Gregory Jbara: Back to Billy
The Tony Award-winning actor talks about returning to Billy Elliot, participating in this year's Tony Awards, and life as a father.
THEATERMANIA: How do you think Billy Elliot has evolved since you left in January?
GREGORY JBARA: When I came back and saw it for the first time, I was so proud of the production. I couldn't believe what great shape it was in. I was giddy that I got to go back into it.
TM: How do you like working with all the new Billys?
GJ: I hate them all. They're evil! (laughs) They're great, and they're each completely different.
TM: How has your life changed now that you are "Tony Award winner Gregory Jbara?"
GJ: I do answer my phone that way. No, I'm joking. I think I'm still the guy, who, when I'm on the subway people will say, "Hi, how are ya? Good to see you." They think I'm their neighbor or friend. It's the commercials. There were a couple of jobs that I got that were straight offers; that's never happened before: the movie Remember Me, and then a guest spot on the late great Law & Order. I was also invited to give a commencement speech at my old high school as a 2010 Distinguished Alumnus. It is an honor actually, and it's a pretty intimidating responsibility.
TM: How did it feel to be part of the Tonys this year, especially as the co-host of the Creative Arts Awards?
GJ: It was really exciting. All the words were on a teleprompter, and I got to stand next to Karen Olivo, who is gorgeous. I also got to be a presenter for the Tony Nominee luncheon, and that brought back a lot of great memories of last year. The Tonys honored B.H. Barry and Marian Seldes this year, both of whom influenced me, as well as the other Juilliard graduates nominated this year. It was very cool to introduce them as honorees.
GJ: Your whole life as an actor you go, "One day if I win a Tony Award, then I will call the shots, just like Hal Linden." You think you'll be able to exploit and parlay that wonderful honor into some work back in L.A. And at first, it was just like that. I got seen for all of the really great high-profile projects that I was right for. Well, I had one week of madness and flurry and then it was over. The economy has really hit L.A. hard. Luckily, I ended up booking John Hancock and Viva commercials, and Olive Garden renewed for another two years. And the upside of it being so slow professionally was that I got to spend a lot of time as a dad. I took my kids to school and to their lessons.
TM: What do you miss the most about New York when you're away?
GJ: Here, you walk out your door, you run into people you know. It's easy to support everyone else and their work because you can just walk to everybody else's work, whereas in L.A. you must do everything by car, which inherently gives you sort of a solitary existence. In L.A., my life's very domestic. It's dinner parties and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. Here it's like, "Woo-hoo! Crazy fun!"
TM: You're always doing a lot of voice-over work. Where will we hear you next?
GJ: I got to work on this new Disney animated musical called Tangled, which is based on the fairy tale Rapunzel. I'm in this band of thugs in a bar, and we have this really fun song.
TM: Tell me something no one else probably knows about you.
GJ: I think chimpanzees are hilarious. If I see footage of a chimpanzee doing anything, I will laugh my ass off. My wife can attest to that!