Our newest entrants into the series are Chaplin stars Rob McClure and Jenn Colella, who originated their roles of film legend Charlie Chaplin and vicious gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in 2010 at the La Jolla Playhouse. The delightful pair of on-stage enemies and real life pals give us the dirt on bitchery, bathroom breaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the creepiest stage door present ever.
Names: Rob McClure, Jenn Colella
Roles/Show: Charlie Chaplin, Hedda Hopper/Chaplin
1. What is your favorite line that you delivered?
Rob: ‘It is wonderful, oh yes, how wonderful you feel when the life that you wish for becomes real.’ That line has made me cry since we did the show two and a half years ago. It just kicks my butt in terms of my journey with the show.
Jenn: I had to make myself like saying ‘I’m Hedda Hopper. No one interviews him before I do!’ It’s such a twirly, twisty moustache moment that I just had to make myself love, because who speaks like that?
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. So tell us…
a. What’s the best one from your show?
b. Since there probably is one, what’s the punch line of your cast’s most unprintable inside joke?
a) Rob: There was a performance in La Jolla where Jenn Colella was supposed to sing ‘What’cha gonna do when the country says now get yourself outta here,’ and she sang the word ‘Muntry,’ rolled her eyes at herself, and moved on. But now we all hear ‘Muntry’ every night, to the point where, on her birthday, she was singing that line and there were a bunch of girls in the wings with a sign that said ‘Muntry.’
Jenn: There’s a voice inside my head saying ‘Don’t say Muntry,’ every single night.
b) Rob: She choked!
3. What was the most “interesting” present someone gave you at the stage door?
Rob: We had a lovely girl draw a picture of sad Charlie Chaplin with gears in his head. She saw the show once and, two days later, had drawn that. The fact that our show inspired something that she could give back to us, that so had the spirit of our show in it, was so astounding to me.
And then, I also was privy to receive an anonymous homoerotic adventure [titled The Little Tramp Finds His Big Daddy] starring me and some ‘creep dog millionaire.’ It’s three pages long, with no return address, and horrifying. Whoever wrote this to me, I don’t want them to have any satisfaction in it, because it’s creepy. It is a disgusting and violating erotic short story.
Jenn: I haven’t received anything creepy like that. I get flowers, and I love having fresh flowers in my dressing room, so that’s always welcome. Today, I got a really sweet letter where one of my fans just gave me her entire resume and where she was and what she likes, and I just think it’s so sweet that they want us to know who they are in the world.
4. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can’t say your family!)
Rob: One of the reasons I got into musical theater was Anthony Warlow. I was obsessed with the Jekyll and Hyde concept album because of him. I went out to lunch with our producers and shared that he was a huge influence on me, so unbeknownst to me, he was invited to our opening and was waiting in my dressing room when I came back, so I had a bit of a heart attack then.
Jenn: Pacino. That’s a cool f**king cat to come see our show.
Rob: And then there was the night that Netanyahu used our bathroom downstairs so he wouldn’t have to use the one in the lobby.
5. What is your favorite Charlie Chaplin film and why?
Rob: City Lights. It is hysterically funny and the most romantic film of all time. Also, it was brave to do a silent movie 12 years after had talkies been around. It makes me cry the most out of all of them in the end.
Jenn: Mine’s The Kid. It was the first Chaplin film I saw when I was a kid, and I remember stopping in my tracks when I saw the connection between him and Jackie Coogan. It touched me and still does. What Rob and little Zach Unger have created in the show really honors that connection.
6. What was the most interesting real-life factoid you learned about your characters in this process?
Jenn: I have a favorite quote of Hedda’s that was in her biography, From Under My Hat. Somebody asked her why she’s so vicious to people and she replied ‘Bitchery, dear. Sheer bitchery.’ I just love that she knew she was such an asshole. That helped fuel what I was doing.
Rob: When Chaplin’s mother was first locked in the insane asylum, his father was already long gone, and Sidney, his older brother, was in the Navy for four years. So, from the ages of 9 to 12, Chaplin was not only homeless, but alone. Any choice I make in act two, where Chaplin gets a little darker than I am, that’s what I can point to and go, ‘Of course he’s making different choices than you because you didn’t go through that.’ That realization informed the rest of my show in a way I couldn’t have imagined. The resentment towards his brother and mother made so much more sense because of that.
7. Every show has material that gets cut, and every cut is heartbreaking. What was the saddest thing to lose?
Rob: It was an actor by the name of Bill Youmans, who played Older Charlie. He would open the show, and then during the song “Where Are All The People?,” we would sing together and he would take over the last section of the show. Through previews in La Jolla, we were discovering it was difficult to get the audience to care about more than one actor playing the same guy. Bill was wonderfully gracious and knew that it was happening, and supported the decision, but he was astounding in the role, and I hope he knows how much I’ve stolen from him. I’m playing Charlie Chaplin, but for the last eighth of the show, I’m largely playing Bill Youmans playing Charlie Chaplin, because my choices were plucked right from him. He’s a great actor.
Jenn: We used to have a scene where finally Hedda and Charlie were face-to-face. You gotta get Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the same room together, and I still miss that scene, even though it was a tiny little something.
8. Jenn, if Hedda Hopper were alive today, where would she be reporting?
Jenn: I think she’d be sad and alone and drinking scotch with her eighteen cats, trying to bring back the power of the pen. Maybe she’d be a vicious blogger, or on Dancing with the Stars, paired up with Perez Hilton.
9. Rob, if Charlie Chaplin were alive today, what movie would he be most impressed by?
Rob: Certainly The Artist. He would be thrilled that someone trusted the silent film medium again. But I think he’d be a huge Pixar fan, because Pixar finds a way to make me laugh the entire movie, and then kicks my ass at the end every time. I would say that Pixar is doing for animation what Chaplin did for film, infusing it with heart and characters that you care about, and stories that you lose yourself in. They are similar revolutionaries and changing a medium.
10. If your characters were alive today, what would you say to them?
Jenn: “Lighten up!”
Rob: It sounds so cliché, but I’d say “thank you.” The idea that this show started with someone being homeless and alone at nine, and that we’re here now as a result of what he did a century ago, is mind boggling.