It's hot, sexy, man-on-shark action for Michael Arden and Logan Marshall-Green in Swimming in the Shallows.
Swimming in the Shallows is a rather surreal comedy by Adam Bock in which Logan plays a shark -- literally. For much of the show, the young actor is clad in nothing more than a skimpy Speedo and a strap-on dorsal fin, which should please the many fans he's earned from his appearances on both The O.C. and 24. (Click here for a review of the show, with photo!) After Logan and I repair to the lobby of the theater for our interview, I start with the obvious question: Given the bad publicity that sharks have received in recent weeks after several attacks in Florida, has he hired a publicist for spin purposes? "There's no such thing as bad publicity for sharks," he replies. "Hey, you swim in the water, prepare to get bitten."
During the course of the play, his character becomes involved in a hot, sexy, man-on-shark romance with Nick, played by Michael Arden. Logan has said that he observed the movement of actual sharks to help him with his portrayal, but did he also observe shark-like people? "I guess I modeled him after myself first, then I moved on," he says. "That's how I model any role. The shark becomes more human throughout the play, so I tried to find rhythms that were parallel to human rhythms. Sharks are dangerous in their own way, but someone who jumps from man to man in a club might be just as dangerous as a shark who eats people. The play is about taking risks. To the shark, swimming in the shallows means getting closer to people somehow and then trying to restrain himself. I think that can be said for gay men who are either out or in; it can be very tough to be gay, even though it's gotten easier over the years." (For the record, Logan is not gay, "but one of my father figures when I was growing up was gay and many of my friends are.")Logan has a strong commitment to the theater: He gained praise for his Off-Broadway performance in Neil LaBute's The Distance From Here in 2004 and, soon after Swimming in the Shallows closes, he will head up to the Williamstown Theatre Festival to star as the id-rampant cowboy Bo Decker in William Inge's Bus Stop. "I enjoy TV and film," he tells me, "but I'm trained in theater and I just love live performance. I'd rather be poor and doing theater than rich and not doing it. I need to be on stage. I think it all has to do with responsibility. In theater, the show comes down on the actors' shoulders every night. Actually, the responsibility starts in rehearsal when you're finding, searching, exploring. You don't get that in film or TV; you get quick rehearsals for blocking scenes but you really have to have already done your homework before you come in.
"Both my mom and my dad were teachers, directors, actors," says Logan, who is an MFA graduate of NYU/Tisch. "My mom has been teaching theater at Brown University for almost 20 years now, and a lot of my family are teachers. So it was very important for me to get an MFA and seek out as much training as possible, to set up a foundation of learning for the rest of my career." Asked about his hyphenated last name, he says: "I'm a stickler about it, and not because I'm one of those pretentious actors. My mom brought me up and she wasn't going to have my name be Logan Green, which is my father's name. She wanted her name involved as well. Her name is Lowry Marshall."
Logan is in two upcoming movies, Alchemy and The Great Raid, but what he's most looking forward to is Bus Stop in Williamstown. "I can't wait to get on that bus and then get off at the diner," he jokes in a reference to the play's setting. "I'm so excited to be working up there again. I came up at Williamstown as a non-Equity festival member for four years; I started at the bottom of the totem pole, picking up butts as an apprentice. I was in Turn of the Screw there and I eventually did some small roles in shows on the mainstage. I haven't seen the new theater, but I hear it's fantastic."
Meanwhile, he enjoys Swimming in the Shallows and loves working with Michael Arden, whom he describes as "a treat. He's a flirt, and I love him for it. He's so with me. I've never seen him check out in rehearsal or onstage. Just a great guy."
********************Unlike his co-star in Swimming in the Shallows, Michael Arden doesn't have any film or TV credits as of yet, but he's been very busy with other pursuits. Though he trained in the drama division of the prestigious Juilliard School, he has demonstrated great talent as a composer and as a musical theater performer in Bare Off-Broadway, Pippin at the Manhattan Center (a benefit concert for the National AIDS Fund and The Storm Theatre) and in Los Angeles (a Reprise! series presentation), and on Broadway in the Deaf West Theatre/Roundabout production of Big River.
"The last straight play I did was probably at Juilliard," he says, struggling a bit to remember. "I did a couple of straight plays in Williamstown, a workshop of a Christopher Durang play at the Public, and I've done a lot of readings of plays. But, for the past few years, it's been mostly musicals for me." Did he work with Logan Marshall-Green at Williamstown? "No, we missed each other by a year, but I would always hear his name. His reputation preceded him! He's great, but I feel silly because I've never seen any of his TV work. He has quite a following because of it. We all went out to dinner the other night and I saw a group of teenagers trying to take his picture with their cell phones. It was fun to watch!"
Michael feels that Swimming in the Shallows is about loneliness: "That's the reason why the Shark and Nick connect; they're both lonely in their own way. Nick sleeps with people before he gets a chance to know them, and the shark eats people. I love it that the play has a happy ending. It gives me a lot of peace, unlike the endings of Pippin and Bare, which are emotional nightmares! The finale of Pippin really hits home for me -- and to have Ben Vereen [in the New York concert] was amazing. We had started the final rehearsal and I didn't realize he was there yet. At one point, I just turned around onstage and there was Ben Vereen. I'll never forget that. Doing the show in L.A. was a blast, too; Sam Harris was great as the Leading Player."
The way Michael views his situation, "having many interests is a blessing but also sort of problematic. If there are several different things you love to do, it's about putting all these pots on the fire and then moving them around. When I was working on the reading of my musical Easter Rising at Joe's Pub, I was also doing Pippin and a workshop of 110 in the Shade for the Roundabout. I tend to overload myself like that; I hope to get to a place where I'm able to focus more. Maybe, at some point, I might decide that I don't want to act for awhile, but I don't want to make that decision right now. If I'm lucky enough to get work, I'll take it. I'll soak it all up and use it when I write between the hours of three and five in the morning."
Michael had a traumatic experience when the planned commercial transfer of Bare to Dodger Stages was abruptly canceled due to lack of funds, leaving the cast and company high and dry. "We never got any real answers about what happened," he says. "The money wasn't there that was supposed to be there. It was a terrible situation. Damon [Intrabartolo, the show's composer] had begun working on the album, but that never happened either. It's on some computer hard drive somewhere. As a writer, that's the worst thing I can imagine: working on a show for so long and then having it canceled. It was terrible for the actors, too."A much happier memory is Big River, in which Michael played Tom Sawyer. He learned to sign especially for the show ("I'm pretty fluent now") and had a great time working with the deaf actor Tyrone Giordano, who earned tremendous praise for his performance as Huckleberry Finn. He notes that "Ty's about to be in this great movie" titled The Family Stone, with a cast including Claire Danes, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, and Diane Keaton. "He's going to be a big star. We'll see if he keeps responding to my e-mails!"
After Swimming in the Shallows, Michael has some delicious things on his plate: "I'm going to be singing in a Rosemary Clooney tribute at Carnegie Hall in October with people like Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli. I mean, I should be working as a cater-waiter at this event, but they told me I can choose whatever Clooney song I want to sing -- so long as, you know, Bette doesn't want it!" Even more excitingly, he is pretty much set for a major role in the as-yet-untitled Twyla Tharp/Bob Dylan show that's scheduled to begin performances at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre in January 2006.
But for now, through July 17, he's in the enviable position of making out with Logan Marshall-Green on stage seven times a week and actually getting paid for it. "There are some details of the love scene in the stage directions, so we knew it was coming," Michael says. "Touching his fin while I'm kissing him was my idea. I give him a fin job! Logan is so spontaneous every night, so fresh and so alive. It's very exciting."