Interview: Caesar Samayoa On the Intimate Process of Los Otros and Saying Goodbye to Come From Away
For nearly a decade, actor Caesar Samayoa has been part of the family of Broadway's Come From Away. Only a few months before the production was scheduled to close at the Schoenfeld Theatre, Samayoa played his final performance in the ensemble piece to go onto a much more intimate musical: Michael John LaChiusa and Ellen Fitzhugh's Los Otros at the A.R.T./New York Theatre off-Broadway. Samayoa stars in the two-hander alongside Luba Mason; they play two very different people whose lives are connected in a mysterious way.
Here, Samayoa talks about the surprises in going from a big Broadway musical to a small off-Broadway one, and what it's like to say farewell to his "Islander" home after all these years.
What is it like for you to sing Michael John LaChiusa's music? Is it difficult? Rewarding? How long did it take for you to learn this score?
This score is one of the most thrilling pieces I've learned. I've always been a Michael John LaChiusa fan, and being able to work with him so intimately on a piece like this has been a dream. Our paths crossed way back at one of my first auditions in New York, and when I walked into the room the first day, he brought it up, saying, "I knew we would work together!" I was so flattered. Anyone immersed in his music knows that these are not easy scores to learn. It must be in your bones. You soar with his music. It's immensely satisfying. We only had a three-week rehearsal process — not the optimal amount of time for a piece like this — but it has also allowed Luba and me to keep growing and discovering long after opening night. Watching Luba nightly is a masterclass in storytelling.
As a performer, did going from an ensemble piece like Come From Away directly to an intimate two-character chamber piece where you're alone for most of the time take a while to get used to?
Los Otros really is two one-person shows. I always heard performers who did one-person shows say that it's a pretty lonely experience, and it's true. At a show like Come From Away, you are constantly surrounded by a company that becomes family. But there's something very centering about going into a chamber piece like Los Otros. You have no choice but to stay present, simplify, and feel gratitude for being able to explore a character so thoroughly. My character ages from four to late-70s. And you as the actor are the only thing that's telling it. No big sets, no multiple costumes. Just you and what your life brings to the piece. It has been an extraordinary "next step" after Come From Away and highly satisfying to be a part of.
How did you build your character's bond with Luba Mason? Had you worked together before?
I don't want to give too much away, but our characters only join towards the end of the piece. I watch Luba's brilliant performance nightly and find the moment we meet so satisfying. It's a beautifully simple and human story. When you work with someone like Luba, you can simply show up, listen and explore. I've fallen in love with our character's relationship and look forward to it nightly. We've never worked together before, but I hope it's the beginning of many future projects.
What was your way into the character you play in Los Otros? What kind of research, if any, did you do to help you build the role?
I deeply relate to Carlos's immigrant story of assimilation, belonging, realizing racism for the first time, being an "other," and finally accepting and honoring who he is and where he comes from. I think many immigrants can look at these stories and see themselves or their family members clearly in them. So it all felt very natural to me. Much more than many other characters I've played. I love that I have the opportunity to raise this story up and bring it to light. I feel a responsibility to my community to share our history and authentic experiences in this country as much as possible. Simply and honestly.
Was there a kind of "grieving process" that you discovered yourself going through after you played your final performance in Come From Away, having done that show for so long?
My final performance was a day I will never forget. Come From Away was a life-changing experience. But there is something very unique to that show that I've found. Come From Away has a beautiful way of welcoming you into the family for life. It sounds exaggerated, but it's true! There are days I miss telling the story, the community, and the incredible audiences, but I carry that story and its message in my heart. I always will, and we'll always be, Islanders.