INTERVIEW: Actor and Comedian Will Vought

PHOTOGRAPHY: Emily Assiran GROOMING: Laila Hayani STYLING: Natalia Zemliakova

Hi Will, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

I’m a little sore from working out and have been holding on to a major resentment toward paper straws.  I don’t know if you have them here at VENTS …..……But…….. can we talk about it for a second?  I hate paper straws.  If this makes me a horrible person, so be it.  If “they” think I don’t care about the EARTH or ENVIRONMENT and support the extinction of humanity because of this — so be it.  Paper straws?  Really?  Who did this make sense to?  Who thought it was a good idea to combine PAPER and WATER?  I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time — but it doesn’t work.  Three sips into my iced coffee and the thing has disintegrated, and I’m now drinking iced coffee and paper!  If you think paper straws are a good idea, let me ask you one question.  Would you like to use a paper condom?  In the future, you’ll be standing in the rain telling your friend you can’t understand why she’s pregnant and soaking wet from holding the paper umbrella.  I will say that if we do switch to paper condoms …. I don’t know about the environment, but we will absolutely ensure the survival of humanity.

Otherwise, I’m great!

As a comedian – were you drawn into the acting world through this media or the other way around?

Yes.  It was always stand-up first.  When I was a kid, I’d listen to Lenny Bruce, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Dennis Leary, Lewis Black, and I was an absolute David Letterman fan.  I loved hearing jokes and hearing people laugh, so it’s a world that spoke to me.  If I was not for doing stand-up, I don’t think I would have been an actor.  Every opportunity I had, in the beginning, stemmed from stand-up, and I remember Jimmy Fallon walking down Broadway one night in New York City as I was handing out tickets to random people on the street paying my dues to get stage time, and he pulled me aside and said, “Are you a comic?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“You need to get into acting class. Take Los Angeles acting classes. It’s all about the acting class,” Fallon said.

I took the advice and started studying and subsequently was cast in an Off-Broadway play and then the first iteration of Disney’s Aladdin The Musical playing the Genie.  I still don’t know how the hell that happened.

I was obsessed with just doing comedy.  I used to go down to the museum of television and radio and watch famous comics’ first set’s on The Tonight Show w/ Jonny Carson.  Every name we know and love today did that show and left the set with a career in show business if they did well:  Robin Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, the late great Gary Shandling, Seinfeld, Paul Reiser the list is endless.

So yes, for me it started as stand-up and then branched out into acting.  Everyone’s path is different.

How does your work as an actor help you with your acting and vice versa?

I think it’s asking how does my work as a comic help my acting and vice versa. It’s all performing but very different mediums. As a comic, it’s my words, my voice, my performance, and it’s live. There is no second chance in stand-up comedy. Comedy requires a commitment to the material and acting is the same way. If you don’t believe what you are saying, no one else is going to believe it either. In live comedy, the audience can smell fear. In television — I guess the camera can as well, but I had not thought about that until now. I think performing on stage, whether it’s theatre or stand-up, gives you legs. I’ve always been taught that acting is more about listening than speaking. In many ways, stand-up is the same. It’s a conversation with the audience and a back and forth exchange of words, laughter, and energy. What’s incredible about what we did on Maisel this season is that in that first episode Amy and Dan utilized both of those worlds by hiring so many background performers for the audience. They were acting too, without question, and acting their butts off as did the dancers and everyone else involved.

Let’s talk about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – what was the audition process like?

I had a great experience. As with anything, you have to go in a number of times and then, when I met with Amy and Dan for the final audition for the role of Major Buck Brillstein, it was at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn in a small room that’s not much larger than a very modest studio apartment in Manhattan. You are 2 feet away from them, there is a camera recording you, and Cindy Tolan, the casting director, is there. You create the world and do the scenes — WORD PERFECT! That is a huge thing, and something I was told going in. Be word perfect every time. Their words are like notes on a page. Each one carefully picked and placed, and my job is to take them off the page and bring them to life with a sensibility of 1959 and a guy that’s a major in the army who always wanted to be a comedian but never really got the chance. So, my character is literally living his dream in this episode. Beyond that, you bring your A-game, nail it, and it’s up to Amy and Dan. It happened to go my way, and as I told Amy, I was grateful to get the invitation to play in her world. She wrote and directed this episode so it was extra special.

 As someone who has done some openings and co-headline tours with a few major names – was this world of the show somewhat familiar for you?

I was certainly not familiar with the world of 1959 as a Major in the United States Army.  However, having performed for years as a comic and in the theatre, I was familiar with what it would feel like being on stage in front of a thousand people, yes.  I’ve opened for Wayne Brady for a few years and he draws that size of an audience so luckily that was not a foreign feeling.  I’m also a theatre guy, so I know my way around a stage.  Bathroom??  Has anyone seen the bathroom???

The Palladino’s team is known for their punchy humor and universe as a whole – was it easy for you then to immerse yourself into this world?

I don’t know that it was easy. What they accomplished on screen was the result of a lot of work from a lot of people, many of whom, both cast and crew, are considered to be among the best in the business. I do know that you are being handed a work of art when given a script by the Palladino’s, and there is very little to argue with as everything is informed by the writing. Amy wrote and directed the first episode, and the material both flows perfectly and jumps off the page. I will say that the adjustment to the process of filming the first day was challenging as you are being shot of a cannon. Amy stylistically is able to orchestrate a single shot that lasts at times 5-8 pages without once cutting. To accomplish this, there is a lot of rehearsal and a very meticulous movement, and I would liken it to performing a play. The result is what you see on screen and the feeling that all of this is happening at once, which it is. I remember telling Amy that the opening shot of the season premiere was likely more complex and complicated than the opening shot on the West Wing. They are not fu**ing around, and much like a ballet, everything is moving in perfect sync. At least, that is the goal, HA! The cast has done this for 20 episodes and they know the rhythm and drill and pacing. There is a synchronicity in a cast that’s been on the air for multiple seasons. As a new addition, you need to get up to speed really fast as the rocket is going to launch, ready or not.

Playing an emcee and comedian for the troops – did you borrow from any of your personal experiences?

Everything I saw on the show is scripted, and when I think about this question I move around more on stage as a comic.  Here I’m planted.  What I was in awe of was the background actors and their resolve and patience for what were very long days of filming.  In between takes, production would let me do stand-up for them and that was fun as we were making a stronger connection that I think shows in the finished product.

What was the preparation process like?

I did a lot of research.  My character is not a comedian. Major Buck is a “wanna-be” comedian.  He’s married and has a wife and kids at home that some days laugh at his jokes and other days perhaps wish another family adopted them.  I watched tape of Bob Hope performing at USO shows and also footage of servicemen at that time in the ‘50s to get a feel not only for the language and cadence but also the tone and tenor of the period.  Jack Parr was the host of The Tonight Show in 1959 so I watched some YouTube on that.  There is a stylistic difference in delivery, so if you take the best as a baseline, for that time, it’s a good starting point to work from creating the character.

Walking onto set, on location, into a real airport hangar that was a perfect recreation of 1959 certainly helped to visually inform the world we were about to play in.  The uniforms were meticulously assembled by rank and there was no detail left to chance by Emmy award-winning costume designer Donna Zakowska.

Donna also helps me pick out my hat for the drag scene, which she found in a collection of vintage hats from the 1920s in Italy. A woman was selling them, and Donna bought the whole lot. I’ll say that wearing a double d bra, make-up, and heels – there is no preparation for that. Luckily it was sketch comedy, and my portrayal of being in drag during the 1950s was absolutely a characterization. I would definitely not make it on RuPaul’s Drag Race. We actually nailed that scene in two takes, and I remember they had 150 bouquets of flowers there to hit that gracious young actor over the head with. That was a lot of fun, and props to Marco Torriani who played the young army officer in that scene. I asked if I could really hit him, and he was all for it, so there was very little acting there as we went for it 1000%.

What else is happening next in Will Vought’s world?

I’m also currently in Season 3 of The Good Fight on CBS All Access reprising a role I played on The Good Wife.  Also….

What is NOT happening?

Follow me on instagram / twitter / facebook

@willvought

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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