Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti of Once

The stars of the indie-film–based musical dish about their secret cover-band past and Brooklyn bars.

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  • Photograph: Elizabeth Weinberg; hair and makeup: Jen Myles using Makeup Forever; guitar furnished by Martin Guitar and Strings; shot at the Wayland

    Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti from Once at the Wayland

  • Photograph: Elizabeth Weinberg; hair and makeup: Jen Myles using Makeup Forever; guitar furnished by Martin Guitar and Strings; shot at the Wayland

    Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti from Once at the Wayland

  • Photograph: Elizabeth Weinberg; hair and makeup: Jen Myles using Makeup Forever; guitar furnished by Martin Guitar and Strings; shot at the Wayland

    Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti from Once at the Wayland

  • Photograph: Elizabeth Weinberg; hair and makeup: Jen Myles using Makeup Forever; guitar furnished by Martin Guitar and Strings; shot at the Wayland

    Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti from Once at the Wayland

  • Photograph: Elizabeth Weinberg; hair and makeup: Jen Myles using Makeup Forever; guitar furnished by Martin Guitar and Strings; shot at the Wayland

    Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti from Once at the Wayland

  • Photograph: Elizabeth Weinberg; hair and makeup: Jen Myles using Makeup Forever; guitar furnished by Martin Guitar and Strings; shot at the Wayland

    Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti from Once at the Wayland

Photograph: Elizabeth Weinberg; hair and makeup: Jen Myles using Makeup Forever; guitar furnished by Martin Guitar and Strings; shot at the Wayland

Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti from Once at the Wayland


Were either of you fans of the film Once or of the Swell Season, the folk-rock duo that formed to play songs from the movie, before auditioning for the show?
Steve Kazee: Absolutely. When the film first came out, I was a huge fan, and then subsequently became sort of obsessed with Glen [Hansard]’s music. [His band] the Frames first, and then some of Glen’s own music, and then moving on to the Swell Season stuff.
Cristin Milioti:
I’ve never seen the film.

Even after you were cast as the lead, Girl?
Milioti:
Yeah, I still haven’t seen it. I have never heard the Swell Season. Or the Frames. I want to get into them. I mean, I had to listen to “When Your Mind’s Made Up” to learn it, but I haven’t listened to any of their stuff. But I want to see the film when all is said and done.

Have you had any anxiety about playing the roles that Glen and Markéta [Irglová] defined? The movie was a cult hit, and “Falling Slowly” won an Oscar for Best Original Song in 2008.
Kazee:
I’ve always felt very strongly that if you copy an original, then copy that copy, it just will degrade into something that is completely illegible. I try to bring my own sort of flavor to [the show], knowing that I’m nothing like Glen. I don’t look like him, I don’t sound like him, our backgrounds are completely different. I tried really hard to just open myself up and make the performance my own; to take the actual things that you’re given in the script and make them real and honest for you. Because despite what people think, it’s actually not a documentary about Glen’s life. It was written by John Carney, who wanted to do a story about a busker. It was loosely inspired by Glen, and he asked Glen to provide some of the songs for it.

Was it difficult for you to make the scope of the story, which takes place in Dublin work on the stage?
Kazee:
It’s just abstract—for instance, in the beginning of the show, we’re on a street in Dublin, but we’re on the set, in a pub. And then with the introduction of a vacuum cleaner and a piano, we’re in a piano store. We allow the audience to be the cinematographer, to fill in the blanks. I think sometimes the designers on Broadway go a little overboard in trying to cram style down your throat.

There’s something special about musicals like Cabaret and Company, where the performers are singing and playing their own instruments in lieu of an orchestra pit. You both do that here—Steve, you’re on guitar, and Cristin on piano.
Milioti:
I think it’s the best feeling in the world, to do that every night. We’re sort of like a band now, ’cause we’ve all known each other and have been playing this music together for a year. So we breathe together, and are really good at listening to each other. Our number one love in our lives is music, would you agree?
Kazee:
Oh, I totally agree.
Milioti:
And that being said, it takes us to another level, which is what [the show] is about—how music can transport you. And it does that for us every night. That speaks volumes for [Hansard and Irglová’s] music, but also for the fact that we just love playing and singing. Like, love it.
Kazee:
I often tell people that for me it’s the perfect combination of things I’ve wanted to do in my life: be in a band, be a guitar player–singer and also get to act. It’s one of those jobs where I feel I am now fulfilled careerwise.

Have you both been in bands before?
Kazee:
I was the lead singer of this ’80s cover band called Funky Brewster Magnum P.I. We just did all ’80s cover songs; it was terrible.
Milioti: I was in a band that played around New York. I was asked to play piano and sing, but I didn’t write any of the stuff, and we were called Eelwax Jesus.

Glen and Markéta wound up dating one another after making Once. Is there any danger of a showmance happening here?
Kazee:
No, there’s not! Cristin to me is one of the most fabulous human beings on the planet.…
Milioti:
And deeply unattractive. [Laughs]
Kazee:
[Laughs] That’s not true at all. I also deeply love her boyfriend as well. Our chemistry comes at a much deeper level than any kind of showmance. We have a connection that can’t be defined by societal lovey-dovey kinds of things. It’s cosmic in a way.
Milioti:
Showmances rarely end in happiness.
Kazee: Love is a strange thing, isn’t it? It can’t be defined.

Where you like to get drunk in New York City when it’s warm?
Kazee:
One is Scratcher (209 E 5th St between Bowery and Second Ave, 212-477-0030). I’m a low-key kind of guy. If I have to yell to talk to a person with me [at a bar], then I’m probably not going to go to that place. I like a very quiet, backdoor sort of place, and the Scratcher is just that—it’s an Irish pub. If you’re lucky enough to be there on a Tuesday night, you’ll find some of the best Irish musicians in New York sitting around and jamming, very much like we do in our show.
Milioti:
I think I’m, like, five years behind the times. I went to Milk and Honey (134 Eldridge St between Broome and Delancey Sts; 718-308-6881, milkhny.com) once, but I don’t think I’m cool enough to have their phone number anymore. [I also like] the Raines Law Room (48 W 17th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves; 212-600-9297, raineslawroom.com). You go down and sit in these curtained rooms and you ring a bell and it’s awesome. I live in Bushwick, and Huckleberry (588 Grand St at Lorimer St; 718-218-8555, huckleberrybar.com) is really good. It has awesome, amazing cocktails. And Moto (394 Broadway at Hooper St; 718-599-6895, cafe-moto.com); it’s underneath the JMZ and they have incredible food, and these little bluegrass and jazz trios.

What do you love most about the music scene in New York?
Kazee:
We have a line in the show where one of the characters says to another character, “You can’t have a city without music.” And that hit me so hard last night for some reason because I thought, You know what, that’s actually true. This city, New York City, could not exist were it not for music. It’s such a part of the lifeblood and the heartbeat of this city. That goes in conjunction with bars, too, because that’s where most of the music is happening. What if there was just no music in New York City? What if there was just no music in the world? It’s such a cosmic part of us.
Milioti:
That’s deep. [Laughs]
Kazee:
It is, it’s really deep, why we feel the need as human beings to create music.
Milioti: I think that’s what separates us from animals if we want to get real deep.
Kazee: Well, they make music.
Milioti:
Yeah, that’s true. I feel terrible now. [Laughs]

Once is playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

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