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Interview with Norbert Leo Butz

~*Samantha's Interview with Norbert*~

When was your first audition ever?

1) My first audition was when I was seven or eight--I auditioned for my brother's high school production of The King and I. I have seven brothers and almost all of them got parts in it, but I didn't get picked!. I was so sad....I didn't audition for another play til I was about seventeen.

How many auditions did you go to before you got cast in Rent?

2) How many auditions? I was lucky. When I moved to New York almost two years ago. Rent was one of the first things I auditioned for, and I got hired as a swing. but since then I have done too many auditions to even think about. Hundreds.

What college did you get your theatre education at?

3)I got a BFA degree from Webster University in St. Louis, Mo. But I think if someone really wants to be an actor, there is no one out there who can teach you how to do it, Life experience is way more valuable to an actor than trying to please some teacher. If I had to do it again, I would have moved to New York sooner.

What was the original reason you started acting?

4) I went into acting to meet girls, initially. I was a big geek in high school and only the theatre dorks would go out with me cause that's what I was too. then I found out I liked it and it was a way to tell stories and express myself through those stories.

Who are your idols?

5)I don't really have any idols...but there are people who inspire me. Right now as I write this I am listening to Idina's CD and she sure as hell inspires me...she worked so hard and took a lot of risks. Singers who really inspire me are people like Thom Yorke from Radiohead and PJ harvey and Jeff Buckley, Sinead O'Connor and always always always David Bowie. Oliver Sacks? He's a writer who I think is brilliant. And, um, I don't know. Shakespeare I guess. He's a pretty good writer.

What is your favorite thing to sing in Rent?

6) I think my favorite thing to sing in Rent is the I'll Cover You reprise. I got Michael on my left and Shelley and Shayna on my right and it is just so powerful to sing next to those voices. You can literally feel the floor of the stage move in that song.

What is it like being a parent?

7)Parenthood? It is the hardest thing I have ever done, without a doubt. Rent is the second hardest thing I have ever done. Which is to say I am a very very very tired guy alomost all the time. but I still wouldn't have it another way . I am lucky and blessed.

What do you want to be doing in 5 years?

8)in five years? hell, I don't know what I want in five minutes. I am very instinctual, and I hate making plans. I hope I am still singing and acting, connecting with people, doing good work. that's all an actor can hope for: to be working on good material.

What was it like when you first went on as Roger?

9)The first time I went on as Roger was like a waking dream. I only remember it was years and years ago. I had never even really spoken to Daphne before going on stage with her. I felt so vulnerable out there, cause I only had three rehearsals. It was awful. But I do remember after glory, the audience applauded, and I thought "okay, you didn't die. You are still alive"

Do you think you are like Roger, emotionally?

10)I relate to roger on a lot of levels, and I don't relate to him on other levels. i know what it's like to be creatively stuck, and I know what it's like to be ashamed of your past and the feeling of just wanting to hide away from the rest of the world. He really hates himself, and that I really understand. But sometimes it is hard to like a character who kind of loves his own misery so much. I think he is kind of self indulgent, and that is the hardest part about the role. Making him vulnerable and angry and depressed, cause he certainly is all those, but also making him likable, empathetic, and intelligent is kind of tricky. It took me a long long time before I felt comfortable playing that role.

Do you get along with all of the other Rent cast members?

11)Yes we all get along. but its like a family. we love each other, but we can also tell each other to fuck off too, you know what I mean?

What is the funniest thing that happened to you during Rent?

12)the funniest thing? top 2.....when Mark Setlocks skirt went flying off in La vie Boheme (as angel) and when Mark Setlocks wig went flying off in today for U. Poor Mark. Also when Sheri Scott showed us that she is indeed a natural blonde on her last show by whipping her jeans down to her knees with no panties on. I think I peed in my pants.

What is the saddest thing that has happened to you while you were in Rent?

13)A few months ago, my dad came to the show. Mr, Larson was there too. I could see them in the back of the theatre watching together, and when we were singing the Reprise I could kind of see them comforting each other. I lost it. Cause I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like if it were reversed and it was my dad who had lost his son. That was a sad show.

Who is your best friend in the cast?

14) Who is my best friend. my good good buds are those who have been there with me through the most. Obviously Marcy, becasue we have been through a lot together. Every night we go through a lot together!!! Also Marky Setlock, Shelly D, and of course my dressing buds, Poulos and Michael McElroy.

Interview from Chicago Sun Times

Dressed in a T-shirt, cargo pants and sneakers, New York actor Norbert Leo Butz fits seamlessly into the low-key Andersonville neighborhood around Clark and Foster.It's only the glittery purple nail polish he's wearing that hints of another time and place. The nail polish, along with a handful of fake tattoos, exaggerated makeup and a variety of naughty costumes, is part of Butz's nightly "transformation" into the lascivious, wickedly amusing emcee in the Sam Mendes production of "Cabaret," now up at the Shubert Theatre. The role of the emcee carries a lot of baggage. Most of it stemming from Joel Grey's intense, and seemingly perfect, creation of the character in Bob Fosse's film. It's a characterization many are familiar with. Not Butz--he's never seen the Oscar-winning celluloid version of the Kander and Ebb musical. Over breakfast at Andersonville's Kopi Cafe, Butz explains why.

"First of all, I have to admit that my knowledge of musical theater history is pretty weak. Although I've been a singer my whole life, I come from more of a straight theater background."

But this ignorance has turned out to be a good thing for the 31-year-old actor.

"I wanted to treat the role like it was new. Like it was being staged for the first time. I didn't want another visual in mind. I needed to start from the point of view that I was the first person to do it. I needed that for my own sense of confidence."

And confidence is a must for the role of the emcee, who has the longest collective time onstage. It is Butz's job to draw the audience into the environment of Berlin's Kit Kat Klub, where dancers and singers, including Teri Hatcher as Sally Bowles, live a decadent and troubled existence. While Mendes had a "very strong vision" of the emcee, Butz says he was able to add his own take on the character to the mix. He looked to other medium for inspiration: films by Marlene Dietrich, recordings by German chanteuse Ute Lemper and the glam rock of David Bowie and Iggy Pop. From the opening number, "Wilkommen," Butz says he feels an incredible sense of power.

"I love that opening number. Going onto a dark stage and manipulating the audience with one beckoning finger is a rush. It sets the mood for the rest of the performance."

"Cabaret" is set at the dawn of the Nazi movement during Germany's Weimar Republic. There is a decadent sexual tone that permeates the musical, much of it emanating from the lascivious body language of the emcee, who Butz says is a "street hustler, a callboy, a male prostitute."

"It's easy to go out there and just show off. Easy to go out there and be an exhibitionist. That's not hard for me," Butz says with a laugh. "What is slightly more tricky is to see the human being, the life, the brain that is under all this crude body language. All this selling of bodies is based on a human need."

Butz grew up in St. Louis, where he was the seventh of 11 children. He dabbled in theater in high school, mainly as "a way to meet girls." He remembers that his first audition was in grade school for a high school production of "The King and I," in which his older brother had a role.

"They needed a bunch of kids to play the children in the court of Siam. My six brothers and I all auditioned. There we were with our blond curls all standing in a row and the director picked everyone but me. I was devastated; I cried for weeks."

After graduating from Webster University with a degree in theater, he spent time in regional theater with the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival before heading to New York.

"It's hard to make any money in regional theater, but sometimes that's not the point of it. I saw it as a great training ground. A safe environment where you can do a really great role in a really great play that no one else will touch," he says.

This phase of his career was a tough time for his parents. They were willing to put up with his interest in acting during high school but balked when he decided to make it his career goal.

"It was trickier to convince my parents that acting was what I wanted to pursue," Butz explains. "In hindsight I can't blame them. If my daughter comes to me in 20 years and says the same thing, I'd probably resist it, too."

Living on the road ("a cozy neighborhood in Brooklyn is home") is something new for Butz, who previously starred as Roger in the Broadway production of "Rent." He has been traveling since early February with his wife of five years, Sydney, and 21-month-old daughter, Clara. Sydney is the glue that holds everything together, he says.

"You start to become very self-involved in a role like this. You have to be. But there are times when you also have to be there for your family, and trying to sustain this relationship can be very difficult. So the people who love actors, the people who are married to them, are really special."

After three years of eight shows a week in "a big old musical," Butz, who will stay with the tour until January, says he would like to then do "a dark little domestic comedy."

"Something where I get to wear blue jeans and sit on a couch and smoke cigarettes and say really cool lines all night long. That would be heaven."

And what does his daughter think of that decadent purple nail polish?

"At first she would say, `No dada, no dada.' Now she loves it, and of course wants her nails polished. I think she'll associate me with fingernail polish for the rest of her life. As you can see, we've sort of changed the roles around a little in our family."