Interviews

Interview: Will Brill Taps Into Personal Experience for Broadway’s Stereophonic

Brill, a Tony nominee, discusses how his past experiences have led him to this difficult role.

Will Brill has had a career that most actors envy: always working on stage and screen, stealing scenes, and making it all look easy. Even he admits that his dreamy resume — which launched a decade ago with David Cromer’s off-Broadway productions of Our Town and Tribes, and also includes Daniel Fish’s sexy Oklahoma! (as Ali Hakim), Samuel D. Hunter’s play A Case for the Existence of God, TV’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (as her her scientist brother) and Fellow Travelers (as Roy Cohn), and now David Adjmi’s Stereophonic, is almost too good to be true.

In Stereophonic, Brill plays Reg, a member of an up-and-coming rock band in the 1970s who battles addiction and personality conflicts with fellow bandmates during their quest to record their latest album. Brill is a Tony nominee for his performance, one that is inspired more from his real-life experiences than the average viewer might realize.

363 Chris Stack and Will Brill in STEREOPHONIC Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Chris Stack and Will Brill in the Broadway production of Stereophonic
(© Julieta Cervantes)

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

How are you holding up?
It’s crazy. I’ve been in Broadway shows around Tony time before, but Oklahoma! was all about supporting Ali Stroker, and Ali needs no support from anyone. She’s a one-woman show. She can do everything. This is a different beast.

You’ve had a pretty crazy past few years.
Dude, it’s been a ride. Case for the Existence of God came up, initially, in November 2019, and that was already so cosmic because I was getting a divorce at the time, and the character is getting a divorce, and I was working with David Cromer for the first time in 10 years, and I was working with Kyle Beltran [Brill’s college roommate].

The cosmic-ness of that show was so intense, and then it was drawn out for two years before we got to do it. And within a day of each other, Kyle and I booked huge TV jobs. He got this serious recurring role on a show, and I booked Roy Cohn on Fellow Travelers, which was the dreamiest TV job I’ve ever done in my life.

While I was filming Fellow Travelers, I ran into Julia Chan in Toronto, and she was like “We should do Vanya together.” The first thing I did when I came back was hang out with Cromer over New Year’s, and I was like “Would you want to read Uncle Vanya together?” And he was like “Do I get to play Vanya?” And I was like “Hell yeah, dude.” Within four months, we were wheels up on a production of that, and it was such a hit that we did an extra run of it, which overlapped by two weeks with Stereophonic at Playwrights Horizons. So, it’s been nonstop.

How hard was it for you to build a Roy Cohn of your own in Fellow Travelers that didn’t feel like you were giving an Al Pacino or Nathan Lane or Frank Wood impression?
Oh, impossible. I saw Frank Wood play him at Signature, and he’s kind of the quintessential Roy Cohn for me. He looks the most like Roy Cohn of anybody who else I’ve seen do it. That production of Angels in America had some deeply special performances in it. I’ll never forget the scene between Zachary Quinto and Billy Porter. You could not have two people who were more suited to those roles.

I sat in front of Tony Kushner when I saw that production.
Really!? He was two rows in front of me sitting on the stairs watching it when I saw it. It was so cool. I think I was either in Our Town or I had just finished in Our Town. That was a crazy time. I bought a one-way ticket to go home because I had run out of money, because I was making $200 a week at Our Town. And then I booked this David Chase movie [Not Fade Away] that was an amazing experience that nobody ever saw; the only other time that I’ve been in a fictional band, actually. But I was spending all my money in those days on booze, cigarettes, and theater tickets. Because when you’re 23, 24 years old —

You’re invincible.
You’re literally invincible. A year after that, I would be in Tribes off-Broadway and sleeping under my best friend’s kitchen table for a month.

L to R Mare Winningham Jeff Perry Susan Pourfar Gayle Rankin Russell Harvard and Will Brill in the NY premiere of Nina Raine’s TRIBES at Barrow Street Theatre directed by David Cromer.
Mare Winningham, Jeff Perry, Susan Pourfar, Gayle Rankin, Russell Harvard, and Will Brill in the Barrow Street Theatre production of Nina Raine’s Tribes
(© Gregory Costanzo)

I was just talking about Tribes with someone. Talk about a lifetime ago.
It really was. There were huge generational jumps between cast members, but we were all kind of in somewhat perilous moments in our lives. I’ve gotten sober, married, and divorced in that time. And now, me, Susie Pourfar [in Mary Jane], and Gayle Rankin [in Cabaret] are all on Broadway. It’s crazy. But that show — Case for the Existence of God was such a gift. Stereophonic is such a gift. But there will never be another Tribes. That show was so magical.

And Stereophonic is toast of the town.
David Adjmi keeps shirking responsibility for that. He’s like, “it’s not me, it’s the play. The play has a mind of its own.”

But he wrote the play.
Yeah. I mean, he is the play. It’s an autobiography that he just put in a different time period and spread over seven people. It’s wild. They auditioned, like, thousands of people for it. They made offers to celebrities who turned it down. He really says that the play chose the people who would be in it, and the play chose to go to Broadway, and the play has chosen to get these award nominations. I was like “Homie, you won two awards today, the Outer Critics and the New York Critics, which is all the critics,” and he was like “I’m literally shaking. I don’t know how to put my body back together.”

I might get a little emotional talking about this. I asked him what it feels like to be in this moment, and he was like, “I’ve always sort of lived like life is something to be endured. We make art to endure it.” And he’s having so much fun working on this play that this is the first time in his life that he’s really allowed himself to enjoy the ride he’s on and to look toward the future. I am so moved to be part of that experience with him.

Did you get it from night one?
To be totally frank with you, I have had a harder time than a lot of the cast. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences, and this show was really a job for a long time. It was not an easy meshing of personalities. It was the most difficult rehearsal process I’ve ever had. It was one of the rare times where I didn’t know anybody well.

Like I said, I got sober and divorced, and reliving that experience very publicly night after night was really hard. My girlfriend is the one who encouraged me to do the play in the first place. I was really trepidatious about it. Once performances started, it became one of the transcendent experiences of my life.

Do you think about what happens to the characters after the play ends?
Yeah, and it changes. On any given night, Reg is still trying to get back together with Holly. On other nights, he’s living in the consequence that he’ll never be with her again. On other nights, they’re secretly back together and not telling anybody. Tom Pecinka told me there was one night where, at the end of his fight with Diana, Peter walks out and blows his brains out, which I had never considered. There’s a world in which the next album that Grover does is a terrible flop, and he has to change careers, and there’s another world in which Grover is the most successful of anybody on stage.

Why do you think this play inspires such devotion?
David’s been writing this play for 10 years. Justin Craig, our musical director, Ryan Rumery, our sound designer, David Zinn, who made the set, Will Butler, who wrote the songs, and Daniel Aukin, who directed it, have all been in on it for 10 years. It’s a labor of love. Nobody was paying them at that point. You had six brains percolating on it.

And there’s this adage about art, if you want it to be universal, you make it specific. It’s not just that David took a very recognizable outline of a band in the 1970s, it’s that he used them as mouthpieces for his own extremely personal experience. I think he’s showing that the richness of a single human experience is so multitudinous that it can’t even be contained. I will never stop being in awe of how David put it all together.

2024 05 02 TM Tony Awards Meet the Nominees 169
Will Brill
(© Tricia Baron)

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Stereophonic

Final performance: January 5, 2025

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