There’s more to Louis Hobson than prescription medication and firearms
Across 733 performances, Louis Hobson played the dual role of the Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine in the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical Next to Normal. In addition to out-of-town iterations, Hobson was one of two actors to stay with the show through its entire Broadway run. After a stint in the brief run of The People in the Picture last spring, the former Seattle theater star is currently chasing down Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes in Bonnie & Clyde as police officer Ted Hinton (closing December 30). Hobson sat down with Stage Rush to discuss firearms, the highest highs of Next to Normal, and the satisfaction level of supporting roles on Broadway.
Ted Hinton is an interesting role in that you’re kind of the bad guy. The audience doesn’t root for you, but you’re on the side of the law; you’re doing the right thing. Sounds like a difficult mindset to get into.
Our conversation from the first rehearsal was that there is no antagonist in this show. If you need to choose an antagonist, you can say it’s society or the circumstances that everyone’s in. I wanted to push Ted as close to the middle of that line between right and wrong. I think that Clyde falls on that line as well. To me, it’s more interesting that no one in the show is all good and no one is all bad.
What’s it like playing someone who actually lived?
Ted Hinton was the last surviving member of the group that brought Bonnie and Clyde down. Ted in the show is sort of a composite of several different people. What he needed to be for this story was a little different than what he was in real life. But it’s always nice to start with something that’s real.
Is it fun to play cops and robbers on Broadway?
It’s fun having a gun. It gives you so much power. Unfortunately, I don’t get to shoot mine. Ted is one of the few guys that doesn’t get to shoot his gun. We have these big-ass guns [during the shootout scene at the end], but they don’t actually fire; they’re prop guns. Everything in that scene is firing sound effects. I don’t get to fire a blank in the show, and… that’s alright. [mock disappointed voice]
The gunshots in the show are jarring for the audience. Is it still startling for you?
We jumped when we were first [firing the blanks]. These are real bullets; they just don’t have the metal tips that fire the projectile. We were playing around with a full load of gun powder, then a half load, a quarter, an eighth—all to test different volumes. I can live with this volume now; it was so loud at the beginning. I’ve gotten used to it. Every once in a while, I get that ringing in my ears. But it’s much worse for Jeremy and Laura.
VIDEO: Louis Hobson talks about acting opposite Tony winner Alice Ripley in Next to Normal
You get to sing this sweet song “You Can Do Better Than Him,” and then you get to belt in the reprise of “Raise A Little Hell.” Is it nice to get to sing both sides of the coin?
Being a theater singer, you always bend your voice to the will of the scene. I’ve never sung country music before. I bent my voice in that direction for “You Can Do Better.” For the reprise, we fiddled around with that a lot in rehearsal. I talked my way into the end of that. I thought it would be cool because it’s been a long time coming. Ted wants to get Clyde and he’s been saying that over and over again. To be able to work my way into that and get that nice open belt in there is emotionally satisfying.
You were amazing in Next to Normal and saw that show through so much, including its entire Broadway run. What was it like to stick with a long-running Broadway show from opening night to closing night?
It is rare. It was such a gift to be able to do that—to see replacements come and watch the show shift and change. Everybody was always invested in it. Nobody checked out at any point. My role [as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden] was such a listening role. I just sat and listened. I had to take in the other person and react accordingly. It was exciting, because most of the roles I’ve played over my career have been very active. To play a sit and listen role, it was very exposing. I felt like when I was first doing it that I had to do more. It’s a lesson in acting. The more you do a show, the more you realize you have to chip away. You take away the excess material. Not many people get to open and close a show on Broadway that’s successful.
What was your top Next to Normal moment?
Gosh, there were so many. I made my Broadway debut in that show. I was completely freaked out, because I had no idea what that was like. I think the first moment I realized I was making my Broadway debut was the moment at the end of the show where I walk up the stairs of the set and we’re all placed around the stage. I could see the audience through the slats of the stairs. I don’t like to look out at the audience, if I can help it. During Next to Normal especially, because it wasn’t a show that was performed out [to the audience], for me, anyway. There were so many great moments. There were moments stacked upon moments. It was almost too much. When we found out we got the Pulitzer, when the Tony nominations came out. Not really understanding how amazing the show you’re in is until you’re done and you realize not every show’s like this. Not every show has the best producer, the best director, the best writers, the best cast. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
You acted opposite Alice Ripley in some of her most vulnerable scenes. What was she like as a scene partner?
She’s the most exciting person to be with on stage because she’s so dangerous. She never follows the plan. I think that’s one of the great lessons I’ve learned about acting and I’ve learned a lot of it from her. You’re scared, especially in your first Broadway show. You’re trying to do everything perfect. You’re trying to do it as written and on the page. Then you realize that the words are just the tip of the iceberg, especially in that show. There was so much internal life in her. She was in it from the first performance to the last. She never phoned it in. It was amazing to watch.
You made the jump from Seattle theater to Broadway. What’s been the toughest part about it?
I’ve been blessed since I’ve been here. Before Next to Normal closed, I booked The People in the Picture, which ended up kind of being a disappointment. But it had a wonderful cast and it was a great experience in a lot of ways. When that was finished, I went back to Seattle for a few weeks on vacation and literally walked back into this city and booked Bonnie & Clyde. I haven’t had difficulty in that regard since I’ve been here. I said to my wife while doing this show that I don’t know how many more of these I have in me. To originate a role and to do all the work it takes to get a show up. And I had just joined Bonnie & Clyde; most people have been with it for years. To get a show, open it, having all those variables come together at the last minute under that time and pressure to make a show—all that crams together and you end up with something that, hopefully, means something. It’s so much energy. It’s so hard on your body, your soul, your mind. I have kids and a wife; to balance all those things has been the hardest part. I have always said that I would keep on doing this as long as I was committed to it. I never want to be one of those actors that comes in and treats it like a job, just punches the clock. If I stop investing 100 percent of myself into this while I’m here, then I should just stop.
Do you feel the supporting roles you’ve played so far on Broadway have been enough for you, creatively?
Yes and no. They’ve afforded me the ability to do other things. If I was playing a really big role, I wouldn’t be doing other things that I’m passionate about. I take an acting class once a week at Michael Howard Studios. I have time with my family. I’m co-producing a new musical this month, as sort of an outgrowth of the other things I think I’m good at. It’s afforded me the ability to do that. But yes, I would like to have a crack at something larger. I think that I’m good at playing a big role. It’s easier for me in a lot of ways, because you’re on stage the whole time and you don’t have all that time off stage when you have to keep focused. I would like to do bigger roles. I came here to win a Tony; I didn’t come here to just work on Broadway. Which is a gift unto itself, but I want to play something juicy.
What do you think of Louis Hobson’s story, Rushers? Have you caught him in Bonnie & Clyde? Were you taken by his performance in Next to Normal? What kind of roles on Broadway would you like to see him play? Do you think he’ll make the jump from supporting character to lead soon? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and tune into this week’s episode of Stage Rush TV to see more of our interview with Hobson.