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Tony nominated for his first Broadway show, Sam Trammell talks about his new role in the Public Theater's Kit Marlowe. logo
Sam Trammell (top)
and Christian Camargo in Kit Marlowe
(Photo: Michael Daniel)
Sam Trammell made such a splash with his Tony Award-nominated Broadway debut in the Lincoln Center Theater production of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! that a major career was predicted for him. He had previously been praised for his work Off-Broadway in Dealer's Choice and My Night With Reg, but his performance as Richard Miller (a fictionalized representation of the young O'Neill) in Wilderness! clearly marked him as one of the finest actors of his generation.

Since then, Trammell has had featured roles in two short-lived TV series: Trinity and Maximum Bob. You may have spotted him as one of Winona Ryder's friends in the film Autumn in New York. He also had the lead in Followers, a tiny-budget indie concerning a college fraternity tragedy--but he has mixed feelings about that movie. Now, happily, he's back on stage in New York, playing Thomas Walsingham opposite Christian Camargo in the title role of Kit Marlowe at the Public Theater. Shortly before the show's official opening on November 19, Trammell spoke with TheaterMania about the production and tried his best to answer this reporter's questions about why he isn't yet the big star he definitely should be.


TM: I saw Kit Marlowe last week. It certainly has a lot of lines!

SAM: Yes. We actually cancelled one Sunday night performance, because we were all completely exhausted. I was in pretty bad shape with my voice, and Christian was having the same problem. But we're okay now.

TM: Tell me about your character.

SAM: I play Christopher Marlowe's friend, Thomas Walsingham. There's not a lot of factual information on him; but there's a good bit on his uncle, Sir Francis Walsingham, who helped Queen Elizabeth to uncover papist plots against her in France. Thomas worked for his uncle as a teenager. He met Kit at Cambridge, but the love relationship between them in the play is sort of surmised.

TM: I don't suppose you've ever done a play by Marlowe. Few people have.

SAM: No, I haven't. But I've looked at Tamburlaine, and I read parts of Doctor Faustus in high school. Or maybe it was junior high school; I can't remember! Before we started working on this play, I didn't realize that Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare and actually started writing before him. He may have set the way for Shakespeare--broken the ice. The role of Thomas is fun to do, because there are so many facets to the character. And we have a really strong cast.

TM: Was If Memory Serves your last time on stage?

SAM: Yes. I guess that was just about a year ago. The playwright, Jonathan Tolins, is great. It's a shame that the critics smashed him for that play and for The Twilight of the Golds. I really enjoyed working with him and, of course, with Elizabeth Ashley. That was one of the main reasons why I wanted to do If Memory Serves. She was awesome! I sort of expected her to be a big diva, but she was nothing like that at all. She's a cool dame--no bullshit, very generous, just there to do her work.

TM: I went to see Followers a few weeks ago, after I read that you were in it.

SAM: Oh, God. I'm so sorry! It's embarrassing. Honestly, I don't know how that movie ever got made. John Flicker [the film's writer-director] is great, but there was just no money. You can't make a movie with no money! You know, we filmed it about five years ago, but it was unfinished. In fact, that's not me doing the narration; it's John's voice.

Another view of Trammell and Camargo
as Thomas Walsingham and Kit Marlowe
(Photo: Michael Daniel)
TM: Critics and audiences seem to love you in everything you do, no matter how successful or unsuccessful the project. I guess I'm surprised that you're not a bigger star by now.

SAM: In the theater, I think I definitely have a name and access to good projects. I also have pretty good access in television, but it's a hard row to hoe in film. I did get a couple of movie offers after Ah, Wilderness! I had the chance to do Liberty Heights with Barry Levinson, and DreamWorks offered me Love Letter, but I couldn't do either one because I had already committed to Trinity. That probably slowed down my film career a little. But I think things will be fine and it will all work out. I did a movie called Beat, with Kiefer Sutherland and Courtney Love, that hasn't come out yet. And I just played the lead in an indie that I think is going to be good.

TM: Neither of the TV series you were in lasted very long, but I enjoyed Maximum Bob.

SAM: I think that show was too good for TV--too edgy and strange, especially for ABC. If it was on Fox or something, maybe it would have run for a while.

TM: Ah, Wilderness! must have been such a heady experience for you. Looking back, what are your thoughts on that?

SAM: It seems like it was so long ago. But it was an incredible role. It's funny; I remember that, when I got it, I thought it was going to be such a chore. I was excited about getting it, but not about actually doing it. I guess I was scared. The first preview was the most scared I've ever been on stage. It ended up being fun, but there was a lot of work involved. The director, Dan Sullivan, is amazing; I would do any show with him. And the cast--Craig Nelson, Deb Monk, everybody else--was great.

TM: You really deserved the Tony. Tom Murphy was excellent in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, but that award should have had your name on it.

SAM: Thanks. I think it's hard to win a Tony for a play that's already closed. I was more than happy with the nomination.

TM: And are you generally happy with your career as it stands?

SAM: Everybody has a different path, you know? I've sort of chosen to stay in New York and do theater as opposed to being in L.A., where I would have more access to movies and television. And I've turned down some things that probably would have made me somewhat famous. I turned down the lead in the TV series Now and Again--the one about the 40-year-old guy whose brain is put into a young man's body. Maybe I should have done that. Who knows?

TM: One thing to your advantage is that you still come across as so young in performance.

SAM: I guess that doesn't hurt. Sometimes it's annoying, because you want to be able to play people your own age. But it is good to look young; I'm not going to complain about it.

TM: You'd better not! Can I ask how old you are?

SAM: Oh, I' know...[laughs]. I like to keep that a secret. But I'm older than the characters I usually play--let's put it that way!

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