If you saw Sutton Foster's 2011 Tony acceptance speech, then you've heard the name Julien Havard.
Havard met Foster in 2002 when he was hired as her backstage dresser during Thoroughly Modern Millie. "They put us together, and the rest is history," Havard says looking back wistfully on what has been over a decade of close friendship. In 2011, after working together on six Broadway shows, Havard decided to temporarily leave behind his life as a Broadway dresser and move to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to pursue his art career full-time — to which Foster responded with an emotional (and nationally televised) farewell.
Two years later, the pair have reunited in New York City, but this time, as artistic partners in their joint exhibit at Taglialatella Galleries. After getting a sneak peek of Foster's work before the exhibit's grand opening last Monday evening, TheaterMania had a separate sit-down with Havard at the gallery. As we chatted, he shared some personal (and often hilarious) details of his friendship with Foster, his artistic career, and his overall journey from the backstage shadows into the spotlight (the credit for which is largely due to a pigtail gone rogue during Shrek The Musical).
You and Sutton have developed such a strong friendship and partnership over the years. How did the two of you come to be the pair that you are today?
I worked for the wardrobe supervisor [on Millie], [who] has a knack for putting people together. It was right when I lost my friend who had passed away from cancer, and she just knew I probably wouldn't mind having someone new to take care of. I like being needed (hence my dresser job) and [Sutton] was just this little skinny thing thrust into this role. Every thirty seconds someone was trying to get in that [dressing room] door, and me and the sweet, now-dearly-departed costume designer Martin Pakledinaz would stand outside like the guards and wouldn't let anyone in. I felt like I was her protector. I'm always going to be that way.
Was there any one particular moment during Millie that you knew this was going to be a lasting friendship?
I think when I first went on vacation and I left her a present for every day I was going to be gone…which was two weeks. I gave instructions to my replacement dresser (each [gift] was numbered). [Then] I thought, What am I doing? [Laughs]
Was it hard to tell Sutton that you were moving away to pursue your art career?
Oh yeah. I was keeping it from Sutton for a while. I was like, Wait until after the Tonys; I don't want to distract her. But then one day in the dressing room I just burst into tears and I told her. She was so excited and happy for me. [And then] she gave me a crazy sendoff at the Tonys.
Are you happy with the decision you made?
Absolutely. There was just more to my life than that. I usually just dress Sutton…[but] during the opening [of Shrek The Musical] there was this crazy quick change [where] everybody had to change from townfolk into these fairy-tale characters. I got one of the three little pigs [and] it wasn't "little" — it was this huge futon of a costume. I was putting his little piggy hoof on and these crazy curly tails popped out…and a pigtail literally went up my nose…and I snapped. I was like, This is not my future! [Laughs] Everyone was like, "Are you OK?"
So you finally got tired of the lifestyle?
I have to be around theater folks. It's in my soul. [But] working Broadway, you go from show to show to show to show [and] the next thing you know, a decade's gone by. I [was] doing this to help people get through their shows, but I wasn't nurturing myself — so that's what I'm working on. Whose initial idea was it to put this art show together? I went out [to L.A.] and did the last three episodes of Bunheads [and Sutton] said, "Hey, we should do some art shows together." The next thing you know, a couple months later she's like, "We're doing a show in P-town, then we're doing New York, then we're doing L.A."
When I spoke with Sutton, she mentioned she would go Dumpster-diving on the set of Bunheads to find pieces of wood for her artwork. Did you participate in those excursions?
I would keep an eye out. There were just Dumpsters filled with chopped-up scenery from Scandal and Dexter — and she needed her wood. There was one major Dumpster dive. Legs in the air, the whole thing. And she had come from this wedding scene, so she was in this beautiful dress and her hair was all up in this bun and she was all bent over this Dumpster. Then we made friends with the woodshop guys, and they started giving her wood.
How does it feel now that she's joining you in your wheelhouse instead of the other way around?
If anything, I feel like we're on equal ground. She has helped me and I her equally getting here today for this art show. I don't think either of us would be here today without each other. She is inspiring…[and] I like to think I've inspired her. And voilá! Look what we did!
Take a look at a few samples of Havard's artwork below: