Steve Kazee Is Riding Clean

by Andy Chan

From this day to the ending of the world, if this disciplined TV and stage actor is smudged, it's only because he's 'playing' dirty.
Critically-acclaimed actor and singer Steve Kazee’s last few years have been booming. In 2012, Kazee won a Tony Award for “Best Performance by a Leading Male Actor in a Musical” as well as a Grammy award in 2013 for “Best Musical Theater Album” for his critically acclaimed work in the Broadway production of Once. He spent last summer in Prague shooting as a regular on TNT’s Legends and can also be seen on various episodes of ABC’s Nashville (here he plays riff Bell, a singer-turned-farmer who’s invited back to the stage). Now, in real life, the dedicated stage and screen performer is currently filming a lead part in the CBS pilot Drew, based on the Nancy drew mysteries. Throughout recurring, regular and guest-starring TV roles, as well as theatre success, Kazee remains not only egoless but ruthlessly pursues a greater existential meaning. When we spoke with the man himself, we found out how his wanderlust has taken him from growing up in a trailer in Ashland, Kentucky to the City of Angels.

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What was it like growing up in Ashland, Kentucky?

I would spend hours in the woods playing make believe and all these crazy games that I would come up with. You would always find these special spots in these caves. We have a lot of deep dense forest there, and I would just get lost for hours. I had a sense a freedom growing up there that I was allowed to explore, to play and to develop what I didn’t know at the time, but is clear to me now, a sense of imagination and play, which has come into great usefulness since I became an actor.

When did you realize you wanted to become an actor?

I think the rambling soul sort of has a way of pulling you in the direction you’re supposed to go. I was going to be a police officer. I went to Morehead State University. There, I was going to continue to try to major in criminal psychology and somehow, through whatever crazy twist of fate, I ended up getting involved in the theatre department. Once I had found the theatre department, I found my identity, and I knew for the first time in my life exactly who I was and where I belong.

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What monologues did you use for your MFA audition to NYU’s Tisch?

Henry V, the St. Crispin’s day speech, and a piece from George M. Cohan’s The Tavern about an actor who feels like he doesn’t have a part in this world drama that we call life and he has an existential conversation with the creator about, “I see this world you put together here and I look around and I don’t really know what my part is. I’m asking you to tell me what part am I supposed to play.” For me it was very fitting at the time because I was searching, and I feel like I’m always searching and I hope that I continue to do that for whatever time I’m on this planet. At that time especially I was searching for who was I, and who am I, and who will I be.

What was it like getting involved with Once?

I thought it was a horrible idea for a Broadway show. I thought it was too intimate to be commercially produced. I just passed. It was a very dumb decision. A couple of days went by and I received another phone call from my agent but it was more direct from the casting director, and he said, “look it’s a great creative team and I really think this show is really going to be something special... Just come and play the songs.” The instant I got to NY and met the creative team, I knew that this was going to be something special... it was just kismet.

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How do you build your characters?

What I try to do is I look for one thing to that character that I can relate to. What is it about this specific character that I go yes...I get that part of you, and I always think about it as a keyhole. And once I can slide into that keyhole, I see all the other walls the character has up. There isn’t any character that doesn’t have any walls. We all have walls as human beings. We all have these defenses and barriers we put up. I find I can get inside of that and once I’m inside, I have access to all of that. So, I can see it all and I can start to use the parts that I need.

What’s your dream role?

I was really excited when The Walking Dead came on. I thought hopefully at some point I would be old enough before the character of Negan came along. Unfortunately, they got to it a lot quicker than I did. I would love to play Batman at some point in my life...On stage, I feel like the roles I want to play will be years down the road. The great roles for men come a little later in your life. I would love to do some Arthur Miller and some Sam Shepard. As far as films go I would love to be in a superhero movie. I grew up on Star Wars, I grew up on Star Trek. I was one of the few people that grew up saying you could love both. I was just a fan of fantasy as a kid. And we are living in such a golden age of superhero movies where they’re good films...it would just be fun to do that big blockbuster action film.

Kazee says writing is next in his future. I am not sure if he will ever find what he is looking for because he never stays complacent. Like a true actor, his life is a constant search for beauty, connectivity, and honesty. The artistry of Kazee is that he takes us along his journey, and we hope never to reach the final destination; we just yearn to stick along with him for the ride as long as we can.

Photographer: Stephen Busken for Jorge Perez.

Stylist: Olivia Prunell.

Groomer: Homa Safar using R&Co, Murad Skincare, Laura Mercier, and M.A.C Cosmetics.

Special thanks to Arch Motorcycle Company (as seen above)