Alex Brightman is sinking his teeth into his biggest Broadway role yet. The two-time Tony nominee plays Richard Dreyfuss in “The Shark Is Broken,” Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon’s new play set behind the scenes of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws.” Here, Brightman discusses what makes the show so fulfilling for him, his worst audition experience, and the deeply personal reason why he no longer meets fans at the stage door.
What performance should every actor see and why?
If you can [find a recording of it], there’s a play called “La Bête” [by David Hirson] that starred Mark Rylance, David Hyde Pierce, and Joanna Lumley, who I love—and, boy, is she good in it. It has one of the coolest performances from Mark Rylance I have ever seen—and that’s saying a lot. Everything he does is perfection, in my opinion. David Hyde Pierce is one of the best stage actors ever. It was just this wild, big, farcical [show]. Everything rhymes. It’s the type of thing you can only experience in a theater.
What’s your worst audition horror story?
I auditioned for “Glee” when it was originally coming out. In the middle of my audition, the casting director sneezed really loud. And it’s on tape, so they’re sending it to Hollywood. It totally took me out of the moment because I figured: Well, clearly, we’re not going to use that take. While [the CD] was wiping his nose, he was like, “Keep going.” So either it didn’t matter, or I definitely wasn’t going to get it. I left going, There’s no way they’re going to take this tape seriously.
Which role shaped you most as an actor?
This one [in] “The Shark Is Broken.” I remember having a very strange feeling that I could only put into these words: I’ve never felt more like an actor in my whole life. I felt listened to, I felt collaborated with, and I felt like everything I had to say held weight.
What do the best theater directors you’ve worked with have in common?
They enjoy actors who don’t ask for permission. They enjoy actors who make choices in a scene without saying, “I’m going to make a choice in this scene.” They are willing to hear from everybody—not just the leads and the ensemble, but the understudies as well. [I like] directors who are willing to be wrong. “Oh, yeah, that does work; you’re right,” is a very rare thing to hear in a room when a director is supposed to be the one you look to. And kindness—I don’t ever believe that discouragement gets the best performance out of somebody.
What’s one mistake you made in your career that you’ll never make again?
I gave every bit of myself to everybody for about the last 10 years. I gave everything to fans, to anyone who would stop me on the street, to a doorman, to a waiter, to my wife and family. I always put them on the same plane. Over the pandemic, I slowly but surely realized that I needed to get my priorities straight. The way I messed up there is that I made everybody a fan of mine. Your family and friends are not supposed to be your fans; I shouldn’t treat them that way. So I’m learning, still, how to really prioritize. It got me off social media. I don’t really do the stage door anymore, because it really got to me. It hurt me, and it was me doing that. I kept going back to it like some drug. I think I had kind of an overdose on it. That's something I never thought would happen; it's not something I ever told myself not to do. But it really surprised me how much that was hurting me.
This story originally appeared in the Sept. 7 issue of Backstage Magazine.