Forty Characters, Fully Committed
Five-time Emmy-nominated Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) returns to Broadway for one-man show Fully Committed, a true experiment in multi-tasking with the comedic actor taking on dozens of characters—male, female, foreign, American, privileged and struggling—in a posh Manhattan restaurant. Created by Becky Mode and developed alongside Mark Setlock who originated the role in 1999, the production is directed by Jason Moore (Avenue Q, Pitch Perfect). On and Off-Broadway since 1998, Ferguson had his break-out role in 2005’s Tony Award-winning Best Musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and he’s one of the rare few actors to be invited by Shakespeare In The Park four times, starting with 2007’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and most recently 2015’s The Tempest.
For his role as Sam in Fully Committed, the Missoula, Montana native puts his theater chops to the test with the grueling task of gaining control of an otherwise schizophrenic character with precision, weaving in and out of accents, genders and most of all motives, playing a host trying to make it big as an actor.
New York City Monthly got to dish with Jesse on the challenges and rewards of playing dozens of characters, his love for New York and Broadway and some of his top spots to enjoy a nosh in town…
New York City Monthly: Those who think of one-person shows would recall Billy Crystal and Lily Tomlin coming to mind, as well as Larry David, John Leguizamo, Bette Midler and Sarah Jones. Is it a daunting feeling knowing that you are the only one up on the stage for weeks of performances of Fully Committed?
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: Well, I mean I did sort of develop my roots on Broadway but they were always in ensembles in shows. There’s definitely a fear of being up there alone, I did it once in the City Theatre in Pittsburgh but this is on a different scale. A lot of those were written by people who are the performers. This is Mark Setlock and he worked on it with Becky very closely, it’s the game of telephone. Now this is my interpretation of it. It’s not something I wrote so that takes off a little bit of pressure, and they had a very healthy off-Broadway run. I am trying not to think of that, I am trying to have faith that I am a great stage actor. It’s not just about one role but it’s about creating forty, and that’s such a challenge. I think the audience is going to be surprised that I even had that bag of tricks.
NYCM: Do you have a favorite character, a favorite accent, someone you love to hate that stands out to you in the show that audiences should watch out for?
JTF: You know, it’s almost like choosing a favorite child. There are days when I’m happy with one of them and days where I’m pissed at one of them – I’m still at development stages so it’s hard to say. I like developing bombastic characters like Jean-Claude, a French actor. I’m not creating these Meryl Streep nuanced characters. They can be a little more SNL, a little more animated, the edge of bumped up/over-the-top, and still live in the world of the play. It’s meant to be a challenge for the actor but you also don’t want to see the actor work too much. Some of my characters might seem a little cartoonish and that’s OK. Some of the characters are based on people I know. One of them sounds like Tim Gunn, who is a friend of mine. So I think the characters have a kernel of truth a little bit, they have a tendency to become my favorites.
NYCM: You studied at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy. What’s it like to come home to the place where you really grew and evolved as an actor?
JTF: Well you know, the theater is my first love, it always has been. I love that exchange between an actor and an audience live. I try to make the effort to do theater as much as possible. I’ve been fortunate that Shakespeare In The Park wanted me back. With Spelling Bee – it’s a class, you’re the Class of ’92 or Class of ’94. I’m going to be the Class of 2016 like Hamilton and Shuffle Along, I’m really honored to be among that group of people. It does feel like a homecoming in a way but it hasn’t been that long because I’ve been in the theater scene for a while. Not this big TV star waltzing into Broadway. I feel like I’ve earned it in a few ways.
NYCM: Are there any NYC restaurants that you think are top-notch and a pleasure to dine at that get it right from the front-of-house service to the chef to the ambiance and food quality?
JTF: I’m always looking for different things when I go out to dinner. I’m usually drawn to more casual restaurants, though I’ve done a little more restaurants like Daniel and Jean-Georges, Mission Chinese & Mission Cantina for research, the presentation is really beautiful. It’s not really my speed but it is something I have enjoyed. Dan Barber and his restaurants, Blue Hill Farm in upstate New York. Usually when I go out with Justin it’s some place in Chinatown or Cafe Gitane or Barbuto, more casual spots. It’s all about the food for me first and if there’s great service on top of it, that’s great. The food is most important.
Previews begin April 2. For tickets, visit telecharge.com or call 212.239.6200