Interview: Timothy Gulan, Thénardier in the 25th Anniversary Production of ‘Les Misérables’
19 years ago, Timothy Gulan was dragged, for 8 shows a week, through the sewers by the actor playing ‘Thenardier’ in the touring production of Les Miserable.
Now (and probably tonight depending on what day you’re reading this), he’s come full circle and is dragging a young actor as Gulan now plays ‘Thenardier’ in the 25th Anniversary tour of Les Miz.
Gulan has an extensive resume that’s filled with touring shows & Broadway (South Pacific, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Some Like It Hot, The Lion King, Blood Brothers, Passion) and TV and Films (Salt, MacGruber, Boardwalk Empire, The Producers) and yes, 2 go rounds with Les Miz.
Gulan told me that when he initially auditioned for the role of ‘Thenardier’, he was given 30 pages to work with. You read that right, 30 pages! For his first audition he had a week to prepare, he obviously nailed it and 3 callbacks later, he booked the part.
In the interview, he talks about how the show has changed for this anniversary tour, his 30-page audition and what actors might not know about touring productions.
Les Miserables is currently in San Diego with upcoming stops in Thousand Oaks, Tempe and Boise. For tour dates and tickets, click here
Check out Timothy’s website at timothygulan.com
This is your second time in Les Miserable. The first time, the first go around was 19 years ago. What part did you play in that?
Timothy Gulan: Interestingly enough, in this version, I play Thénardier and I have to drag a dead body on stage and that time I was the dead body.
So it’s full circle now.
Timothy Gulan: Yeah, kind of it, it is, it’s funny.
And in this go around, when you auditioned for it, did you specifically want the part you have now?
Timothy Gulan: I did. Honestly, I was sort of reticent because I thought I’m not going to get this. It’s not me, it’s not for me. And they were like, no it is, and I was like no it’s not, and I honestly am a pretty confident person but I was like it doesn’t seem like it’s right, and it just was. Once I started working on it, it was like, no, this is actually exactly what I would do so once I started working on it then I got very excited about and I was very happy to get it.
How far in advance did you say, you know what, I’m going to target Les Miz again?
Timothy Gulan: Well, I called and got an audition and what people don’t really realize is that just to audition for this part, I had to learn 30 pages of music.
Timothy Gulan: Yeah, 30 pages. So, it’s not like you just go in and sing. You have to learn basically most of the part, at least musically, and they give you a lot of direction and it was four auditions.
Timothy Gulan: The same material, getting feedback. You know for a big part, it’s a lengthy process. It’s not a small thing. And like I said, there’s a lot of stuff to do in the show so it was 30 pages. And they were like, well you know it. And I was like, no, I was in the show before but I didn’t play this part. I was one of the student so I don’t know this is all. And, it’s different than it was 19 years ago because they changed some stuff. So what I did have in my head was sort of backwards and cut and wrong.
So when they say, all right, Tim, we want you to audition for this, how long do they give you to prepare those 30 pages?
Timothy Gulan: Well, for the first go around, I had about a week. But you know you also have your regular life, it’s not like you live in a vacuum. You have stuff you have to do and maybe another job, so it was about a week and then I had to go in again that evening and then it was a couple days and a couple days.
I’m just floored, 30 pages, that’s crazy.
Timothy Gulan: Thirty pages, yeah. It’s a lot of stuff. And you’re just nervous and you’re like, oh my God am I going to mess up the lyrics. And essentially – they don’t ask you to do it – but you have to have it memorized. You can’t just like be in there with a big old piece of paper; otherwise you’re not going to get it, so there’s that too.
The show has been updated. How so?
Timothy Gulan: Well, it’s the 25th anniversary production and the world sort of knows Les Miz at this point, so to do the same exact show that they did in ’85 is just kind of like, everyone knows it, and so they changed a lot of it.
They set some things in different places than the original one. About 10 years ago they shortened it about 20 minutes and took out some things that were extraneous so it flows a lot quicker. The show used to be three hours and 20 minutes and now we’re about like two hours and 50 minutes.
For me, some of the weird things are like I have this one song in the sewers and they shortened it and switched the order in which it was sung, so if I think about it too much I’ll mess it up because I’ll still hear the old one in my head. [laughs] Just stuff like that. They just updated it.
Music styles change over time and the orchestrations are different than they were in the ‘80s, like synthesizers are much different now than they were then, so there are some things that the orchestra can do now that they couldn’t do then so that’s different.
If you love the show and you come to see it and think, oh, I’m just going to see the old show, you will be pleasantly surprised. It’s different and the audiences love it.
When you got the part, how long was the rehearsal process before you went in?
Timothy Gulan: Typically for leads, the rehearsal process when you come into a show, it’s only about three weeks. You have like your initial stuff and one of the cool things about is most of the characters except for a few start off as an ensemble track, you start off being somebody else and then you sort of turn into yourself, so that you learn pretty quickly and then your stuff takes a while.
Three weeks is good too because you have costumes and wigs and all these things that are being made for you that take a while to make.
So you rehearse during the day, you watch the show at night, you start letting the backstage traffic, which is just as difficult as the onstage traffic is. With 34 or 35 people in the show, our traveling group is I believe right now because we have a lot of extra people who are taking over for other people, we travel about 90 people.
Timothy Gulan: Yeah. Nine trucks. The old show was eight trucks and this show is nine trucks traveling across the country putting the show on. Just learning people’s name, it’s like, okay, what’s your name? Who are you?
Timothy Gulan: Yeah, exactly and like I said, you start out sort of as an ensemble track, so at the end of the day – basically the ensemble is a bunch of people like asking employers for work and trying to find a job and we’re all covered in rags. So, when they tell you you’re blocking, you’re like, I don’t know who you’re talking about or what you’re talking about. That guy has rags on his head. Who is that? I don’t even know who that is. It takes a couple of weeks to learn that stuff.
How did you get your start?
Timothy Gulan: My first big job was this, like I said 19 years ago. I went to college, the University of Miami, and I got hooked up with an agent and I auditioned for it. It’s that simple.
Was that like one of your first handful of auditions?
Timothy Gulan: Well, I got my union card first and did a bunch of things and when you’re young, you go to auditions and you sort of see what sticks and for me that was one that stuck. I paid off some student loans and then I finished my year on that show and came back to New York and started working on some other things.
Theater is sort of about momentum. Like you get something and the casting director notices you and you get the next one and before you know, you’ve been in the business for you know, 20 or 25 years.
Looking at your resume, you’ve done like a lot of shows and a lot of tours. Do you have any audience horror stories?
Timothy Gulan: Well, one thing about this show is that we don’t have a turntable anymore. The old show was really like, the first set was this huge turntable and that was an enormous thing and it was really cool, but when it broke and it was hysterical. Like, it broke. It just broke. You know, like a car, when you drive you start out slowly and you gain speed, like on a turntable. But when it broke, it was either on or off. So people would be basically running in place but the turntable was spinning out of control and then it would stop and because of the centrifugal force, people would like half way fall off of it and then snap back. It was hysterical. Absolutely hysterical.
What’s the one thing that an actor who gets a part in a touring show might not know, either good or bad?
Timothy Gulan: Well, if you haven’t toured before, like if you worked in an office and essentially had to do a scene – okay, this is weird. If you go to an office, I love my job, but we say the exact same thing to the exact same people every day. It’s kind of a weird concept. Like you literally go to the water cooler and have the same conversation with somebody at the same exact time every single day. So that gets to be weird.
But then what happens is when you tour, you say the same exact same thing to the same person every day but the office is different. So, you’re like where do I go, where am I supposed to be? I’m downstairs, oh no, I’m upstairs five flights, and I’m on the left side or the right? Okay, I don’t know. And then your body just starts to take over for you and makes mistakes, so your body tells you to walk where you were in Denver, but you’re not in Denver, you’re in California, so you walk 20 or 30 seconds and go, oh my God, I’m in the wrong spot. So that happens a lot to people. When you’ve been out for a while, you forget you’re actually in a different place.
Yeah, that’s funny. I’ve never heard it put like that.
Timothy Gulan: It’s really funny. And everybody does it. You see people just like walk off and they’re like, Tim, Tim, Tim, other way. Oh, okay, thanks.
What is your advice to actors?
Timothy Gulan: Well, my advice to actors is, the only way you can be ready for success is to be prepared. Like I said, thinking that you have to go in and just sort of know one song or know whatever you do and thinking you’ll get the part these days doesn’t work. You have to be really, really prepared, especially for musicals. If you know there’s a musical you think you’re right for, you have to learn the music before you even think about auditioning for it because they’re going to ask you every single thing that you think you know about it. And the only way you can is if you already do.
You know, if you’re younger and you think you want to be Marius in Les Miz, that’s great, learn the music. Learn the music so that you get the audition hopefully and you’re totally prepared. And then, because you know it, you can be flexible and take the direction that they give you, because that’s where you make or break the audition is you can be totally right or the part but then they’re going to see if you take direction and how easily and well you take direction.
And on tour, besides being a good actor, they want somebody who can mesh with the group and somebody who can go along with the group, you know, because half of your job half of your day is spent with these same people not at work but in an airport or a hotel or restaurant. You know, it’s not like a regular job where you can just, good night, see you on Monday. It’s like, yeah, I’ll see you back at the hotel.