Michael Urie first came into many people’s consciousness as the backbiting Marc St. James on the hit TV series Ugly Betty and has since impressed theatergoers as designer Rudi Gernreich in Jon Marans’ play The Temperamentals (for which he won a Lucille Lortel Award for Best Lead Actor and a Theatre World Award) and as the conniving Bud Frump in the Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
On Monday, September 24, he returns to network TV in the CBS sitcom Partners, the story of two longtime friends and fellow architects, Louis (played by Urie) and Joe (played by David Krumholtz), who form an iffy business partnership. Not surprisingly, both have totally different creative instincts and personal lives: Louis has been in a relationship for six years with Wyatt (played by Brandon Routh), while Joe has been engaged for a year to jewelry designer Ali [Sophia Bush], and is about to break up with her.
“Of course our lives get all tangled up together,” says Urie. “At one point, Joe says to me, ‘I don’t want my drama to get in the way of our work,’ and my line is ‘That’s funny because I don’t want our work to get in the way of my drama.'”
The series is created by Will and Grace veterans David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, so one can expect lots of double entendres and physical comedy. “You could say we all live in the same neighborhood as Will and Grace, but we’re totally different, because we’re about relationships that are more mature,” he says. “Now, that’s not to say Will and Grace weren’t mature people, but Partners is more about grown-ups who have lives and are very engaged in them.”
Working on Partners has been a joyous experience in large part because of his relationship with Kohan and Mutchnick, says Urie. “I was happy to learn, once I had the job and got to know Max and David, that they had me in mind early on. But it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know that when I auditioned,” he says.
“They are monster writing machines,” he adds. “What I’ve found quite fascinating about them is that if we do something, and something doesn’t land the intended laugh, in a blink of the eye, they’re some place off set and come back with a zinger. I’m in awe of how many ideas they come up with for the same moment. Simply put, they’re geniuses.”
Shooting the series close to their air dates gives the writing staff opportunity for topical humor, notes Urie. “But sometimes it’s a little too now. There was a Honey Boo Boo joke in one episode, and I was totally in the dark about what that meant. I had to have that explained to me. I felt terrible that I wasn’t aware of the wonder that is Honey Boo Boo.”
Urie is also happy to be playing opposite Routh. “I became a huge fan of his when he did Superman Returns,” he says. “I knew he’d be funny and cute and, more importantly, he can give the show a change from what I do, which is a lot of crazy things that cause trouble for everyone else.”
As much as he’s enjoying the show, Urie still has eye on other projects, including possibly doing a film version of The Temperamentals. And he’d also be happy to guest-star on ABC’s new drama, 666 Park Avenue, so he could reunite with his former Ugly Betty co-star and close friend Vanessa Williams.
“I stay in touch with Vanessa. We chat and text all the time,” he notes. “Of course, I’d love to work with her again. It’s ironic that I’m shooting here and she’s shooting her series in New York. I would be beside myself if I was able to go on her show and have her come on ours.”
Most of all, Urie is hoping to return to the stage as soon as possible. “Don’t think for a minute I’m giving up theater,” he says. “I’m always looking for good roles. I’m hoping to do something here or in New York during our break. I have dream projects, and I have reality projects! But one way or another, I’ll be back!”