Interview: Christian Jules LeBlanc of Young and the Restless on His Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Ruth Stage's production of the Tennessee Williams classic begins its off-Broadway run this month.
One of daytime drama's most popular actors for nearly 40 years, Christian Jules LeBlanc has won an astounding three Daytime Emmy Awards (and 12 total nominations) for his portrayal of lawyer and devoted father Michael Baldwin on CBS's The Young and the Restless.
Now, just weeks shy of his 64th birthday, LeBlanc is fulfilling a lifelong dream of playing a very different father: Big Daddy in Ruth Stage's limited-run production of Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Theatre at St. Clements.
TheaterMania recently spoke to LeBlanc about the importance of the role and his love of Williams, working with Tony Award nominee Alison Fraser, appearing onstage with the great Julie Harris, and what he really wants to do while living in New York.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Is it true doing a Tennessee Williams play was on your bucket list?
Although I wasn't born there, I consider New Orleans my home, as did Tennessee. I studied his work when I was at Tulane, and I ultimately did some scenes of his, many years later, at the Tennessee Williams Festival. But this is my first time doing a full-length Williams play, and I am so excited.
So how did this role come about?
They put out the role for auditions, and no one was more surprised than I was that I got a callback. I am not sure if they would have looked at me further if I didn't have gray in my hair, which happened during the pandemic. I am so happy about that in retrospect. I just had to accept that I'm a character actor now, not a leading man. Anyway, they sent me like half the script, and it was really hard to memorize all this dialogue while still doing Y&R.
Why go through so much trouble? Did you want to play Big Daddy that badly?
Yes, but more importantly, I knew the people at Ruth Stage wanted to create a more modern "Cat" than people are used to seeing. When they cast the show in the 1950s, it was such a different time. People back then were portrayed as unsexed; but now, it's clear Big Daddy is still looking for women and he's still dangerous. On top of my love for Williams, that's part of what made this such an attractive role for me.
You're also fascinated by the fact the play is about entire family who keeps secrets, right?
Many of us believe that you are the secret you keep; it's what makes you powerful and makes you dangerous. We all think our secrets are the worst. I love to do people's family trees, and when I did my own, I found out my grandmother was legally a slave, and my mother was Creole. It was a jolt to realize the women in my family had to keep their race a secret. And, of course, I kept my own secret about being gay and married to a man for over 20 years, even though my husband Sid had been out for years. As an actor, you want to control what people say about you. You want to disappear into your character. You think your fans don't need to know about your personal life.
This production was supposed to open in February. Tell me about what it was like finally starting rehearsals after so many delays?
On June 24, I presented at the Daytime Emmy Awards in California, and then I got on a plane next morning and came to New York City a mere two days before our first rehearsal. That rehearsal was the first time I met anyone from this production in person; I had been Zooming with everyone for so long. And it was so amazing to feel this whole new energy with this cast, especially since I've worked with the same people on daytime — who I love -- for so long. I feel like I've got new people to bat the ball around with, and that these people can make me a better actor.
Does that apply to Alison Fraser, who is your "Big Mama"?
Absolutely. Alison a joy, and she has such knowledge and energy for details. Just watching Alison negotiate blocking is a master class in craft and artistry. In fact, she'll sometime tweet in character. She is such a forceful Big Mama. I think we've untethered their relationship from what you've seen in previous versions, which has really helped me find my own take on Big Daddy.
You have a great story about another of your leading ladies, Julie Harris. Can you share it? Charles Nelson Reilly was my acting teacher when I first left Y&R in 1993. I wanted to get back into theater. In 1995, he directed me in a play with Julie called "Ladies in Retirement" at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida. On opening night, Julie gave me a card that listed all her leading men, and I was on the same list as Marlon Brando. That card got me through some bad years.
Other than doing the play, what's the best thing about finally being back in New York?
This time, I found a quiet apartment near Union Square, where I haven't lived before. One day when I was walking to rehearsal, I found the Harry Potter store (on Broadway and 21st Street). I'm a huge Harry Potter fan – I'm even working on my own children's book – so I went in and did some shopping. It's an amazing place! Anyway, now I take my elder wand to rehearsals, and I keep pointing at it our director, Joe Rosario, and I say to him, "Praise my acting!" Now, I just need to find time to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway before I head back to California.