Stark Sands learns to rock out in Broadway's 'American Idiot'
Among the grungy, bed-headed cast members of Broadway's "American Idiot," there's a clean-cut young man whose wholesome good looks and white-bread innocence stand out like a Sunday school teacher in a mosh pit.
Stark Sands, 31, plays the role of Tunny, a naive and idealistic soldier who heads off to war in the hit rock musical that features songs by the punk band Green Day. A Tony Award nominee in 2007 for his Broadway debut in the World War I drama "Journey's End," Sands has quickly become one of the most promising young actors in the New York theater scene.
Sands is the only principal cast member of "American Idiot" who was not part of the original production when the show opened last year at Berkeley Repertory. (The role of Tunny was originated there by Matt Caplan.)
A Los Angeles resident when he's not working in New York, Sands joined "American Idiot" earlier this year and first appeared with cast members at the Grammy Awards, where they performed the song "21 Guns."
"American Idiot" is only the actor's second musical. In 2009, he starred in the musical "Bonnie & Clyde" at the La Jolla Playhouse. His recent New York credits include two Shakespeare plays -- "Twelfth Night" in Central Park, in which he played Sebastian, the brother of Anne Hathaway's Viola, and "The Tempest" at Classic Stage Company, in which he co-starred with Mandy Patinkin.
In between stage engagements, Sands traveled to Africa to film the HBO miniseries "Generation Kill," in which he played yet another young, inexperienced soldier.
Sands studied acting at the University of Southern California and quickly got his feet wet with a small part in the series "Six Feet Under." He said his stage career came almost by chance when he auditioned for "Journey's End" on Broadway. Since then, the theater offers have been pouring in.
In "American Idiot," Sands' Tunny goes on an especially dark journey after experiencing a life-altering injury while fighting in Iraq. The trauma precipitates an anguished round of soul searching and mental anguish.
In person, Sands projects a straight-laced, Boy Scout-like cheerfulness that's miles from the rebellious punk ethos of Green Day.
Culture Monster spoke with Sands in L.A. (and later by phone from New York) about "American Idiot," working with Green Day and (sorry, fans) his girlfriend.
So what's it like performing in your first Broadway musical?
It's a beast. It's an exhausting show. It was hard in rehearsals, not just to do it physically but also to sing my way through it. I'm an actor first, and it's tough for me to go up there and just sing. But it's been great so far -- a great cardio workout! I don't come down until a few hours after the curtain.
How have you physically transformed yourself for the role?
Well, I shaved my head. Plus I have a whole bunch of tattoos now -- mostly on my arms. Seven on one arm, five on another, one on my chest. They're temporary tattoos.
How much have you interacted with Green Day?
The band was touring for the first part of rehearsals. When we moved into the theater, they watched rehearsals, the tech part and the first 10 performances. There's chain of command. Billie Joe [Armstrong] gives his notes to the director and choreographer and then we get them.
How have you developed your character?
I sat down with Michael Mayer [the director] in the second week of rehearsals. He and I went to lunch, and he told me who he thought this guy [Tunny] was. We wanted him to be the angriest character in the beginning of the play. I actually created a whole backstory for him -- he had a tense relationship with his father, but you won't see any of that in the show.
What has the audience reaction been like so far?
In the first week of previews, there was cheering when the curtain rose because there were so many Green Day fans in the audience. Now they're quieter, so it will be interesting to see how the traditional Broadway theater-goers will react to the show.
How long are you committed to the show?
My commitment is through January 2011. You never know how long something is going to last, but I'm just concentrating on the show for now.
So tell us about the making of the cast album.
When Green Day was in Oakland as part of their tour, they recorded their part of the album. And then we recorded our part of it in New York. We were working almost 15-hour days, doing rehearsals and then recording the album at night.
What do you do with your time off?
Well, my girlfriend is with me in New York now, which is really nice.
What roles would you like to tackle next?
I would love to do more Shakespeare. I'd really like to play Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet."
-- David Ng
Upper photo: Stark Sands. Credit: David Needleman
Lower photo: Christina Sajous, left, and Sands in "American Idiot." Credit: Paul Kolnik / Associated Press