What do television stars with theater backgrounds look for during their hiatus? The opportunity to do a stage production, of course. Nico Tortorella, better known as Josh, the hunky tattoo artist dating Sutton Foster's Liza on TV Land's Younger, is no different. With some free time this spring, Tortorella found himself able to sink his teeth into his first love, live performing, in a play that he believes fits his personality like a glove.

The work is Jordan Jaffe's Crude, running through May 21 in a production of Black Lab Theatre at Ars Nova's Theatre 511. In it, Tortorella plays Jaime, a child of privilege from Houston whose life is thrown into turmoil when his family's company takes part in the worst oil spill the world has ever seen.

But playing the madness that ensues is proving to be a most rewarding theater experience for him. Luckily, he got in some live-theater practice back in February, when he flexed his tap-dancing muscles with Foster during her concert in Baltimore.

Nico Tortorella makes his New York stage debut in Jordan Jaffe's Crude.
Nico Tortorella makes his New York stage debut in Jordan Jaffe's Crude.
(© Jenny Anderson)

In your words, tell me about Crude and your character, Jamie.
The show, in a nutshell, is about a rich, white, privileged oil kid from Houston. He is recently married, and the show opens with him and his wife, in a somewhat normal relationship, and then all hell breaks loose. My family's company has an oil spill off the Gulf Coast, the largest oil spill in the history of the planet. Jamie immediately loses his s**t and tries to get all of his money out of the bank. As the show unfolds, his best friend comes over to try and come up with a plan to spin the oil spill for a national commercial. And it's all downhill from there.

Do you have a background in theater?
I grew up onstage in Chicago. It's been a while, but this is like a homecoming for me. I've been saying for years that there's something about film and television, there is not that immediate gratification that you get on a stage. There is an engagement that just doesn't happen when there's a camera in your face. It's not just the relationship with the audience; it is a fully living and breathing machine. In terms of film and TV, it's a computer. It's set up in a way that's all about the light and the angle. It's almost like the art of the camera comes first, and then the performance comes after.

What was it about Crude that interested you as a performer?
I haven't been onstage in ten years, outside of a little tap-dance stunt with Sutton Foster in Baltimore. I've been looking for the right show. It's pretty hard to navigate through a film and television schedule, to fit the stage into it. This opportunity jumped at me. I had the time to do it, and Jordan has a way of writing the way that I speak. It was a no-brainer. I said yes instantly, and I have two weeks until I go into season three of Younger, so it was perfect.

Tell me about tap dancing with Sutton.
Oh my god, it was incredible. At ten in the morning, I was still in bed, and she sends me a text message saying, "Hey, do you know how to tap dance?" We're super tight outside of work, and I was like, "What are you thinking?" She was like, "Well, I'm performing and there's this number that could be awesome if you and I did it together." I was like, "Yes, I tap dance. Let's do it." No questions asked. When Sutton asks you to perform with her, you say yes. That's like a little girl's dream. And some guys, too.

So I find a tap-dance coach and take lessons. I have tap danced a little growing up. It wasn't my forte by any means. But I thought, "I did musical theater, so I could pick it up quick." It was a lot harder than what I thought it was going to be. I went through the wringer with it. We had a joint rehearsal with her choreographer in Los Angeles, and I come to find out that it was actually somewhat my audition. And I got the job. She was blown away. It was magic, just watching her. I had seen Violet, but I've never seen her dance around the stage like that before. It will certainly not be the last time you see Sutton and me onstage together.

What are your dreams for the third season of Younger?
I want to break the pattern that Josh and Liza have had of breaking up and getting back together. If we're going to do either one, we should do it for a whole season and really see what that means for both of us. If that means we're broken up, I want to see what Josh's storyline looks like outside of the show, outside of the core of the four women. I think there's room for that. The way [creator] Darren [Starr] writes, it's so character-specific and has time for everybody. If we're going to separate these two, we have to show what they're up to outside of it.

Do you and Sutton dream of musicals you could star in together?
I mean, we have definitely talked about it. I would love to do a new musical with her. There's something so beautiful about new work, and to see two people that the world kind of knows in something new would just be fantastic.

Nico Tortorella and Sutton Foster play on-again/off-again lovers on TV Land's Younger.
Nico Tortorella and Sutton Foster play on-again, off-again lovers on TV Land's Younger.
(© TV Land)