“It’s so specific, that character and the lines. Like, immediately when I started learning my lines, it all came back to me like a shock.” – Eddie Jemison on Playing Ogie
It’s not everyday that someone who created a role in a film gets to tackle that same role in a big Broadway musical, but Eddie Jemison is doing just that. Jemison starred as Ogie in Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film, Waitress, and now 12 years later, he’s making his Broadway debut in the same role. “I feel so lucky!,” he said.
You most likely recognize Jemison from the Ocean’s 11 movies, HBO’s Hung, Chicago Med and he’s currently recurring on the CW’s iZombie. But, up until April 28th, he’s got his hands full with Waitress, the story of Jenna, a waitress and expert pie-maker who dreams of a way out of her small town and rocky marriage.
In this interview, Jemison talks about making his Broadway debut, playing Ogie, his role in both the film and musical, and what it was like to book his first ever film role in Ocean’s 11!
Thanks for squeezing me in today. You’ve got a show tonight, right?
Eddie Jemison: I do. It’s not squeezing you in at all. I’ve been goofing off all day.
Well, I mean you’ve got to work later today so what else are you supposed to do?
Eddie Jemison: That’s the beauty of doing this show. It’s like, I’m definitely going to work between these very short hours, so you don’t feel so bad about, I don’t know, like reading. That’s kind of fun because I never get to do that home!
I’ve done eight shows a week and you don’t think you would be so freaking tired. You don’t really want to do anything. You just want to goof off.
Eddie Jemison: It’s so true. I know what you mean. Especially after those four in a row. I’m shocked how… not demanding it is, because it’s not demanding when you’re doing it. It’s just when you’re done, you can’t believe how tired it makes you.
This was your Broadway debut? How was that night?
Eddie Jemison: It was surreal, you know? I was very, very scared. When I was told that I was going to do the play and I had like two weeks of rehearsal, I thought, “I wouldn’t want to do any play anywhere with that little bit of rehearsal.” Even though my part is very specific and not that big, I still thought, “I can’t do that.” And then by the time those two weeks we’re done, I felt oddly like… not that I was ready but I didn’t want to stress about it anymore, I just wanted to do it. And I found that exactly what Chris Fitzgerald and Ben Thompson were telling me, they were saying, “It’s just a play like any other. Broadway is just a word. It’s just a theatre and a play.” And they’re right. It’s been a blast.
You originated, that’s kind of a weird thing to say, but you played the role in the film.
Eddie Jemison: Yeah, I did the movie, Waitress, with Adrienne Shelly.
How much does the role differ from the film?
Eddie Jemison: We did the movie, twelve years ago? So, it was a long time ago but it’s so specific, that character and the lines. Like, immediately when I started learning my lines, it all came back to me like a shock. If there was one word different from the two scripts, I would say it the old way.
But I have to say watching Jeremy Morse and Chris’ performance, who was doing it when I stepped in so I got to watch him do it. So, I feel like I was doing my imitation of his imitation. I mean, he had completely made it his own and actually, I’m probably doing more of him that he was of me at this point. And I was also influenced by Jeremy too. So, it’s almost like this brotherhood Ogie’s. It’s like a club, you know?
In the movie, Ogie was more of a cry baby and this Ogie, I think because of Chris Fitzgerald’s interpretation, he’s more full of exuberant joy and so it’s kind of a blast to do.
How did the opportunity come about?
Eddie Jemison: My daughter and son are both musical theater people and I’m not, I’ve never been in a musical.
Eddie Jemison: No. I mean, I was in one in high school, but they didn’t let me sing. But my daughter and my son, they’re 12 and nine, they’re like their mom, they’re very musically talented. When the touring company came to LA, my daughter wanted to see it. And we were invited and I was reluctant. I heard how great it was and I didn’t want to see somebody, like, knock it out of the park. And, of course, Jeremy did.
But, when I was there, it just so happened that the producer of the film, Michael Royce, and the producer of the play, Barry Weissler, were there. And the producer of the film introduced me to the producer of the play and we spoke and he was taken by my daughter and in an offhand way, he said, “Hey, we’re always looking for Ogie’s, do you sing and dance?” And I said, “No. No way.” But it didn’t stop him because he called me some months later and said, “Hey, we actually are looking for someone would you put yourself on tape?” And my daughter said, “Come on Dad, you’ve got to try.” So I did and apparently it was just good enough for them o say, “Okay, come do it.”
I’ve seen the show twice now and, man, if you say you’re not a singer or dancer, you’ve might want to think again because you’ve got quite a dance number. I mean, just as an audience member, I was exhausted watching it.
Eddie Jemison: I know what you mean, it is exhausting. But it’s really just a bunch of shenanigans. You don’t have to be a dancer to execute any of those, you just have to be a goof ball.
And the character of Ogie is so odd. It’s so out there that if you throw yourself in that skin, it kind of takes care of itself. You just kind of leap around and goof about and do exactly what the role demands of you, it kind of takes care of itself. And the singing, I don’t know what to say about singing because it was the part I was most scared of. I kind of don’t really want to know what an honest assessment of my singing is. But I have to say it’s a blast to sing.
It’s a great song.
Eddie Jemison: It’s great. And I didn’t know what I was missing my whole life. Never having tried, it’s fun to sing.
And it’s not as different as you’d think. And that was the note that I kept getting from everyone. “You don’t have to sing so much. The more it’s like speech… it’s musical theater, the better you’ll communicate.” And I think that’s good advice for me.
And the number is a true show stopper. Everyone just eats it up. And the character, he’s so full of joy and so odd that you just love him.
Eddie Jemison: It’s true. I have to say, Lance, it all takes care of itself, it really does. It’s almost actor-proof. I don’t say that out of any kind of humility at all. Out of sheer practice and thinking, “How the hell am I ever gonna do this? I can’t do this.” And just the way it’s built, you climb into that little machine and it does everything for you.
You’re kind of living ever actor’s dream right now. Starring in a Broadway show, living in New York. How is that?
Eddie Jemison: Oh man, it’s so cool. When I was young, I always had these fantasies of living in Greenwich Village and being an actor in New York City. You know, every cliche shy of playing bongo drums. And that’s actually what I’m doing right now in my East village apartment. Besides being super-lonely, I’m missing my wife and kids, it’s a dream come true. It’s a dream that’s come true after 40 years, you know? I’m 55. This dream is so old I forgot I even had it.
At one point, I saw that quit acting to play in a band.
Eddie Jemison: Yeah, I did. Yeah. I was a singer/songwriter. Everybody in the band sang and we were like a garage rock band and we’d get our own tours around England and the East Coast. We never really made it or anything. We had our own little Chicago following. I did that because, I don’t know… maybe I got tired of acting? There was a lot of reasons, I don’t quite know what made me do that, but I did. It seemed like fun.
And then what brought you back to acting?
Eddie Jemison: The band broke up and I got in a play at Chicago Shakespeare and I fell in love with my wife. And I realized when the band broke up, I said, “I don’t know. I have no skills.” So I tried out for this play and I got in and I met this woman who was this amazing actor and I thought, “Okay, this what I should be doing. I don’t know what I’m thinking.” And then right as that play was ending, I got cast in that first Ocean’s movie. My wife wanted to move to LA and I wanted to be with her and I got in this Ocean’s movie all at the same time. So, I just moved to LA and have been an actor ever since.
Ocean’s 11, that was your very first film and here you are with like some of the biggest stars in the world. I mean, if that were me it would have been like, “Why am I here? How did this happen? What is going on?”
Eddie Jemison: It’s interesting that you bring that up because that’s exactly how I feel right now. I mean, I’m not kidding. It reminds me so much of that experience because I still thought of myself as an actor, but I was a Chicago actor and suddenly, I was in with all these stars. It was a big film and it was overwhelming. Everyone was very nice and funny and within about a week, I realized that not only were these people more famous than me but they were kind of like did smarter and funnier than I was too. And that was a hard thing to take, but they were so generous, I was able to realize like, “Oh my God, I am really lucky.”
And that’s how I feel now. When I hear these real singers really sing, Broadway people… I feel the same exact way. Humbled isn’t the right word, but it’s in the right ball park. And I feel so lucky. And like you said, you’re putting it exactly right, “How the hell did I end up here?” It’s a weird position to be in. It feels really good, but it’s also very humbling at the same time to be surrounded by people at the top of their game.
What’s been your worst or most embarrassing audition?
Eddie Jemison: I was auditioning for a really small part on a TV show and I had to wait good hour and 20 minutes just to get in the audition. And by the time I got in, and you know how this is, all I was thinking about was how I had to get home and help my wife with the kids. This was a couple of years ago when they were littler.
And I walk in and the director is a major movie star, who I didn’t know was going to be in the room much less the director. So, I was shocked in the thinking like, “Oh man, I’ve got to be good really quickly.”
And not only that, the director had this style of not looking at the audition. The famous actor said, “Don’t be distracted, but I will not be watching you.” I was so freaked out that I did a terrible audition. It was just awful. And the first thing the famous actor said was, “Well, these small parts are really the hardest parts to do.” And I felt so humiliated. The person was trying to make me feel better. You know how when you’re a kid and you’re humiliated and then the teacher hugs you and it only makes it worse? It was like that.
For tickets and showtimes to Waitress on Broadway, click here.