Show People with Paul Wontorek: John Benjamin Hickey of THE INHERITANCE

(music) – Known for his Tony-winning
performance in The Normal Heart as well as various Great White Way turns in Love! Valor! Compassion! Cabaret, Six Degrees
of Separation and more stage and screen star John Benjamin Hickey is back on Broadway in
a big way this season. First up, he’s offering
an incredible performance as the emotionally damaged Henry Wilcox in Matthew Lopez’s game-changing
new play, The Inheritance. He is then scheduled to switch gears to direct his BFFs Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in a revival of Neil Simon’s
comedy play, Plaza Suite. Hear about why this year feels like an embarrassment
of riches and more on this week’s Show People. (music) Welcome, John. – Hi Paul.
– JBH. John Benjamin Hickey. I’m so thrilled you’re here. – I’m thrilled to be here. – Because you are a part of the foundation of this community.
– Wow. – I wanna have people on this show that I’ve admired throughout their career. Ideally they’re in something
spectacular right now and you are.
(John chuckles) If there was an official
Broadway acting company you would be in it.
– Oh god. – You’d be one of the members and you’d be doing
different plays every year as part of this act, let’s do that. – It means the world to hear that. Somebody gave me an article about myself and it said veteran actor
John Benjamin Hickey and I was like, wow. I woke up and I was a veteran. It happens (snaps fingers) just like that. – It happens overnight. – You got a long way to go though. – [Paul] It happens because of good work. – Yes, I hope so. I hope so and I certainly feel like I’ve been around for a long time and I feel so incredibly lucky to get to be a part of
the Broadway community. I’ve never ever taken it for granted. One of my best friends is the
great actress Julie White. She’s the reason I came to New York so whenever something
good happens to one of us meaning a Broadway show we’re the first ones to call each other and say, hey this is really great and it is.
– That’s fantastic. I love that. It’s a small world.
– It’s very small. – You sort of travel in this small world and sort of know everyone. – Yeah, absolutely. You do, you get to know everybody. A lot of the team from
this play I’m doing now are from England and a lot of them have
been coming up to me and saying, my god, you’re like the mayor. You know everybody. I’m like, well I’ve just been in this town a lot longer than you guys have. Like, more than two weeks. – Let’s talk about this. You’re in this play
called The Inheritance. I love this play so much. – I’m so glad you do. – It’s like my favorite play ever maybe. As far as the experience of seeing it. I saw it in London. When a play comes across agents’ desks and everyone says this is the new gay epic well we gotta call John Benjamin Hickey. – Wow, I know. – When I heard your name in the cast I thought, okay you have a
little bit of a history here because Love! Valor! Compassion! was a huge moment for you. – [John] Yes, my first Broadway play. – And then you won a Tony
for The Normal Heart. You were fantastic in that. You’ve done these and you’ve done other amazing plays playing amazing gay characters amazing straight characters,
all kinds of characters but those are two really iconic. – I wasn’t gay and then I
started doing these plays and I was like you know what? No, I’m kidding. It’s meant the world to me as a gay man who’s been
attracted to those plays for the reasons that have
to do with me and my life but much more importantly I’ve been the luckiest actor on the planet because I’ve gotten to do these plays that are not just seminal works that speak to the gay experience but seminal plays in the
history of the American theater as far as I’m concerned. Real game-changers. When this one came across
my desk, The Inheritance it felt like the greatest
gift I’d ever been given both as an actor, as a gay person. It feels like it was my story. It’s sort of like I think I was on my way
to do a TV show somewhere and I had heard the
rumors about this play. Here comes this great new American play and I got a call about it and before they even got
through the, you know they want you to maybe do, yes! I just was like yes. No television, I’m going to do this play. – I think it’ll be very moving
for New York theater goers who have seen you in all these
things to see you up there. – Oh gosh, I hope so. – This is a young company. Especially Lois Smith, we love Lois Smith. – We love Lois. Lois is the youngest in the group as far as her energy and her intelligence. – You are kind of like the senior guy. – I’m the daddy in it, yeah. – Let’s talk about Henry Wilcox. You play Henry Wilcox. You and Lois are the only people that only play one character, right? – [John] That’s true. – There’s a lot of characters in this. – Lois Smith and I, our
characters sort of exist outside of this extraordinary narrative that’s in this play. This play is, for those who don’t know is a two part play. – Almost seven hours completely. – Almost seven hours long. And I can tell you from
everybody I know who’s seen it it feels like it’s about a half hour long. It just zooms by. It’s like binge watching
the funnest, best show. And its storytellers, these young men telling the story of the play and they all exist inside the play and play a lot of different characters except me and Lois, so we kind
of exist on the periphery. – I wanna talk about this because
I feel like when something and I’m guilty of this myself. When I hear, oh this is coming from London it’s very acclaimed over there. And it’s based on something
really fancy, Howards End. – [John] Right, right, right. – [Paul] Very famous, fancy– – [John] Very fancy indeed. – Highbrow book and it’s the new gay epic. And I immediately think, well– – [John] Homework! – I’m gonna get a lot of sleep. – Yeah, exactly. – I did that when I saw it in London. I got a lot of sleep the night before. I said I’m gonna go to sleep early. – Exactly, I got my work cut out for me. – We’re doing a marathon day. And then it ended up being so delightful. I want people to know how
damn entertaining it is. And moving and profound and all of these things.
– It’s super entertaining. A lot of people have talked about it in relation to Tony’s Angels in America which is one of the great
masterworks of the 20th century. Interestingly I’m a student of that play. It was my generation that all my friends were in it. I wanted to be in it. That’s the one I missed. – How about that? Did you audition for it? – No, I had an opportunity
to audition for it but I was doing a play written by David Marshall Grant in Chicago when I was called in to audition and I said I can’t go
in and audition for it. Maybe I was a little too
scared of it at the time. But also doing David’s play and he, I think he would
probably remember this I told David you should go
in and audition for this. And he went and auditioned and he got it. – Wow.
– Dammit. It was the last nice
thing I did for anybody. But Matthew’s play is
not a political play. It reminds me a lot more
of Terrence McNally’s voice in Love! Valor! Compassion! Matthew is incredibly funny. So, it’s a deep play, it’s a
profound play, The Inheritance. It will absolutely rip you to shreds but it will make you laugh your butt off. It’s really, really funny. And that was one of the
great surprises to me. I remember after our
first preview in London I was like, this reminds me of something. Oh that’s right, it
reminds me of Love! Valour! And Matthew credits
Terrence and Love! Valour! As being a real seminal
experience for him. You’ll have a great time at this play. – It’s also very sexy. – It’s very, very sexy. The young folks. I mean, Lois and I have our sexy moments. (Paul laughs)
But the kids in this play. The kids.
The young actors in this play are absolutely breathtaking in how talented they are and they’re also pretty good looking too. – Just like The Inheritance,
this time is flying by. It’s already time for a commercial break. We’ll be right back with
more John Benjamin Hickey. (music) (music) And we’re back with John Benjamin Hickey. Henry Wilcox, your character. First, I love the name Henry. My dog is named Henry. It’s a great name.
– Yes, Henry is a great name. Good name for a dog, too. – Interestingly, Henry Wilcox
is a character in Howards End. – Yes, he is.
– The exact same name. – Absolutely. – It is a modern adaptation
of Howards End, in some ways. I actually didn’t know Howards End but I watched it on the plane
coming home from London. I watched the movie after I saw it. – [John] The movie is a
perfect movie, I think. – [Paul] It really is. – [John] One of the
great movies ever made. – So it was great to
see all the parallels. But it’s not one of those literal we’re just gonna tell this
story with gay characters. It’s not that.
– No, not at all. There are plot points that are borrowed beautifully and liberally from Howards End but they happen in an
infrequent enough fashion that when they come and it’s the same plot as Howards End you’re like oh my god, that’s
in Howards End as well. It’s really a surprise. – Would you call it a
post-homophobic play? – Yeah, I did do that. That sounded really smart, didn’t it? (Paul laughs) – You’re very smart. – When I read this play it was one of the first plays I’d read that was about the gay
experience and gay men that I felt like there’s
an enormous amount of pain and suffering in the play and there’s an enormous
amount of self-hatred and really messed up people but none of them are messed up simply because of their sexuality. There’s a lot of other reasons why. I just found that, like
that was really different than most of the plays I had read. People aren’t torturing themselves because of their sexual identity. Except some people from
the older generation which brings us back to Henry Wilcox. Henry’s character is a character who came to New York in 1983. Was married to a woman. – Literally the same year you moved. – The same year. – You’re exact contemporaries. – Exactly, John Benjamin
Hickey came the same year. – But he was married to a woman. – Married to a woman with two kids and met a man, fell in love with him. Left his wife and the
wife soon thereafter died. The character in the play and he and this man are
together for 36 years. – Walter.
– [John] Walter. – [Paul] Who you’ll fall in
love with when you go see. – Yes, you will totally fall in love with played by the brilliant Paul Hilton. They spend 36 years together but Henry has been emotionally paralyzed by the calamity, by the AIDs crisis. – You call it PTSD. – PTSD. – [Paul] About the AIDs epidemic. – Absolute form of PTSD having lived through
what he lived through. Walter.
And I don’t think Henry really wakes up to that knowledge until he meets the younger
people in the play. And to say anything more
would probably be a spoiler. But it’s about the coming
together of these two generations and what they can learn from each other. And outside of that it’s
about the gay community learning how to bridge
the gap between themselves and the generations that came before in order to form their
own cultural identity. – Matthew Lopez has talked about and I think why I related
so strongly to this play is because it’s really
about being the generation after the AIDs epidemic. – Yeah.
– These younger characters knowing that his horrible
devastation just happened but then this sort of survivors guilt. – Absolutely, I mean if you think about it it was just 10, 15, 20 short years ago that we were still
dealing with it as a major major, global crisis. And it still is in many,
many parts of the world and for many, many people in this country. But this generation of
gay men are so liberated by the fact that it’s no longer stigmatic. It’s no longer a death sentence. It’s a manageable disease now. That’s 20 short years ago. So, it’s about that liberation now and what might have been lost and how quickly this
generation came into its own. – What about you? If you came to New York in the same year. You came from Texas. – Plano, Texas.
A small town. – I’ve seen you describe yourself as a delicate boy from Plano, Texas. – Oh was I deli-, I? I don’t know, I’m sure my brother– – Just a delicate boy from Plano, Texas. – I’m sure none of my family
would agree with that. They’d probably call me an ass-kicker. – You came here to chase Julie White. You knew her there. – Yes, we were both in college together. She left a year before I did and the way people talked about her her talent, her ambition, her everything. Her moxy. I really was like, I want people
to talk that way about me. – Did they?
Do they? – I don’t know, I don’t know. That’s a pretty tall
order to be talked about like we talk about Julie White. – So you came to New York. – I came to New York. – Attended Fordham at first. And then you ended up
getting into Julliard which was fantastic.
– Amazing. – But you were living here. And you were sort of that, in a lot of ways was a horrible time to
move to New York City as a young gay man. – I was in the closet for many years. I was struggling with my own identity and a lot of that was
because of the crisis. There was a really amazing
piece on the CBS Evening News that Dan Rather did about
the Manhattan Plaza. Which I’d never heard of. He was talking about how it
was this artists’ building subsidized, and the
waiting list to get into it was like a mile long and suddenly within
the course of two years it had gone to nothing. The waiting list. Because so many people
in the building had died. That piece on the news had
such a profound effect on me because it was like, Manhattan artists, artists living together and then this illness. In other words I came to
New York City armored. I came to New York City scared
about what was out there. I was lucky wasn’t I? I was lucky to have had that knowledge. – It’s so interesting when we
talk about actors coming out. I had Nathan Lane here. We had a whole conversation. When you did Love! Valour!
Compassion! with him he wasn’t out. – [John] Nope, he was not. – Right? It’s so interesting how you
didn’t sit down and talk. It sort of just wasn’t
talked about, right? – The world has changed so much. I mean it’s changed so much. There were 10, 15 years ago I probably would’ve
thought a lot more about okay, well you did, you
played two gay parts you know, two years ago. Maybe you should, people
don’t think that way anymore. – Right. – You can make choices
based on a kind of freedom that exists that did not before. When I came to New York. You really had to worry about that. And your agents told
you to worry about it. And people, you know. So, 22, 3 years ago when
we did Love! Valour! Yeah, it was a concern because you wanted to work. – And that really was a big launch for you Love! Valour! Compassion! – It was my first Broadway experience. Joe Mantello, who remained a great friend. And remains a great friend. It was his first Broadway play, mine. – He’s doing okay as a director. – Yeah, he’s doing all right. – He’s a good actor, too, but
he’s doing okay as a director. – He’s doing okay. When he did The Normal Heart we did it together and
Billy Porter came to see it and he came back to Joe’s dressing room. He was so mad. He was like, well now we know that when you give notes
to an actor in an audition you know what the hell
you’re talking about. And he certainly does. He’s as great an actor as he is a director which is saying an awful lot. – And you know who else
might be similar ways there might be similar
ways to describe you. We’re gonna talk more about that when we come back from this break with John Benjamin Hickey. (music) (music) We are back with John Benjamin Hickey of Broadway’s The Inheritance. Parts one and two. – Parts one and two. – See them both. You can do it one day. – Doing it one day is one of
the great thrills of your life. It’s just an absolute blast. It’s really, really fun. – It’s a great play. You know what else was a great play? Do you remember the play Shower of Shame? – No. – [Paul] You don’t
remember Shower of Shame? – You stumped me.
Shower of Shame? – Shower of Shame. It was written by this Catholic guy who had to shower every time he had sex. – I knew you were. I knew you were putting me on. I knew it, I knew it.
(Paul laughs) Oh, the Catholic guy. – This was Sex and the City. You were one of the many
amazing stage actors who got to play a guy
that had horrible sex with one of the women in Sex in the City. – Absolutely. – He was a playwright and then he wrote a play
called Shower of Shame, though. – Yeah, Cynthia Nixon was my sex mate. – Yes, you were with Miranda. – I was with Miranda. The great Cynthia, yeah. Wow.
– This seems like a good segue to bring up exciting
news that just came out. – I’m gonna be in Sex and the City Three. – No, you will be spending
a lot of time in suite 719. – 719, absolutely. – Which is the suite in Plaza Suite. You are making your
Broadway directorial debut. – I am. It’s really kind of an
embarrassment of riches this year. – I know.
It’s really obnoxious. – Overwhelming, obnoxious (Paul laughs)
and terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. – Is it terrifying? To make your directorial– – It’s terrifying to do anything, yeah. It’s terrifying to be in a play. It’s terrifying to direct a play. Yeah, sure, everything scares you. Scares me at least. – [Paul] This is the
first Broadway revival of Neil Simon’s fantastic Plaza Suite. Which was a huge hit in– – [John] ’68.
– ’68. And it’s starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. Directed by John Benjamin Hickey. These are friends of yours. – They are longtime friends. Let’s hope it stays that way. What if it ends in no more friendship and what if they split up?
Oh boy. – Did you do some rough readings in their living room with them? Like, let’s just dig open the script. – We’ve done several rough
readings since we announced it because we’re all so gung-ho
and excited about it. We did a reading a couple of years ago at Symphony Space, the
great cultural institution. We did a reading of it
in front of an audience. It went gangbusters, obviously. And we all loved the play so much and we just thought it
was the most undated un-aged play about marriage and children and love and heartbreak. The two actors, Matthew and Sarah Jessica play six different parts.
– [Paul] Different couples. – They play three different couples in these three little playlets. All coming to the same
suite at the Plaza Hotel. And the amazing thing was
they’re six great parts for them. Three great parts for
each of those actors. So we did the reading, it was a thrill. Two nights later we went to dinner. They were foolish enough to ask me did I want to direct this if we did it? And I was foolish enough to say yes. So here we are.
– Wow, amazing. – I am beyond excited about it. I think it’s such an amazing play and I just love them
both so much as actors as much as friends. I just think they’ll, you know. We could all use a little
Neil Simon right now. – [Paul] Let’s talk about Neil Simon because I was obsessed with Neil Simon when I was in high
school and grade school. – [John] Me too. – I was reading his plays and watching the movies and every season there’d
be a new Neil Simon play. It was so exciting. – The Fireside Theater, you know you’d get like your copies of his plays. – Of course. I loved them so much, but
they’re not produced much. – No. – And Plaza Suite’s never been produced. I would say that it was
looking for a great star pair. Like Sarah Jessica Parker
and Matthew Broderick. – Right, it was originally
done with the great Maureen Stapleton and George C. Scott. – It seems like maybe you need sort of a little star power to it. – Broadway is very expensive real estate so of course the answer
to that question is yes. And you know, there’s also
the wonderful meta quality to the fact that these two people who are playing married people in various stages of their
marriages in the play also happen to be married
to each other in life is a wonderful thing. It wasn’t just a good idea for them it was a good idea because
the play is so magnificent. When you hear Neil’s writing you really do, if you pick
it up and read it again or when you see it, hopefully. – We’re all gonna see it.
– Oh, good. You’re like, oh my god. My DNA, he’s in my DNA. My ear and my heart
miss the way he writes. The way he writes comedy the way he writes human beings. I realized when I read
it, when we read it. We really miss him in our lives and I agree with you he was the most important playwright to me as a young person. As much as Tennessee
Williams or Arthur Miller and he’s one of the most
important playwrights certainly of the 20th century. It’s really exciting to
get to help bring him back. The other great thing is one of my other great heroes in this business is Mike Nichols. And Mike directed the original production. – [Paul] Won a Tony. – And he won a Tony for it. I knew Mike a little bit, and
I knew his sense of humor. We all did from his
extraordinary body of work. I feel like Mike’s in the play too so if I can walk in to
my first day of rehearsal with Mike here and Neil
here on my shoulder then I feel like I’m
surrounded by the greats. I also have an amazing design team. I’m not an idiot. As my Broadway debut I’m surrounding myself
with a lot of people who can help lift me up. – It was also so important to sort of the allure of New York City and the magic of New York
City, Neil Simon’s plays. And then Sex and City did the same thing for a whole other generation. – One of the great things about that is people who come from,
let’s say out of town or in-town because they wanna see Matthew and Sarah Jessica in a play who maybe don’t know Neil Simon. You get to see Sarah Jessica Parker change her clothes three
times in this play. That’s a very satisfying lure. – The most stressful thing about directing Sarah Jessica Parker in a play is that you have to get the fashion right. – Oh, yes.
We have Jane Greenwood. – [Paul] Oh okay, I’m not worried. – I’m not worried either. Sarah knows a thing or two as well. It’s incredibly exciting
to be able to direct two people I love so much. – What do you think is the
secret to their chemistry? They haven’t done that much. – I know.
Maybe that’s it! – They were in How to Succeed. I was lucky enough to see them in that. – Right, beautiful.
– Many years ago. – But you know, that is kind of like not completely like what we’re doing because Matthew had already
been doing the show for a year when Sarah went into it. So that wasn’t they didn’t get to rehearse
together that much. I don’t know.
– Was it fun to watch them play with each other?
– Yeah, it really is. And they’ve been together a long time now. I think they’re at a place in their lives where they would not
have made this decision to work together without thinking about it and without knowing that now is the time. Now is a really, really
good idea and this play. It’s always about the play. I think when they read that
play they’re like, oh my god. This is the thing we want to do. – Do you think they’re home
right now running lines? – They better be. (Paul laughs)
They better be. – They better be. – I live in the same neighborhood. I’m gonna have a neighborhood watch. (men laugh) – I’m so excited. So that’s happening in
Boston early in the year. – Yeah, Boston.
– Coming to Broadway. – I’m taking just a very brief break from The Inheritance to do it and will come back in. So yeah, it’s a crazy time. Tom Kirdahy, our brilliant producer on The Inheritance and I I talked to him about this
’cause this was in the works. Plaza Suite, and he was like we’ll do our best to make it happen. And they have. So I am incredibly fortunate. – I love it. There’s a lot of John
Benjamin Hickey going around. – [John] There is a lot. So, The Inheritance at
the Barrymore Theater and then Plaza Suite is– – It’s going to be in Boston at The Colonial–
– That’s a fancy beautiful theater.
– Very fancy and beautiful theater. And then come into The Hudson,
a theater I absolutely love. Sometimes they renovate
theaters and the ghosts leave. I will not name those theaters. And sometimes they renovate them and the ghosts decide to stay. – You have confirmation that the ghosts are at The Hudson?
– No and I don’t even really believe in ghosts but I do believe in the
ghosts of the theater and I think there are a lot
of great ghosts in The Hudson. They did a beautiful job
renovating that theater. – [Paul] They did. – It’s really lovely. – I can’t wait to see it. I’m so excited for everything. You’re gonna see me at
The Inheritance sobbing and laughing.
– I cannot wait to see you there.
– Cheering. – You’ll come back after and we’ll drink in the dressing room. – Is that what happens back there? A lot of that happened with Patti LuPone when you were in London, right? – [John] Oh my goodness. – ‘Cause she was in Company. – Yes, and Patti is a
great old friend of mine. Like a family member. My partner and she have been
best friends for many years. Patti is the best person
to be out of town with. She loves being on the road. She’s a gypsy and she’s like and I would be like, I can’t believe it. We’re here another. She’s like doll, were’ in London.
– Have a cocktail. – Yeah, let’s have a cocktail. She’s the best. I can’t, I’m so excited about that too. That is a great production. – [Paul] Company, it’s called. – Yeah, Company, that’s
the name of that show. (Paul laughs)
Who wrote that? – Thank you so much for being here. – Thank you, Paul.
– It’s a pleasure as always. And everyone, please
go see The Inheritance. Go see Plaza Suite. It’s all gonna be amazing. A lot of John Benjamin
Hickey to go around. Thank you for watching,
we’ll see you next time. (music)

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