Who walks away from a starring role on Grey's Anatomy? A ballsy Midwesterner named T.R. Knight, that's who. Unlike his buddy Katherine Heigl, who left the same program to chase a film career, Knight ditched the hospital drama to return to the stage. After all, he earned a Drama Desk Award nomination (for 2003's Scattergood) years before he got an Emmy nod on Grey's, and he shared the spotlight with Patti LuPone in Noises Off in 2001. Now he's taking on a revival of David Mamet's A Life in the Theatre, helming the two-man play with Sir Patrick Stewart, in which they portray thespians dealing with the backstage life. But Knight's such a theater nerd that he doesn't geek out over Captain Picard or Professor X; he's idolized Stewart since the '70s, when he heard the actor's voice on a series of Royal Shakespeare Company acting instructional tapes. During his first week of Theatre rehearsals, Knight sat down to talk about the play, his costar and why he likes broccoli (it's not the taste).
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Did you create art today?
Yep. Lotsa, lotsa art. It's rough. Tired! Exhausted!
In rehearsal, it's just you, the director and Patrick Stewart?
And David Mamet! He's changing a fair amount of it. It's just amazing; I didn't know he was going to be part of the process.
Do you all pronounce the title of the play "theaaaaaa-tre"?
Like with the re instead of er? "Theaaaaatre." But I like spelling it er.
Man of the people?
Not fancy at all. Clearly.
In the production, you kind of play the Karate Kid to Patrick Stewart's Mr. Miyagi.
Exactly. It's definitely a mentor-mentee relationship, but it's also two coworkers being thrown together. It's about how frustrating and cool it is to be stuck with someone of a different background and age. Getting a mentor, having to kill your mentor.
The Anakin--Obi-Wan ending!
Well, not literally. [Laughs] Well, it's exactly the same, except no lightsabers. I'm still hoping, though. "So, Mr. Mamet, I know you're doing some changes, so hear me out. It's a really good idea...."
Have you ever worked with Patrick Stewart before?
No, I haven't. It's Patrick Stewart, David Mamet. And then me. It's like Sesame Street. [Sings] "One of these things is not like the other."
What do you think about, right at the end of the run, switching roles with Patrick for the day?
[Laughs] Even better, have the audience vote on who's playing who every night. Do a little cell-phone-voting, American Idol kind of thing.
The character is an up-and-coming actor—is he a waiter at Sardi's or something?
The whole play takes place in the theater, so it's not about the outside jobs we all had, like being a sandwich-board guy.
Have you done that? Worn a sandwich board?
I haven't done that. Yet! It might be in my future. I've definitely had those support jobs. A lot of grocery stores. Cashiering. I can work a price gun.
Do you remember the codes for any vegetables?
Ooh-hoo! That's a good question. Dammit, I wish I did. I remember broccoli was my favorite code, but I don't remember why. There must have been something about the keypad, it was easy to hit.
You moved here from L.A.—did you bring your car to NYC?
My car now belongs to someone else. I am not a very good driver, so I don't miss that part at all. I like going on the subway; you can only make one mistake—getting on the wrong one.
Oh, you don't know how many mistakes you can make.
There's sitting next to the person who's about to hurl, that's always disgusting. And then the vomit, like, slides as the car moves.
You go by your initials—how do people give you a nickname?
They have to shorten it to just T. Or the sound ttt. It wasn't my choice to do the initials, it was my parents'. I don't know why I couldn't have a real name. I thought about changing it to some fancy stage name.
But Patrick Stewart was already taken.
A Life in the Theatre starts previews Tue 21.