Interview: American Idiot’s Trent Saunders Talks Life on the Road, St. Jimmy and Belting Out Green Day Songs

Trent-Saunders-American-IdiotTrent Saunders, who is currently playing St. Jimmy in the touring production of Green Day’s American Idiot, has the life.

When I talked to him for this interview, it was the middle of the day in Baltimore, MD (my home state!) and he and his cast mates were set to play laser tag right after he got off the phone. He’s traveled to Europe – where he said he had a blast – is criss-crossing America and best of all, he gets to sing Green Day songs every night. Like I said, he’s livin’ the life.

I saw American Idiot when it was on Broadway and liked it a lot. The set and lighting design was amazing and if you’re a fan of Green Day, you’ll absolutely love it.

I talked to Trent about his life on the road, how he got the part and cell phones in the audiences. I haven’t heard how his laser tag expedition went, but if I do, I’ll let you know.

Green Day’s American Idiot comes to San Diego May 28th-June 2nd, followed by San Jose, CA and Las Vegas, NV. For San Diego tickets, click here. For other tour dates and tickets, click here.

I saw the show on Broadway and, man, I gotta think it’s completely awesome to be on stage singing Green Day songs every night.

Trent Saunders: Oh, absolutely. It’s the best job I can imagine. It really is.

You play Saint Jimmy in the show.

Trent Saunders: Indeed.

With his look and dress and songs and attitude I’d kinda imagine just playing him every night is a blast too.

Trent Saunders: Oh, it totally was. I mean, and the transition that came because I was, like, you know, a clean cut, brown curly haired dude who just kinda was smiley and happy go lucky, you know, when I started this process and now I’m kinda, you know, I have the ability to be the person who walks down the street and people cross the street to avoid because I have my full on Mohawk. So it’s been a really interesting transition and they did incredible, the artistic staff, you know, really worked to make me a force which is awesome. So much fun. It’s so much fun.

When you auditioned was this the part that you went to audition for?

Trent Saunders: No, not originally. I went in… I mean, I just came in and did a general audition and then I was called back for Johnny and Will because I play guitar. And then I went further into the callbacks for Will and then at my final callback they had me… I went in and I did my dance call, actually, and [director] Michael Mayer saw me and was like, “Give him the St. Jimmy sides.” And I was like… like right before I went on, like, went in to do my Will sides. And so they added St. Jimmy’s sides and I threw it together and got the part incredibly.

Wow, really?

Trent Saunders: Yeah. It was really, like, smash and grab, really fast. But, well, ok, so I didn’t initially just get cast straight up to St. Jimmy. They cast me in the ensemble. They were like, “We want you to be in the show and we think we want you to be St. Jimmy,” and they gave me kind of a try out run when we did a workshop week in May a year ago. And then… and then from that workshop week from the presentation for the producers they were like, “Yeah, definitely. We want you. You’re the guy we want to be St. Jimmy.”

So, I wonder how the saw the nice clean cut Trent to…

Trent Saunders: Yeah, I mean, there was definitely… I think it took… it took some time because there were transitional stages. They first… first they just shaved my head into this messy Mohawk with just the brown hair and then when we got into tech actually they were like, “It still just… it’s not enough.” And so they bleached it blond. So now I have my blond, straightened, full, spiked up Mohawk for the show.

Which is cool because I’m the first St. Jimmy who’s ever, you know, all of the St. Jimmy’s always had black hair. You know? We had to change… and they were all white and I’m half black, so they had to change actually a lot of the lighting too for me merely just because I’m a different color.

Oh, really?

Trent Saunders: Between hair and skin, yeah. So you had interesting… he had a… I think he used to be a lot of red and for me a lot of the lights they hit on me is yellow because it makes my hair just, like, light on fire. It’s really cool I’ve been told. It’s not like I’ve actually seen myself in the light.

How was it going on tour? You’ve been to the UK. I would think that just would just be fantastic.

Trent Saunders: Yeah. Now we’re all around America, but the UK was a life changing experience. It really was. It was incredible. Because it was my first time being in the UK. And the audiences, I mean, were so receptive surprisingly so because it’s… there is a side to the show that is a very American message. You know? Obviously it’s called American Idiot.

But Green Day has such a presence there that people… people were really, really pumped and really excited for the show.

American-IdiotTrent-Saunders-alex-nee

Do you guys get to hang out during the day and sight see and all that stuff?

Trent Saunders: Absolutely. I mean, yeah. We were sight seeing every single day. We were out every single night seeing the night scene and it was… it was, like, it was so fast and furious. I don’t know how I survived. Somehow.  Me and one of my castmates were just talking about it because we probably were sleeping, like, 5 and a half hours a night every night because we just… we wanted to be out everywhere all the time because all of us were taking in everything.

I can imagine that. I mean, you guys are all around the same age, you’re in new cities every night just hanging out. It’s gotta be such a blast.

Trent Saunders: Yeah, it’s cool because the cast used to be, on Broadway and then the first national tour, it was, you know, the average age was probably late 20s even early 30s and now the age range ranges from, like, 21 to 25 with two 28 year olds.

Old bastards.

Trent Saunders: I know, right? They’re the grandpa’s.  Our Favorite Son and our Will, the grandpas. But, you know, I think it’s actually it works really well because the show is written about that age group. You know? So we bring a real sense of energy and a youthfulness to it which I think really comes off well and creates a new experience that’s a little bit different.

When you first go on tour, the crazy schedule, is it something that your body and especially your voice has to get used to?

Trent Saunders: Vocally I definitely had a transitional point because St. Jimmy is so taxing and I was a little worried at first because I wasn’t sure whether my voice was gonna be able to handle scream belting 8 shows a week.

But you really, you kinda work in the muscle memory. You know? And now pretty much however I’m feeling I can walk on stage and do the same and know that I’m gonna give a worthy performance every day. You know? And that’s helpful. That confidence to know that my body knows what it needs to do. You know?

Do you guys on stage get as irritated as I do when some jackass in the audience doesn’t turn his phone off?

Trent Saunders: [laughs] Absolutely. I mean, there easily… I mean there are times when, like, my favorite was there was this time that a person was clearly taking pictures and so that little orange light that comes on when you’re like… they weren’t flashing, but the little orange light just kept going off and off and off and so I told one of the crew members and I was in the middle of the death of St. Jimmy scene and I’m on the staircase and I watch my buddy on the crew and he comes out in the house and just, like points at them and they’re like, “You need to stop,” in the middle of my number and I was like, “Yes!”

Yeah, so yes. It is… we do know it, it is annoying, it’s not something that, you know, we can just ignore. It is pretty annoying and it does distract, so, yeah.

Any other crazy things happen while you’re on stage?

Trent Saunders: We’ve had a couple of we call them raptor attacks where people will have to clock out mid show because obviously the show is so physical and we have a couple of people with chronic knee issues and so we’ve had a couple of shows where people have had to, like, we’ve had to pull our swings in mid show.

No way, wow.

Trent Saunders: Yeah. And they’ll… I mean, they’re always there. They’re ready to go on at a moment’s notice. And sometimes they’ll be in the house actually watching the show and then our stage manager will have to radio them because they have a radio. They’ll be like, “Get back stage.” So they come running.

Damn.

Trent Saunders: Yeah. It actually happens more often than you might think it does. That doesn’t mean it happens a lot, but it, you know.

The lead roles or the ensemble?

Trent Saunders: Oh, no, no, no. Never… that’s never happened with a lead role. But ensemble, we’ve had… because they’re, I mean, they’re the ones who take the beating. They’re the ones who are doing serious, serious physical work the entire show.

You graduated from University of Miami with an acting degree?

Trent Saunders: Yes. Musical theatre. Bachelors of music and musical theatre.

And then from right there did you head up to New York?

Trent Saunders: So I actually… the audition process happened, started, during my senior year. It happened in February my second semester. And then we were getting called back… I went up to New York… we would go up to New York during our Spring Break to do a show case and so we had a call back then and then I was mid, like, our spring show musical was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and I did a Sunday night show, flew out, had a call back Monday, had a call back Tuesday, flew out, did a show Tuesday night. To do the final call backs for this show. That was… that’s also what was happening during all of that.

So that was insane, that process. But it was, you know, that’s what we thrive off of in theatre. That craziness.

Yeah, I’ve had things like that happen to me and it’s like you always… you think you won’t but you always rise to the occasion and you’re actually, I think, better when you have things like that.

Trent Saunders: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.

What’s a nightmare audition you’ve had?

Trent Saunders: You know, I have definitely gone into auditions just not prepared at all and gone up on everything. Like, not remembered any of the words that I was supposed to be saying and had to kind of just make things up. That’s happened before. Luckily it happened in an educational setting. I haven’t, thank God, gone into a serious professional setting and done that because when you’re in the middle of college sometimes you just don’t get an assignment done.

Yeah. I still have assignments that I need to turn in and I graduated years ago.

Trent Saunders: And I had not done my work for the audition because I was busy with, you know, the 18 thousand other things that I was doing. But, yeah, that was… it was one of the more bad feelings I’ve felt in my life.

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