"Turn It Off" may have been Rory O'Malley's show-stopping number in The Book of Mormon, but when it comes to the new FX comedy Partners, O'Malley is all for people turning it on. Partners centers on the newly formed partnership between two very different lawyers: Allen (Kelsey Grammer), a cocksure, high-end player, and Marcus (Martin Lawrence), an ethically driven lawyer. O'Malley gibes and spars with both seasoned television actors in the role of Michael, Marcus' sassy assistant. The cofounder of Broadway Impact (an organization that rallies the theater community to take action on fighting for marriage equality) and a Tony Award nominee, O'Malley is no newbie when it comes to the stage (Nobody Loves You, Little Miss Sunshine, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee). On the eve of his first major television role he spoke with TheaterMania about how he landed the part, how he devised his autobiographical show Pub Crawl, and how he would enjoy taking on the role of Olaf's best friend in a Frozen sequel.
How did you find out that you were going to play Michael on Partners?
It was on New Year's Eve when I found out I got it. I was at my mom's house where I grew up in Cleveland. I had to be in Los Angeles the next morning, there was a snowstorm coming, and I almost didn't get on the flight. It was wild. When I got there it was the most awesome experience. I keep saying it wasn't really a job, I feel like I went to TV-sitcom graduate school and I had the two best professors you could have asked for. Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence are such legends.
How does your experience as a theater actor contribute to your performance in front of a camera?
Last year I did two new musicals back to back, so going from basically seven months of rehearsals, previews, and new shows where you're getting new material every day and you're working eight hours a day to get that material right is a great training ground for stepping into a sitcom. That's all a sitcom is: constantly getting new material and trying to find the character and new ways to bring it to life. I definitely feel like I've been training for that forever with all the new musicals I've done.
You've performed an autobiographical show called Pub Crawl. What song might you want to add to it that would encapsulate your experience as a television star?
[Pub Crawl is] so specific to a story from my childhood that I could tell it from beginning to middle to end, but what is ironic is that I sing "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" in it — as it just so happens that one of my castmates was in Cheers. I didn't do it because of Kelsey at all! That show was a really big influence on me growing up because it was my mom's favorite show and I grew up in an Irish pub. The Cheers family seemed like my family. Now I've talked to Kelsey about Cheers, but not about Pub Crawl. I was too nervous about putting my own story out there!
Your college roommate and Mormon costar Josh Gad has become well-known for voicing friendly snowman Olaf in Frozen. Imagine for a moment that you were cast in a Frozen sequel as Olaf's best friend…
I'd be his roommate. I would have to be a snow angel, of course. I would just follow Olaf around and tell him to get his act together and stop trying to be funny. I'd be like, "Quit it with the comments, move along!" We need [Frozen writers] Bobby and Kristen to start working on that snow angel now!