An Ode to a Broadway Actor
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
An Interview with Christopher J. Hanke
Christopher J. Hanke is a dynamo. He is currently playing the hilariously villainous Bud Frump in the Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and if you haven’t seen it yet, you really should. His energy is vivacious and his commitment to the character is unwavering- a recipe for laughs.
Read on to find about his favorite things, what keeps him grounded, and how he prepares for a role.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
So the basics can be googled–but little inside things about me: I’m obsessed with great handwriting. Looking at other peoples and trying to perfect my own. If I write a grocery list and I don’t like the way it looks, I will re-write it. (OMG, I need medz).
The Container Store is quite possibly my favorite place on Earth. I love that everything can have a box. Inside my refrigerator I have clear boxes for all my food. It makes it look more appetizing. I waited tables at Houston’s (now Hillstone) here in the city- my first job when I moved here. I took a small planters rock from one of the decorative plants to always remind me that when I get stressed in an acting job, I could always be waiting tables. That rock sits at my dressing table station for every show. Chips and salsa is my fav food.
When did you first know you wanted to be in musical theater.
I don’t remember a moment when I specifically thought “I want to be in musical theater”–I just knew I loved acting and I loved singing and combining those two sometimes was really magical for me. What I do remember was the moment when I actually thought I could make it on Broadway. I was studying in London for the summer and seeing as much theater as possible, classical, jukebox musicals, Old Globe, The National, etc. One evening while seeing Les Miserable, I had this epiphany after watching one of the younger male featured actors sing a small solo–he wasn’t the greatest of all singers–and I thought, if HE can make it on the West End, then maybe I could have a shot in New York. Looking back, I was very naive, but there was a gut feeling I had that I actually could do it. I can’t explain it. But it was at that performance in London where I began seeing my dream play out in front of me.
Who/what were your influences?
I think as an actor it’s important to dive into as many areas of life as possible to bring as many colors to your canvas with a character. So I have been active in sports, science (I was accepted to medical school), religion, old movies, short stories–allowing all of those influences to shade my mind and life experiences, which make me a better actor. Specifically to the craft of acting, especially in comedy, I have looked to the young Jack Lemmon, Jerry Lewis, and Steve Martin for inspiration and education. These men remain geniuses in that arena. And growing up in the South in church, it would be unfair not to mention that Christian music really made a strong impact on me falling in love with singing and harmonies. If you wanna learn to sing harmony, just open up a the hymnal to No. 223 and let the elders around you teach you a thing or two about sangin’.
You’ve played Mark in Rent and Claude in Hair, you also played a Mormon on Big Love, how do you prepare for such vastly different roles?
I wish I could say that I spent months and months diving into the arena of each of these characters–1990s East Village, 60s anti war protests, Utah. I did not. However, I did do my research on each of these three and let that knowledge plus the text inform how the character felt about his journey, words, or his experiences. For instance, with Mark in RENT, he had a line about the Circle Line in New York. Well, I had never been on the Circle Line before so I went and did it so that my Mark could speak about it with specificity and knowledge of how it felt to take it around the city. Things like that. With Claude I immersed myself into images after images of the Vietnam War, protests, horrible horrible things that put me in that place and time and allowed me to understand the impact that war had on young New Yorkers. And with Big Love, I went ahead and got married to 3 women, had 16 children, and then showed up on set!
You guest starred on the TV show Brothers and Sisters, do you prefer acting on the stage or performing in front of a camera?
When I’m on set in front of the camera, I prefer acting on stage. When I’m on stage, I prefer acting in front of the camera.
Grass is always greener, right?!
What was it like performing at the Tony’s?
Shot out of a cannon. Thrilling. Dream come true. Bucket list. Shot out of cannon.
I love that I could look out in the audience and see all these famous people smiling. I actually had to see an eye doctor the day after for white blindness.
Tells us about 3 items in your dressing room.
Tequila. Gin. Vodka.
1. I bought a cool metal retro bathroom cabinet from West Elm that I fashioned into a small little bar to hold the above items for when we have THNOB (Thursday Nights On Broadway) parties.
2. A retro Polaroid camera to take photos of all the people that come and see me in the show. Kind of like a visual guest book. I hang them all up on my metal door with magnets for a cool, visual art piece. If you look closely, there are secret celebrities among the photos.
3. A cup of ice. I love ice. I like my water cold and my diet cokes colder. So, Josh, my amazing dresser who takes such great care of me always brings me a large cup of ice for each show.
And there you have it, ladies and gents. The pure awesomeness that is C.J. Hanke.
For more awesomeness, check out his twitter page.
-DC, July 2011