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Interview with actor Michael Urie

6 March 2015 Laura Stevens

Calling from a freezing New York City, London Calling caught up with actor Michael Urie who is crossing the pond in March to perform his one man show, Buyer and Cellar. Famous for his role as Mark in Ugly Betty, this will be Urie’s London theatrical debut with a play about the mall in Barbra Streisand’s basement.

London Calling: So this sounds a bizarre story! Barbra Streisand has built a shopping mall in her basement? What was your first reaction to the tale?

Michael Urie: Well I was lucky enough to hear the story from the playwright before I read the play.

I sort of knew, but I didn’t know until John described it to me. So it’s actually a street of shops – it’s actually where she keeps her collections. It’s like a mall. She doesn’t call it a mall but that's what it looks like – where no one is allowed to go.

So he thought what if somebody worked down there? What if somebody worked down there and had one customer? What would that be like?

He made up this story about this guy who worked in this real place for this very real woman, and he imagined what it would be like for somebody who worked in Barbra Streisand’s private mall.

LC: How has it been performing a one-man show?

MU: Well yeah it’s hard. The rehearsal process was very, very hard to figure out how to make the play work. Once it was up and running it was actually quite fun.

It is extremely scary because the play is 100 minutes and it’s just me. Talking! And armed with this incredible story but I have to remember it, I have to say it so it’s a lot of pressure.

Every time you do it, it’s a completely new experience. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that there’s a new audience every night.

LC: How different will it be playing to a UK audience, rather than an American audience?

MU: It’s interesting I don’t really know! I imagine that there’ll be laughter in different places.

I may have to slow down a little bit.

But I feel like you guys are pretty smart – you can follow a fast talking American guy.

LC: Have you had Ugly Betty fans coming to see it? How have the demographics crossed over?

MU: I think a lot of Ugly Betty fans have found this play and maybe not known about it otherwise.

It’s very different to Ugly Betty, it’s a different medium. It’s totally different than television.

What was great about Ugly Betty was it was very funny and sometimes over the top but also very real, truthful, earnest. And I think Buyer and Cellar is that too – you know it’s real, really real.

In the case of Barbra Streisand you’ve got your own visual memory – assuming you know who she is. You’ve got your own ideas, you know what she sounds like, what she looks like.

LC: Has Barbra Streisand seen the show?

MU: I think the only way that she could see the show if it was a private performance with her best friends. I think she would quite like it if she saw it but I don’t think it would be fair for her to see it with other people. Because it’s so weird!

It’s not real, but it’s a story about you using all the facts all the public know about your life.

None of the stuff is made up, just the story is made up. Everything in it is Google-able. Except for the event of the play – the story about Alex and Barbra.

There’s nothing she can have a problem with, it’s the truth, but everybody laughs at her!

LC: So perhaps with a select audience?

MU: Then also it would not be fair to an audience – obviously a normal paying audience would love to see it with Barbra Streisand in the audience! But that’s not the play.

LC: Have you ever met Barbra Streisand?

MU: I have not met her and I think it would be really weird if I did. I don’t know how I would react if I did. I think I would be star struck and then beyond that very familiar. She would feel very familiar to me.

I don’t know how it would be – I would probably poop my pants!

Buyer and Cellar plays at Menier Chocolate Factory 12 March – 2 May. For more details visit their website.

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