Introduce Yourself(ie): 10 Questions with Bobbie Clearly Title Star, Ethan Dubin
After appearing in Rancho Viejo, Ethan Dubin returns off-Broadway to lead Roundabout Theatre Company's New York premiere of Alex Lubischer's Jeff Award-winning, small-town drama Bobbie Clearly. Set in Milton, Nebraska, the play introduces many of the town's residents each talking about the cornfield murder and the disturbed, misunderstood young killer, Bobbie Clearly (Ethan).
BroadwayBox caught up with the charming and funny Ethan Dubin to get to know him better as he talks about his experience as a child extra in Titanic, his own awkward high school experience (there was Bjork t-shirt and everything!), and peaking early.
This selfie is in front of the Dead Props Museum Milton, curated by fellow actor JD Taylor, assistant curated by Brian Quijada.
1. What’s your pre-show like for this intense show?
I think it’ll keep changing with the run. Lately, I’m probably participating in the landscape of gym performances at the local Blink, mouthing the words to Linkin Park with a little too much, uh, enthusiasm. (For the record, I don’t think Bobbie listens to Linkin Park, but the siren call to live in early 2000’s angst for a while is Strong). Then I’ll go to the theater and practice being Quiet and Still. Those two cannot be overestimated. I drink a cup of tea. Recently I found some "Mother's Milk; Lactation Health" tea mixed into my stack of Throat Coat. It's like a cardamom blend? It's really good. I asked Will, our director, if he could see any differences in my performance, he said he'd keep an eye out.
2. What was the most important thing the playwright or director said to help inform your characterization?
I can't think of something they said that didn't have a huge impact. They're both geniuses. Will Davis brings a profound depth to the rehearsal room. He is masterfully in tune with what it means to engage in and with the American theater. He has a way of using language to mythologize the play and our process with it... every moment participates in a “grand tradition.” It brings an epic quality to the work, and has made rehearsing Bobbie Clearly feel almost like a rite, or a pilgrimage.
3. What’s your favorite small town that you’ve been to?
In September I got to spend three weeks in Scottsbluff, Nebraska on the historic Oregon Trail, working on a new show for Netflix. We were in the southwest corner of the state, so the landscape was some mix of sugar beets, corn fields, ranch land, and cacti. There was a 42nd Street a few blocks away from our hotel, but this 42nd was a corn field. Awesome flatness and sunsets to match it. To quote our play, "It was beautiful, dog.” Everyone I met out there was truly incredible and totally surprising. I listened to a lot of Tom Waits and hopped around 24-hr diners eating pie and reading East of Eden. Oh, and Hobby Lobby! I used to do a Sam Hunter monologue that involved a Hobby Lobby, so that was pretty exciting. You could get picture frames where the frame was bullet casings...ah, America.
4. Go to karaoke song?
Karaoke. Terrifying. I studied Mandarin in college and I'm still obsessed with a Chinese song that translates to "I'm a really, really, really, really small bird." But, eh, I'm probably going to sing a heart-wrenching(ly bad) "Creep". Lady Antebellum and No Doubt are prominently featured on my BOBBIE playlist. I may need to honor them next time someone drags me to K-town.
5. What were you like as a teenager? What was the most important thing to you at that time?
Oh lord a mercy. Weird, awkward, serious, sentimental. Grades were important. The less I tried to be cool (i.e. the more I did theater) the better it got...Dancing in sleeves covered in 40lbs of sequins and trying to keep up with the choreography of a former Laker Girl in Guys and Dolls helped that. I spent a lot of time in my car wandering around hilltops in Highland Park. What else? I started wearing a Bjork t-shirt my senior year, that seems pretty important. Oh, and I was student body vice president. I remember telling my newly elected cabinet to follow my lead while I sang Morris Day and the Time's "The Bird" to the student body after we got elected. I don't remember anything else I did in that position. It was a confusing time.
6. When did you first find your passion for performing?
I started doing theater in high school and something clicked, although I didn't know I wanted to be an actor really until I graduated college. I had done a few plays and musicals when my high school acting teacher encouraged me to go to a kind of alluringly militant theater summer program based at Northwestern called "Cherubs." It was the first time I'd met career theater professionals and exposed me to all kinds of good abstract stuff. I remember bringing back a technique(?) called Slava to my high school acting class where you basically just run in place and breath in a severe way until you think you might die. That tested some friendships, fer sher. I think I peaked playing Bottom in Midsummer my senior year... I might never be that good again.
7. What was your experience like as an extra in Titanic as a kid?
Oh... that ol' chestnut (as our director would say). I road tripped down to the set in Mexico with some of my family. To the extent that a third-grader "hangs out," I hung out with my uncle and Billy Zane all night, getting lifted into a life boat ("women and children first"—I think I lived!) over and over until 3 AM while James Cameron flew around in a spaceship someone said was a camera. They only had adult-size life jackets, and of course the take they used my head got firmly caught in the armpit of the jacket (so actually maybe I died? it looks like I'm suffocating). But you have to watch it in freeze-frame to find me, anyway. I got $60 and put it away for future acting classes. Ha, jk, I spent it on Star Wars toys.
8. What’s a show you saw that haunted you after you left the theatre and why?
Rajiv Josef's Guards at the Taj at Atlantic. I received that production like it had been shot into my blood, or uncovered something buried there. I'd need a couple thousand words to tell you the "why." It's an incredibly beautiful, funny, imaginative, and brutal play. I had biked to the theater and couldn't get back on my bike after, I was still sobbing. In the script, there's a stage direction that describes the two characters Humayun and Babur turning to see the Taj, the most beautiful thing in the world, for the first time. They see it, and then they drop their swords. Just reading the stage direction makes me cry.
9. Tell us a memorable audition story.
Of the many: I got appendicitis a few years ago. I got a call from my agent saying I was heading into final callbacks for the Curious Incident tour. I said, "Oh that's great news, hang on one second,” and muted the call to ask a cab driver to take me to the nearest ER. Six days after having one of my organs removed, I showed up to a movement call with Frantic Assembly. There was another boy doing karate warm-ups in the hallway, and minutes later the session began with an intense British women announcing, "here we go, partnered sprinting." I had to laugh. Except it still hurt to laugh. Everyone involved was incredibly kind and supportive. I didn’t get the role, but I still go to do the wall-walk. And I lived!
10. Piece of advice you’d give to your high school self?
Dream bigger, learn how to relax, stop trying to get it right, and don’t lose that Bjork T-shirt.
Don't miss Ethan Dubin as Bobbie in Bobbie Clearly at the BlackBox at off-Broadway's Harold & Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre through May 6.