourself. One person's success is not a failure of your own. Be happy for people. You do you.
One key thing I found especially beneficial: having a good living situation. The business is hard enough. One needs a comfortable home base in which to decompress, rejuvenate and prepare.
4. What brings you great joy outside of the stage?
My partner. Our dogs. Our house in the Catskills. Our front porch, our woods, our dirt road. Games with friends. The Manhattan roll from Kodama Sushi. The NY Times crossword. The Criterion Collection. Classic rock. Saturday morning TV shows from the '70s and '80s. An occasional cigar. A more-than-occasional old fashioned.
5. If you could go back and do any show on your resume again for one night, which would you pick and why?
Titanic. That original cast. That score. That ride. And it was a ride, let me tell you. All my shows are part of me but that one—and it's because of the people—sails on.
See John Bolton live in 'Anastasia' at Broadway's Broadhurst Theatre.