“When I was growing up and it never occurred to me as a career path” – Adam Pascal on being an actor
Since the release of Rent‘s Original Cast Recording came out in 1996, I’ve probably sang ‘One Song Glory’ a thousand times while in my car. They were all brilliant, of course. But they never once touched what Adam Pascal brought to it. I was lucky enough to see him in the original production on Broadway and the touring version he did a couple of years ago and both times, he was just absolutely perfect.
Since debuting in Rent, he’s starred in the film version of the show and was back on Broadway in Elton John’s Aida, Memphis, Chicago and Cabaret. Now, he’s starring in Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, by the team that brought us Repo! The Genetic Opera, Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich. The film kicks off with a premiere in Hollywood before embarking on a tour throughout the US and Canada.
In the interview, Pascal chats about the film, moving to Los Angeles, his solo show, his string of bad auditions and of course, Rent.
For tickets and more information on Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, click here.
Tell me about Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival. It sounds very strange and fun.
Adam Pascal: Well, it’s this sort of macabre, horror-esque movie musical. It’s this really bizarre combination.
The team that wrote it and put it all together did a movie a number of years and years ago called, Repo! The Genetic Opera. Which also I would describe the same way, sort of a macabre horror. And after that, they did what was called The Devil’s Carnival, which was like part one of the movie that I just did. It wasn’t a full-length feature, it was sort of like an hour long piece and then they decided to do a full-length and direct this entire score with these two guys Terrence Zdunich, who also plays Lucifer in this movie, and this guy named Saar Hendelman.
They wrote this really amazing score and this is the full-length part two and they just kind of approached me last summer. I had a conversation with the director, Darren Bousman, and he’s a huge musical fan and he’s a huge musical movie fan, which is something that I was growing up. So we had this connection with these movie musicals that we are both sort of obsessed with growing up, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tommy and Hair and he’s always wanted to make them which is what he ended up doing. He also directed three of the Saw movies from the Saw franchise.
And so he approached me and told me some of the people that were involved in the project and it just sounded like so much fun. I’ve done a couple of movie musicals already so it’s something that I’m familiar with and I just jumped at the chance. It seemed like such an incredible opportunity.
It’s a real character driven type situation. I’m somebody who really gets off on makeup and costumes and sort of disappearing into a character and I had the opportunity to do that which is always a lot of fun.
It seems to have a very fun, eclectic cast as well.
Adam Pascal: It does, yeah. David Hasselhoff is in it and Paul Sorvino and Barry Bostwick. And again just to reiterate my obsession with films like The Rocky Horror Show, getting to work with Barry Bostwick was such a dream come true. It was so awesome. It’s such a great aspect of my career that I get to work with people that over the years that I’ve just idolized. He’s just another one on the list so I feel really lucky that I’ve had the opportunities that I’ve had.
Did you get a chance to work with Paul Sorvino at all?
Adam Pascal: I did, actually most of my scenes with Paul. Paul plays ‘God’ and I played his right-hand man, so all of my stuff, I would say 90% of it, is with Paul.
He’s such an amazing actor and just to get to work with someone like him you can’t help but get better at what it is that you do. I’m somebody who is open to absorbing the talents and the wisdom of people around me and so having the opportunity to work with him and learn from him was really a joy.
You live in LA full-time now?
Adam Pascal: I do, yeah. I was born and raised in New York but we moved out here in 2007.
How do you like it?
Adam Pascal: I like it. I’m lucky enough to live up in the hills and it’s really quite and it’s beautiful. I’m sort of up and away from the bustle of Hollywood.
I still work a lot in theater. I think one of the reasons why I still like it so much out here is because I don’t work that much out here. So my tolerance level for the industry is still pretty high I guess because I’m somewhat disconnected from.
In New York, everybody knows you. Casting directors, producers, everyone. When you moved to LA, did you have to kind of start over?
Adam Pascal: Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. It’s never been a huge part of my career, the on-camera stuff, television and film. I’ve certainly done my share of both but I don’t do much of it. And so I would say with the casting directors out here, none of them know who I am.
And to a certain extent, it makes it harder. Because I have achieved a lot in my career in theater and then to come out here, like you said, it’s sort of like starting over. I’m sort of at age right now where I really don’t want to do that. Which is why I kind of don’t do much of it. It’s something that I kind of always avoided for different reasons. I sort of sit around and wait for different things to get offered to me [laughs]. And they’re few and far between. I guess that’s why I haven’t done much. But when they come I generally say “yes”.
I saw you in Rent on Broadway and then saw you and Anthony Rapp when you guys went on tour with Rent a couple of years ago. That version of the show was so much fun. It looked like you’re guys were having the greatest time of there.
Adam Pascal: Well, you know what, we really were. There was so much sadness and heaviness connected to the original production when we did it on Broadway in 96 because Jonathan passed away so suddenly. It wasn’t always so much fun to do. There was a lot of pressure on all of us and there was just a lot of sadness that surrounded the production.
And then to come back, whatever it was 12 years later and get to do it again where a lot of that sadness was lifted and we were able to do the show without all of that extra baggage, it made it a lot more fun. I’m thankful that I had that opportunity to end up part of my career getting to do that show surrounded by so much joy as opposed to all that pain that was surrounded by originally.
Do you ever tired of talking about Rent?
Adam Pascal: [laughs] No, I never get tired talking about it. It’s one of those things where people who are connected to something so heavily… a lot of times I guess people are like, “I don’t talk about that. I want to talk about what I’m doing now.” [laughs] To a certain extent, I can understand that but I’m immensely proud of the show. It also continues to live in such a visceral way. There’s regional productions all over the world that continue to happen and people are still affected by it in the same way that they were. I feel so proud that I was part of something that continues to have such an effect on people to this day. I’m happy to talk about it and really honored that I was part of it to begin with.
That was one of the first shows that sort of really hit me. And going back and listening to that cast recording now just brings me back to that time and I get that rush and love all over again.
Adam Pascal: That’s great and I love to hear that. Look, I grew up playing in rock bands and I only ever hoped that I could ever be part of something that had that kind of lasting effect on people and lo and behold, I have. I have become a part of something like that. So it really is like a dream come true.
You grew up playing in bands. When did you make that shift acting?
Adam Pascal: Well, it really happened by accident when I found out about this open casting call for Rent which was being produced off-Broadway. I had just split with the band that I had been with for 10 years and I didn’t know to do. I was like, “Well, what am I gonna do now? Am I gonna form a new band?” I was at a crossroads. And it seemed like an interesting opportunity to see what something like that was like. Like, “if I can get this job and do an off-Broadway musical for a few weeks, that might just be fun.” Like it was really just about, “I’m not doing anything else maybe this’ll be fun. I’m not doing anything else.”
That’s really how it started. And once I started doing it and as my career progressed, it was really clear to me that that was what I should be doing. And it actually felt much more natural to me than playing in bands ever did.
But when I was growing up and it never occurred to me as a career path. I never wanted to be an actor, I only wanted to play music. It wasn’t something that I shied away from purposely, it was just like I said, it never occurred to me to pursue musical theater. I assumed that I didn’t have the skill set to even consider a career like that. Again, it wasn’t until I started doing it that I realized, “Well, actually I guess I do have the skill set.”
And the more I worked and the more shows that I did and as my career grew, the more I learned and the better I got at it. It’s sort of like what I mentioned about Paul Sorvino, having the opportunity to work with people who are much better at the craft then I was and absorb all that I could from them. It just made me better.
Do you remember the song you sang for you audition?
Aw man, that’s one of my favorite songs.
Adam Pascal: Yeah, mine too.
You do a lot of solo concerts. Is that like a regular concert or more like a show where you’re not only singing but telling stories?
Adam Pascal: I tell some stories about funny things that happened to me in my career so far and it’s basically a lot of rearranged versions of Broadway stuff. We’ve thrown in a couple of original songs and a couple of pop songs but for the most part it’s sort of my interpretation of a lot of Broadway standards.
How do you like doing that?
Adam Pascal: I love it. I love it. It’s very freeing. Again, having grown up wanting to be the singer-songwriter and having it be all about me and my music and what I can create, being able to sort of move on from that and not worry so much where it has to be about my music and me, me, me, me. I really enjoy just sort of reinterpreting other people’s compositions and it’s really freeing.
And also, I’m aware of my audience and I think a lot of times people don’t really take their audience into account enough. It speaks to that question of, “Do I ever get tired of talking about Rent?” I played my interpretation of ‘One Song Glory’ in my set and it speaks to that in the sense that ‘do you ever get tired of playing that song or being connected to Rent? I know my audience and I don’t want my own ego to get in the way of stopping me from performing the songs that they’re paying money to hear me sing. I know what it is what they want, they want to hear the theater stuff. They don’t want to hear my original songs, maybe one or two just out of curiosity, but they want to hear the theater stuff that they’ve heard me sing over the years; Cabaret, Memphis and Rent, whatever it is. And so I want to give them what they want and I really enjoy playing it.
I guess if I was just playing the regular sort of standard versions of them, that might get a little boring. But like I said, I play my own versions and play the bass and I have a piano player and they’re a lot of fun for me to play.
What’s the worst audition you’ve been on?
Adam Pascal: [laughs] That would be really hard to say because I despise them all so much.
I can’t really tell you what the worst one is but I can tell you that in the beginning of my career I was still very against really being an actor. Like, right after Rent, I was still hell-bent on playing music and still playing in a band. Whereas everybody used Rent as their springboard to do whatever it is they wanted to do, most of them going into acting. I thought, “Well, okay, finally I’ll get a record deal.” And that kind of stuff really wasn’t being presented to me. The opportunities that I was being given at this point after getting a Tony nomination and being in the huge show was in Hollywood.
I was getting called in on tons of really big movies for really big directors and I was really not prepared for it. I wasn’t prepared mentally and I wasn’t prepared in my skill set. And so I had a lot of auditions that, again for like the biggest directors in Hollywood, where I would go in and meet them and audition and suck and be really bad. And I really disappointed them and disappointed myself.
It was a really rough time for me because I was really unsure about my career and the direction in which I wanted to take it. It’s unfortunate that I wasn’t prepared for that stuff because a lot of good things could’ve come out of it had I really put my heart into it but my heart wasn’t in it. And so I would go in and I would blow these auditions and then I would get even angrier and more belligerent about it so then the next time I would do when it would be even worse. It was like the cyclical thing that kept happening.
It was a really a painful time for me because there was a lot of disappointment going on, a lot of which was created by myself and by my own ego. You know, I didn’t understand how things worked in Hollywood. My perception was, “Hey they came to see Rent and they obviously like me. Why don’t they just give me the part? Why do I have to go in and audition?” Again, I was belligerent at the fact that I was even being asked to come and read and why wasn’t I just being offered all of these roles.
So as opposed to just one really bad audition, I probably had like 20 [laughs].