Since graduating from the University of Michigan in 2007, James Wolk has found consistent work in Hollywood, including roles in the film You Again and television’s Front of the Class and Lone Star. Currently, he’s treading the boards as Luke, the gay Christian in love with an atheist, in Geoffrey Nauffts’ acclaimed play, Next Fall, which is getting its West Coast premiere at the Geffen Playhouse. TheaterMania recently spoke to Wolk about the show and his career.
THEATERMANIA: You majored in theater in college. How does it feel to finally be back on stage?
JAMES WOLK: It’s so great to feel this again. Theater is very much in my roots; I grew up doing both high school shows and community theater. I actually did a lot of musicals — I did Grease, Footloose, and Pajama Game. And it’s so exhilarating to have the time to do a real character study, which is not something that happens quite as often when you’re working in films and television.
TM: How did this role come about? Had you seen the show on Broadway?
JW: I didn’t see it in New York, but I had read the play. When I heard it was coming West, I spoke to my manager and said I would love to play Luke. It’s really outside the box for me — a real departure from other things I’ve done. Plus, I’m Jewish!
TM: Being Jewish, is there a particular challenge to playing a devout Christian? Did you have to do research of any sort?
JW: Yes, I didn’t want to just say the lines, I wanted to have a real point of view and I felt it was my responsibility to educate myself about a religion I didn’t grow up with, and to deal with things I hadn’t experienced. Fortunately, I have a very diverse group of friends who were wonderful resources; they were easy to talk to and very open to my questions.
TM: Much of the play deals with Luke’s unwillingness to come out to his parents, even during the very difficult circumstances he’s facing when the play takes place. Do you understand that aspect of his character?
JW: I think we all have areas in our lives which we’re comfortable — or not comfortable — telling our friends or family about. It’s true that Luke loves his father and has to hide his true self from him, and that’s hard for him. But I think Luke compartmentalizes everything and that’s what allows him to exist in his life. We can all relate to people like that.
TM: One of the aspects of the play I found hardest to watch is that most of the times when we see Luke and his partner, Adam, they’re fighting — and usually about the same thing. Did you find that believable?
JW: We’ve all seen these couples who fight a lot, and you wonder why they’re still together. I think we’re trying to show that they have an undying love no matter what, and that they like the excitement of being challenged by each other. As an actor, you have to find the good in those fights.
TM: Your partner in those fights is Geoffrey Nauffts, who wrote the play and is portraying Adam. What has that been like?
JW: It’s been great working with Geoffrey. He’s wearing two hats and he couldn’t be more collaborative on both counts. Sometimes, I will ask him to put on his writer hat, because that’s a great resource to have when you have a question about a word or a line. In fact, from now on, I think I will only act opposite writers.
TM: Sheryl Kaller, your director, helmed this show in New York, both on Broadway and Off-Broadway. Has she been open to new interpretations from the cast?
JW: Yes, she is completely open to fresh exploration. In fact, she wants to be surprised by what we do, and she is always looking at our performances with fresh eyes. She has been very nurturing.
TM: I hear you’re going to be on the new season of Showtime’s Shameless What can you tell me about that gig?
JW: I play a love interest to Emmy Rossum. I had a blast. It’s a great show, a crazy show, and a really fun set. And Emmy just owns that character; she is living it, breathing it, and that is just cool to see.
TM: Would you consider relocating to New York?
JW: I’d love to come back to New York. I lived there right after college. And what better place is there to do stage work? Sure, I know it can be hard pounding the pavement and taking the subway, especially after I’ve lived in California for a few years. But I haven’t gotten too soft for New York. I will go wherever there are good writers and good characters. My goal is to work hard and do good work.