I interviewed Sean Grandillo, an actor, singer, and musician, known for his role as the Voice of Otto in the 2015 Broadway revival of Spring Awakening, and as Eli Hudson in MTV’s horror series, Scream.
You started off playing your bass and then going into theater, right? Yes.
What made you want to get into theater and start that? Well, I liked performing. I was in bands and stuff and my band broke up and once it did, I wanted an outlet to continue performing for people. So there was a theater school that kids in my high school could audition for, and then if you got in, you would go half the day instead of taking your high school classes.
That is awesome. Yes. Part of my slackery was like “yo, I want to get out of half my classes,” and part of me was well, I will try this. I don’t know what it is, but I did, and was very bad for the first good chunk of time there, but slowly sort of found I might have some natural ability for this that I can cultivate, and that is how theater started for me. That was my junior year of high school.
I was going to say, you started going into theater later. Yes. Seventeen was my first show.
You saw an actual performance then? No. My first show that I saw was Spring Awakening and I think I was 14.
Was Kimiko in it when you saw it? I think so, yes. I don’t have the Playbill to make sure and she missed a little while on the tour because she broke her foot, but I think she was in it, which is so crazy.
That is cool. Yes, and so is Ben Fankhauser was in it also who is from the town near where I am from.
He is from Newsies. Yes, and Andy. And Andy [Mientus] was in it which is the weirdest full circle.
He was playing the same part he played with Deaf West’s Spring Awakening? Yes. So that show is very sort of incestuous and weird and definitely part of my life even before I knew it was.
That is really cool. Spring Awakening, tell me about that. What was that like for you and also with the sign language? Yes. So whenever anyone talks about sign, I start to do it but I will sit on my hands because it’s obnoxious.
No, it’s cool. I like watching people sign. Thank you. It was amazing for so many reasons. Really, I think about it now – it was this thing on Backstage which is like the online thing where they post all the auditions, and it was just this random audition that I saw when I was at home in Ohio. It was summer from Ithaca and it didn’t pay anything, but they needed people who played instruments, and I sent a video actually playing piano and singing John Legend, just randomly. I didn’t think I would get in and it was in LA. I didn’t know if I would move. Weirdly, that summer actually I was already rehearsing to play Romeo in Romeo & Juliet at Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, so I was really thinking it was not going to be a thing — and then I got it. I remember I was such a fan of Michael’s –
From the piano? Yes, from that video – well, they saw on my resume that I played bass, and clearly they already had Daniel to play the piano, so they needed a bassist. They were like, send us a video of you playing bass. I did that, and I have these videos on private on my YouTube account that I watch sometimes. I am like, G-d, thank G-d, they looked past the rough edges. It’s really – I think someday I will be brave enough to release them and people will be –
Yes, release them. I think I will. Eventually. I am just a little bashful about it still. Okay. So that’s how I got there. Sorry. Very long-winded answer about Spring Awakening.
No, that’s a good answer. It really started everything for me because I moved to LA for that.
So you took off from school? Yes. Well, originally we get a semester abroad at Ithaca, and instead of going to London that year, I was like, I am going to do Spring Awakening this semester and thought, you know, I probably wouldn’t go back but if it didn’t pan out, that was always an option.
But Spring Awakening grew and came to Broadway. Yes. So we knew it was going to have a regional production, and next in the spring I was like, I will get my Equity Card, which is such a challenge, and then a month after we closed, that second production went onto Broadway. I remember I had lived in New York because I moved here to hang out with Kimiko because she was shooting Orange is the New Black. Kimiko and I lived here five days before I got the email that I was going to be on Broadway. I am really spoiled.
That is awesome. Yes. I didn’t have to move. I am sort of waiting for my luck to run out a bit because it was five days I had to live in New York and grind before I got that e-mail.
What was the hardest part about sharing your character (because you had to share the voice of Otto)? Well, that was so cool. I think why it felt – I don’t know because sharing characters is a weird thing. You almost think, I want the whole thing, but we got to play the music, so we were doing double duty as well.
And you were the conductor. Right. Which was – I don’t know how that happened and I am so grateful that it did.
Was it your first time doing something like that? Yes. Like I had been in an orchestra before and I sort of – in the first production, the bass is a very rhythmic foundation, so I helped keep everyone together before it was even official. And then what really happened and I got to admit legally — a musical must employ a conductor, and there was no room for one. We didn’t have a pit, as you know, so they had to employ someone, and I was sort of doing it, so it was really like happenstance and benefited me in a lot of ways that I got that job title as well.
Because when you were at 54 Below in Purple Summer, you were not doing any of the sign language. Right, because I didn’t learn it, because I was doing this.
You don’t know any signs for the songs? You know, I know a few that I picked up, but sadly I don’t really know the signs for the songs very well. You know, I learned conversational sign language, which is amazing, but when everybody does the choreography and is having a good old time, I was like, well, I can play you the whole score.
So now you are on a TV show Scream? Yes.
Tell me about that. It’s been really cool. One thing I like about living in New York versus LA is how for a lot of the TV stuff, you can do a self-tape. Like I tape at in my apartment with Kimiko and send it to casting in LA and they take that very seriously, like that can literally get you a job.
It’s really cool how that works. It is. In theater it works less so, because I think theater is more about your energy in the room. And that’s another reason I like being here, because I can go to theater stuff here and I still feel like I have access to that stuff through self-tape.
You always fly back and forth? Yes. I was flying a lot to New Orleans, where we film, because they didn’t keep me down there, which I was grateful for too when I would go back and forth for Scream. I literally flew like 20 times. It was crazy.
Did you film third season yet? So we don’t know about a third season yet. We haven’t found out if we got picked up or not, so we are still waiting on that, but we filmed season two and weirdly we were still filming it when it started coming out, which was sort of a weird cool thing, but I got that through a self tape. During Spring Awakening actually, I got lucky that I had my next job lined up, which is not the norm, and now I am sort of done with that job and in the more normal in‑between process, and learning to live in that and enjoy the downtime so –
It’s fun. It is fun because we can do stuff like this and spend the time with my dog.
Do you have a dream role that you want to do on Broadway? You know, yes. Really quick. I was going to apologize when you did your Twitter thing, “ask Sean questions.” I feel like maybe you got flooded with Scream questions. I am glad there are some Broadway questions.
I didn’t take all of them and some are actually mine – one person wrote like a million questions. Yes, it was just, breathe. Everyone is very enthusiastic on Twitter.
Dream role on Broadway? I really want to do plays on Broadway. That’s like my dream. There is something about – like, I love musicals obviously, and I would do anything on Broadway because it’s so hard to get a job, and I was thinking about it this way. There are only, I think, 40 Broadway theaters. If every show had 20 actors in it, let’s say, which is more than a lot of them have, that’s only like 800 jobs ever in the world ever on Broadway ever, out of the billions of people. So first of all–
You are lucky you got into one. Yes. It’s crazy anyone ever gets one statistically. So that’s why a dream role – I mean, to be on Broadway ever is a dream again, and like really having done it once is such a cool thing, but it also really makes you want to do it again. So I want to do plays, ultimately. I would love to do new plays.
You said you were Romeo? Yes. I mean, I would do that. I do like Shakespeare. It’s challenging but I really do – I would do, like, anything. I would love to play Romeo on Broadway.
You made your Broadway debut, and Kimiko made it in the same theater. What was that like, both making your Broadway debut in the same theater? Well, I mean, Kimiko is so awesome and I have learned so much from her, because I met her when she was already doing this huge TV show. She had so much experience, and I am really grateful to her for all of that, and it sort of amazed me she had never been on Broadway even though I just said how impossible it is, because she had been living in New York for like five, six years. So she did the Spring Awakening tour with Andy, then moved here, and was here auditioning, did some things, did some stuff regionally and then –
– Orange is the New Black. Yes. Well, what’s so crazy about that too is that it really defines her, but before that, she was really this musical theater girl who was auditioning and trying to find her way, and that’s one thing I think about too. You never know if it takes two months or five years, and then you can get a job like Orange is the New Black, and that changed her life probably forever.
Because it’s a big TV show.
Yes, and people yell at her on the street now. It’s really surreal. I feel I have seen that side of things, and it’s really valuable, to see how to stay human in it and the things it does change and the things it doesn’t. Anyway, so she’s making her Broadway debut in Waitress, and we always were joking that her show was kicking our show out even though we had a limited run. It was really amazing and to see her, and I sat with her parents. I actually met her parents on her opening night. So sitting with them, kind of nervous for the show, and nervous because I hope I make a good impression.
That was your first time seeing her show? We saw it on Broadway. It’s awesome. Isn’t it? It’s so moving and the score is amazing, and I met Sara Bareilles through Kimiko, and I have always been a fan of her.
Interview by Joy / Transcribed by Yaffi / Photographs by James / Edited by Sarah