Brent Barrett can be seen most nights sporting a hook and trying to get the best of a flying boy in faraway town called, Neverland. As Captain Hook in the National Touring production on Peter Pan, Barrett told me that he’s having a great time playing Captain Hook opposite Cathy Rigby, and “if I’m not, it’s my fault, right?”
Brent, originally from Kansas, went to Carnegie Melon in Pittsburgh but never finished out his senior year. Why? Because he booked West Side Story on Broadway and quickly left for New York. Thankfully though, the school gave him credit, he graduated and never looked back. He’s since starred in Grand Hotel, Candide, Annie Get Your Gun (opposite Reba McEntire) and has had several stints as Billy Flynn in the long running hit, Chicago.
I talked to Brent as he was about to fly out to San Diego for a week-long run of Peter Pan. We talk about playing Hook, auditioning, keeping his voice in shape and his advice to actors.
Peter Pan, you’ve gotta be having a blast playing Captain Hook.
Brent Barrett: If I’m not, it’s my fault, right?
Brent Barrett: And Cathy’s fantastic. We did Annie Get Your Gun together 20 years ago and so it’s nice to be reunited with her in her, I guess, you know, her signature piece.
Captain Hook, everybody has a vision of him in their minds. How do you make it your own?
Brent Barrett: You know, I kind of… he’s kind of a spoiled… he’s kind of a spoiled brat. He’s a spoiled big kid. A little more dangerous than a child, but yes, Hook is used to getting his own way always and uses whatever means he can he has at his disposal to do it. How do I make it different than anyone else? I can’t really tell you. You know, when you’re in the middle of doing something, you’re just doing it. I leave it up to other people to make those comparisons.
With all the roles you’ve done, do you still get nervous auditioning?
Brent Barrett: It depends. It depends on what the project is, who you’re auditioning for. Yeah, I think all of us, unless you have… I think all of us have some sensitivity and get nervous going into the process of auditioning. I hate auditioning. I don’t know an actor who doesn’t hate auditioning.
If I was a casting director, I’d look at your resume and just want you in the show. Is it more like a meeting nowadays with you? Or do you actually still have to go in and audition?
Brent Barrett: You know, it all depends on what it’s for. Everybody has… you think you’d get to a point. Maybe, you know, if you’re Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise or someone like that, you know. I think everybody has to audition. You know, if you’re going in for a… for something on stage or film or television, you know, you do a screen test or… I… I mean, that thing, “Oh, you’re going in and we’re taking a reading and then that’s all you have to do.” I think that’s very few and far between. I mean, sometimes, you know, sometimes the phone will ring and say, “Listen, we’re doing this. You wanna come do it?” This is the best.
The call comes in. I was doing when I went to London to do Kiss Me Kate, basically I got an offer. The director had come to see me do Annie Get Your Gun, that I was doing with Reba MacIntire on Broadway. And I just got an offer. I mean, I had auditioned originally for the Broadway company and when they were, you know, looking for somebody for London, I just got a call with an offer.
That’s gotta be a great feeling.
Brent Barrett: That’s great. It was like… it’s shocking because, I mean, first off, I didn’t even know the show was going to London and then I was actually on vacation and my agent called and said, “Are you sitting down? We just got an offer for you to go to London for Kiss Me Kate.” “Where did that come from?” You know? It’s out of nowhere. So you never know.
When you’re on the road, how do you keep your voice in shape?
Brent Barrett: Like you do anywhere. You drink lots of water and certainly if you’re flying every week you have to be careful. You have to get plenty of rest because you never really have a day off. You’re traveling on your day off. And so you just have to be very stingy with your time and, you know, and take care of yourself. Which is difficult if you’re traveling and you have to do all the press like Cathy. Cathy never has a day off at all because she’s, you know, she’s traveling but then she’s up first thing in the morning going into press and doing everything. And so it’s… I don’t know how she does it. She’s a machine.
When you first get asked to audition, what do you do? What are the first things you do?
Brent Barrett: They’ll send you the side, so you start working on the sides. If it’s a musical then they’ll usually send you a song or two songs, so you have to learn those if you don’t know them. And then usually if it’s a bit early in the process they want you to bring in something of your own, song wise. So you have to figure out what’s the best thing for… the best thing for, you know, similar to what the show is, what the requirements of the show are. And then you have to get all that together and prepare it and get ready for the audition.
How did you get your start?
Brent Barrett: When I was 5 years old I had a cousin who played the piano, and she’d make me stand by the piano and sing while she played. And that’s when I… that’s where I started singing. And then I did a musical when I was a junior in high school because I had no idea you could do this for a profession and make a living at it. Sometimes it’s very difficult to make a living at it. But that’s really where I started.
And then I realized, “Oh, ok. This is what I wanna do.” So I went to a little liberal arts college in Kansas, which is where I’m from, for a year and a half and then I transferred to Carnegie Melon in Pittsburgh and then I got my first Broadway show.
It was like boom, boom, boom. If I had planned that, it never would’ve happened, but it just kind of happened. I’ve been very fortunate.
So from the time you graduated and you… did you immediately head to New York? And how many auditions before you got the show?
Brent Barrett: Well, I was still going to school. I was in my senior year. I was in my senior year and so I actually left before I completed my senior year, but they gave me credit and I graduated. So I… yeah. I moved to New York for the Broadway show.
That’s a heck of a good reason to move.
Brent Barrett: Yeah, yeah. And West Side Story, you can’t beat that.
What’s your Broadway debut like? I mean, is it nerves and excitement?
Brent Barrett: It was. Yeah. It was incredibly exciting. We toured for three months, which that was my first tour, and, you know, we came back into Broadway and we ran for 9 months on Broadway. And it was amazing because we got to work with Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins.
It was… of course, you know, you don’t realize that your first Broadway show is not going to be repeated over and over again, that you’re not going to be working with these giants of, you know, these legends of the theatre. You just assume, it’s always that way. It’s not.
I’ve been very lucky to work with a lot of great people, a lot of good directors, and a lot of… just a lot of wonderful people. Theatre, you know, I love theatre people because we all do it because we love it. It’s not something we do because, “Oh, I’m gonna go and I’m gonna make a lot of money doing this.” Like, you do it because that’s what you wanna do. And if you can make a living along the way, then you have been very successful.
Unless you get into TV and film, then you can make a lot of money.
Have you had any nightmare auditions?
Brent Barrett: Yeah. There’s always been those auditions along the way you go and then you go out and you go, “What the hell did I just do?” You know? You say stupid things and you go, “Oh my God.” And you just cannot run fast enough out of that room. But you can’t, you just have to pick your pride up and just walk out the door and then you can fall apart.
Yeah, I’ve had many of those as well. What’s your advice to actors?
Brent Barrett: Well, first of all, there just has to be nothing else you’d rather do. Just this. If there’s something that you like doing, go do it. Because if there is… there’s so much competition out there now, so you really have to love what you do.
And you have to be realistic about how talented you are. You know? And I think that’s what happens. People come to New York, they go, “Wow, there are lots of talented people out here.” And… so, you really need to be realistic with yourself.
There are a lot of facets to this business, a lot of different avenues that people can go down even if they decide they don’t wanna be an actor. You can be a producer, you can be a director, you can be a stage manager. There are a lot of things that you can do and not be an actor.
And know what you have, know who you are. You know? I’m 6’2, I’m somewhat attractive, so I’m gonna be a leading man. You know? And, I mean, I don’t often get a lot of character roles simply because people are not going to see me as that. So you get to a certain point where, like, last summer I was playing Hannibal Lecter in Silence the Musical. Know what you have to offer and go from there.