Final Bow: Sweat's Will Pullen Closes the Door on His Broadway Debut
Pullen reflects on a time of fake tattoos, fake beer, and real #TeamSweat love.
Sweat plays its final Broadway performance at Studio 54 on June 25, but Lynn Nottage's latest masterpiece has solidly claimed its place in the archives of American theater. The play, which follows the lives of factory workers in Reading, Pennsylvania, around the turn of the 21st century, earned Nottage her second Pulitzer Prize as well as a Tony nomination for Best Play of the Broadway season.
For Will Pullen, Sweat gave him his Broadway debut (and the Clarence Derwent Award as the year's most promising New York actor). He originated the role of Jason — a young man we meet as an ex-convict at the beginning of the play and subsequently see eight years earlier as a blue-collar resident of Reading, working and drinking alongside his mother, Tracey (Johanna Day), and best friend, Chris (Khris Davis). He'll swill his last fake beer with #TeamSweat this Sunday, but before he leaves, we had him take a look back at the terrariums and magical tattoo art that characterized his time with the Broadway ensemble.
1. What is your favorite line that you get to say?
"All I can say is, when I saw the bike, my first urge was to f*ck it."
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
I refer to James Colby as "Lord Stannis" both offstage and occasionally onstage. It has to do with my love of the movie Gladiator.
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show, and how was it handled?
While we were at the Public, there was a performance where the set broke and we had to do a stripped-down version of the play where the set didn't move at all, which ended up being one of our best performances. That or when first the emergency lights came on in the middle of a scene, and then the house lights followed a couple lines later. I'm proud to say we powered through the scene anyway.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
Someone gave everybody terrariums. That was definitely a first for me.
5. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
My family will always be the coolest people to have come and see the show. But Michael Moore came and hosted a talkback one night. That was pretty awesome.
6. You have to do some fast tattoo application and removal throughout Sweat. What's the secret to your quick body-art turnaround?
The makeup team is incredible. They designed stamps that they are able to put on my face in rapid time. Our quickest change is 21 seconds to do a full costume change and put four tattoos on my face. They really are magicians.
7. The #TeamSweat cast seems to be a tight-knit group. What has become your favorite tradition as an ensemble?
My favorite thing we do as an ensemble is heading up the stairs after the show to the dressing rooms. It's a time we can all check in and laugh about all the crazy stuff that happened during the show.
8. You're obviously not drinking real beer onstage. What are you drinking, and what is it like consuming such large quantities of it almost every day?
Carbonated water that's colored, and there is a film at the bottom of the glass that creates foam. It's not the greatest taste in the world, and I have to pee after every scene 'cause I drink so much onstage.
9. What has it meant to you to make your Broadway debut in a play that depicts the stories of real Americans?
This play has meant the world to me. To be making my Broadway debut in a piece that is as relevant and important as this is extremely rare. It has been such an honor to get to play this part and tell this story.
10. You've had the privilege of working closely with a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. What's the most inspiring thing you've learned from Lynn Nottage?
The thing that I loved most about Lynn is her generosity. She is so open and collaborative with everyone. She is a joy to work with. I was also so inspired by how the work is never done for Lynn. She was constantly tweaking and rewriting things all the way up to opening.