I interviewed Sean Grandillo, an actor, singer and musician, best 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.
Who has been your inspiration through all this acting?
Michael Arden was a huge inspiration to me at first, weirdly. He would be one of the people I would YouTube in my early theater days. You know how we are on YouTube, watching performances at 54 Below or this guy and that. Michael always impressed me because he was such an actor while he was singing. So Michael is. I would say all of the deaf actors really inspire me because it’s one of those things — like think about how hard it is for any actor to get a job, and then a deaf actor. But they do it and they are grinding and they are passionate and they are positive and I — I don’t know. I — I couldn’t have asked for a better experience to get started because it was such a good way to not get any false ideas about this thing or not be obsessive with the business or any flashy side of it. It was like “no, this stuff can really matter.” Our show [Spring Awakening] really mattered and I am so grateful for that. And they all do, but ours in a special way.
I was like wow, this show is going to be awesome. The first lottery I tried and I didn’t win, and second one I came and I won. I was so excited to see it.
Cool. I had that moment when we were rehearsing the first production in a church, where they literally pushed us out of our rehearsals at the end every time for an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting. We were really throwing this thing together. And the first time Sandy stood up (I think it was at a table read) and signed “Whispering” while Katie sang it, we were all sort of — you know, it’s not like we thought we were going to Broadway in that moment, but I was like this is really one of the most incredible things I have ever seen happen. It was beyond theater at that point. I was like this girl who cannot hear is communicating with all — it was incredible. I had never met a deaf person at that point so I was–
Yes. It was very scary. I moved to LA, didn’t have any friends, and I went to rehearsal, and half of the friends that I could be making could not hear and I didn’t know how to sign. So I felt very — I am pretty good at making friends, but that is a hurdle I never made before, so it was incredible to get to know people in a entirely different way, and then learn that they are really exactly the same, which is like “duh”, but it’s — I don’t know. It’s good that I learned that. It made me really open and excited about meeting all sorts of different people from different places, and I want to travel and meet more.
Would you do a touring cast of the show?
So they have announced a tour. They have like teased out little things. They have not contacted any of the actors about doing it or offers.
Or maybe different ones?
Right, and some people may not be available and all sorts of things go into that. I always joke like I have information. No one has any information, but I hope it happens regardless of if I am involved or not, because like you said, it’s so special. Imagine kids everywhere getting to see that.
Right. I was so annoyed that it didn’t get nominated for choreography because I think the movement in that whole show is like no other.
I really wish Spencer had gotten a nomination too. You know, Spencer . . . I have no doubt Spencer will be a multiple Tony award winner because he is so — not that that’s the thing that matters.
Spring Awakening is visually stunning.
Yes, and Spencer’s growth throughout the thing, I don’t believe he had worked with deaf performers either, and at the beginning you can tell he is coming from So You Think You Can Dance where he tells professional dancers do this and they do it. Whereas in this process, there were people who could not hear, didn’t speak his language literally or figuratively, and to see him go from the first production to Broadway and just master the art of this choreography with sign and communicating with deaf actors, it was — everyone grew that way and it was really humbling and awesome.
You said you like social media. What’s your favorite platform and why and how do you feel it helps you?
Okay. So I really do like social media. It definitely has a dark side which, you know, we all hear about and spend too much time on it. That’s certainly true, but I think I like Twitter the most, weirdly. I feel like I can express myself sort of quirkily there.
But people take you too seriously sometimes.
True. I have gotten in a few battles which I am like I could not be more — I feel accepting and really open to learning at least even things I don’t know. But yes, but that’s going to happen with anything, and I sort of like to take that in stride and even my friendships, I think about times I said something that bothered someone and there is a bit of confrontation but I feel like as long as both parties are willing, you can always grow from those points. I like Twitter the most.
Do you feel it has helped you in your career at all?
I do. I think like one thing I really liked about it as before I was in the business — I hate to speak that way but you know what I mean — is I felt I could connect to these people and be like oh, these people who I had always seen as pictures on a TV and magazine are humans. They wake up in the morning, they have breakfast, they get dressed just like I do, and it can be very humanizing if people let it and I think as you know —
That’s what I keep telling people. They were like, “you met Rosie [O’Donnell]?” I am like, “she is a person.” I went over to her as a person, talked, and then I asked for a picture. I didn’t go over to her and be like, “can I take a picture with you, I love you!”
It is interesting. I don’t know if the TV industry and whole industry wants people to see them as not human or if that’s part of the business model, but I really like the idea of like you said, they are humans.
Yes, exactly. People don’t notice that. Like fans from Scream who just know you from that show probably go crazy and want pictures because they don’t realize that.
Yes, and it’s so weird because I think about how fast that happened for me. I never had a time to sort of take on that persona at all, so I feel very uncomfortable with that. I feel sort of like “guys, I like, you know, just brush my teeth and, you know, blew my nose and you are acting like”– and it’s not that. I am just a human.
Here’s a question from your Twitter fans: If you would be stranded on an island with a cast member from Scream, who would you want it to be?
One cast member? That’s really hard. I definitely had like a crew that I always chilled with. Now I am thinking on a deserted island I guess I would want someone with some skills. I would probably say Bex, who plays Audrey. She just felt like my little sister, and like, I feel like her and I would have fun and also get shit done.
If you could be in a different Broadway show this season, which would it be?
I would say probably The Color Purple. I would love to be in the pit of The Color Purple, truly, like playing the bass or conducting them, because you get to hear it every night and that music is so cool. I played in pits before I did acting in musicals. And just doing that exposes you to such a cool side of the art and I love that score. I would say in the pit of Color Purple.
And if you could be in a different TV show?
Okay. It’s hard because I would say any. I would feel so lucky to be in anything. I would say what’s one I really would, like, think I fit well. I would love to do something like gritty and sort of like —
Like a reality show?
You like The Bachelor.
I love The Bachelor, but one, I don’t think I would be very good on it. I think I would be a little like “oh, my God, I can’t be this shameless.”
Ok, good! What’s your favorite cast album?
That’s really hard. I am trying to think of the ones. I love Aida. I love that cast — I love Heather Headley. That’s another reason — have you seen The Color Purple?
Did you see it with–
Yes, with Heather Headley.
I was amazed that Cynthia got that standing ovation by “I Am Here.” That doesn’t usually happen–
–like by slow songs. Usually you see it happen for big musical numbers.
Dancy numbers. Yes, I agree.
I was amazed by that.
Right, and isn’t it incredible: one woman standing on the stage and a thousand people in the audience stand up for her? Like there is not really a set. She’s just by herself.
Yes. That’s also the cool part of the show, they don’t have a set.
And that show is so mesmerizing.
It was like being in a revival that I felt was really cool and then we got nominated for a Tony, I am like “oh my gosh, maybe we will win” and then thinking about that, I am like, “wait, this is a perfect revival of The Color Purple, which I have now seen five times.”
Five. And paid for it every time. Usually I can find a sneaky way to at least get a discounted ticket. And that one I spent far too much money on, but it feels totally worth it. And I want to go back. I always say if I won the Hamilton lottery, which I have been lucky enough to see once, I would offer the ticket to some of my friends who haven’t seen it in exchange for a Color Purple ticket.
I would offer it to someone else also, just because I have seen it already and I feel selfish if I win the lottery and go again.
I would love to win two tickets and tweet “who wants to trade?”
Hamilton is an impressive show. But I don’t like what it did to Broadway.
I agree, but see, I don’t blame it for doing that.
No, I don’t blame it, but at the same time, so many shows closed this season and everyone just wants to see that show when there are so many other great shows on Broadway. Waitress is doing really well, thank G-d.
I know. I am amazed it is, honestly.
Yes, and School of Rock, that’s still doing really well, but there are some shows like American Psycho and Bright Star that didn’t get anything and Bright Star was incredible.
American Psycho was also done really well.
I thought American Psycho was so beautiful too and it looked different than almost anything I had ever seen. That design team I liked so much.
It’s Duncan Sheik’s music.
Yes, I adore him. Back on the inspirations, Duncan Sheik was a total inspiration how he was able to be a pop star in the ’90s and then come over and do what he did to Broadway. Think about what Spring Awakening did. Now we are ten years out from when it came out, but it’s like that man changed Broadway in a lot of ways too. It’s really incredible.
I like Hamilton. I just don’t like what it’s doing to Broadway, and I feel like it’s taking away from every other show.
I agree. It’s hard though. I am trying to think what could be done, but what we want is successes on that level because that’s money into Broadway.
But at the same time, it’s because every website– BroadwayWorld and Broadway.com write a lot about Hamilton and they didn’t write a lot about other shows. Bright Star closed so fast. I mean, at least your show [Spring Awakening] got extended, which was awesome.
I know, and it was weird to do a revival so soon. So that was a challenge and you know, I think it was difficult to advertise what a deaf musical would be.
I thought it was a weird concept and then I saw the Bryant Park performance.
Right. I think it’s one of those things you needed to show people “hey, this isn’t just for deaf people.”
Serena was with me when I was at Bryant Park and I couldn’t stop talking about it afterwards.
Serena: The first time we saw it we were like “wow, this is something different.” If you are going to do a revival, you might as well change it up.
And that’s the best way to change it up, adding sign language.
I agree. I would love to see more shows done that way.
I mean, it’s not the first show [with sign language]. It’s the second show.
Totally, yes, on Broadway and they have done a number of shows that way, Deaf West and other companies too. And what’s so cool too, about knowing the deaf actors now, is watching them as they are doing shows elsewhere and more and more places incorporating that, even if it’s not total like ours was.
Interview by Joy / Transcribed by Yaffi / Photographs by James / Edited by Sarah Thank you to Brittany and Matthew for contributing questions!