Barrett Foa is distracted. That's understandable considering everything on his plate this year. The Broadway veteran (Avenue Q, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) served as the official social media correspondent for the Tony Awards. He's starring as Professor Harold Hill in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre production of The Music Man (July 11-21). After that, he immediately flies back to Los Angeles to begin work on season five of NCIS: Los Angeles, the CBS show in which Foa plays ace hacker Eric Beale.
"I feel like someone else would say, ‘That sounds like a nightmare,' but it's my dream summer." Foa said, speaking over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. "I'm in Los Angeles, yes. I barely do know where I am...Sorry, my dog is trying to save my life...hold on one second."
Even with his busy schedule, Foa still finds time to take care of his dog, Scotch, who is strangely enough not a Scottish terrier, but a Maltese mutt. "She's named after one of my favorite drinks," Foa revealed before adding, "It's my grandmother's very favorite drink."
Foa takes his 96-year-old grandmother to a Broadway show every six months. This summer, before he went up to Connecticut to start rehearsals, they squeezed in a performance of Pippin.
TheaterMania spoke to Foa about his upcoming performance as Harold Hill, his work on TV, and his undying love for the stage:
Have you been in The Music Man before?
I have been in The Music Man three times. I've been a dancing teen every single time! I never thought I would play the role of Harold. I'm a little younger than normal, but I think that I can use that to my advantage. Men were men at a younger age in 1912. People my age had three kids back then! It's traditionally played a little older, but I think sometimes it starts to get creepy, like, a creepy old guy…over-the-hill. In this version he's young, in the prime of his life. He's in rare form. He like, ‘I'm killin' it. I'm bagging all these ladies all over the country. I'm making stacks of money. I've got this all down.' He's not some over-the-hill guy.
What was the first production of The Music Man you saw?
The first production I saw was the one I was in at the University of Michigan. David Burtka was Tommy Djilas and Gavin Creel was Harold Hill. Our professor, Brent Wagner, gave me an old scratchy VHS tape of that production. It held up! If only I could be as good as Gavin Creel when he was nineteen years old.
What's the most challenging part of playing Harold Hill?
Spitting out all those words! It's a lot of words. I feel like, once I'm up on my feet there will be a lot of things I'm ignoring right now that will come up and bite me in the face.
You were the official social media correspondent for the Tony Awards this year. How did you get that job?
The amazing publicity department at CBS pitched me to do that. Anything to do with the Tonys, I'm their guy. I got to spend the day with all these people I know from my old Broadway life. It's this community that I was a part of that I feel a little detached from just because I'm in LA for ten months out of the year. Then I got to meet some crazy fancy people backstage like Jake Gyllenhaal and Cuba Gooding Jr. It's fun to get to say, ‘Hey, I'm not just a fan. I'm working here, too. I have a microphone and I'm going to interview you. I'm going to take a picture of you and Tweet it out and it's going to be on CBS.com, because I'm the official social media correspondent for the Tony Awards.'
Do you have a favorite memory for that night?
I caught Patti LuPone in a narrow hallway. I would normally just nod and smile and hug the wall to let her pass, but I stopped her. Meeting Tom Hanks and Sigourney Weaver and Jake Gyllenhaal and Cyndi Lauper was cool, too. Cyndi Lauper is really good at talking to you about normal things. It's strange to be in the presence of a big celebrity like that. You want to make these connections and say things related to being a fan. It's not as interesting for them. She's amazing at making small talk without it seeming small. Suddenly we were talking about Rhubarb pie and how she likes her Rhubarb pie. She also talked about the gay hockey team her husband was on. My brother actually played on that same hockey team and my brother's not gay, either.
So it was one of those straight-guy-on-the-gay-hockey-team connections.
Exactly! Normal things come up. Having that kind of access was the best part.
It's the only benefit of being a journalist, really.
Let's talk about NCIS: LA. What kind of research did you do to prepare for the role of Eric Beale, the technical operator/hacker employed by the Navy?
The summer before we started shooting, I poured over the website for NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service], which is an actual government agency. They have a really great website that explains what they do. Each week there's a lot of techno babble, for which I do a lot of Googling and Wikipediaing so I can figure out what I'm actually saying. He's a California tech geek.
With former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in the news, it seems like there's a whole world of computer geniuses and hackers secretly controlling the world. How many Eric Beales do you think are out there?
There are these hacker conferences where thousands of people descend and talk about viruses and hacking. Eric Beale hacks into government agencies on a weekly basis. It's not just about the gun power or how many troops you have on the ground. One click of the mouse and the world can blow up. It's a great foil to the brawn on the show, which is LL Cool J and Chris O'Donnell.
Where do you prefer working: on camera or on stage?
(whispered as if CBS spies are secretly monitoring the conversation) Stage.
I love the immediacy of an audience being there and reacting. I'm spoiled having grown up in theater. I still say a funny line and get disappointed that there's not a laugh. But there shouldn't be a laugh, because it will ruin the take. Not being in control of your performance is an amazing and kind of frustrating thing. It's really about the editors and the directors and what they want to see. Perfection is the ideal. But in theater it is all about those messy mistakes.
Theater is also about strange gifts given to you at the stage door. What is the craziest thing you've ever received?
Someone made me a Leaf Coneybear finger puppet. Someone made me a portrait of me on some chocolate. I'm keeping it. I daren't eat such a work of art. It's so unique and so fun that fans do that. It's incredibly flattering. I like it when people spend time on me. People don't spend the same amount of time on my brother who's an insurance broker. I'm doing a job, but I get more gifts. I get more gifts than this great paycheck and my face on the TV? It's incredible. Fans want to give back, but I feel they give back just by watching and buying the toothbrush. Everything else is bonus.