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Actor Denis O'Hare is best known for playing the crazy vampire villain Russell Edgington on HBO's True Blood. This summer, though, he's showing off his singing chops as the Baker in the Public Theater's staging of Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods. In this week's Hot Seat interview, we spoke with the Brooklyn-based actor about fairy tales and coming back from the undead.
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TONY: The musical Into the Woods merges several different storybook narratives and explores what happens after Happily Ever After. Did you have a favorite story growing up?
Denis O'Hare: I was raised on the brothers Grimm, but my favorite fairy tales in the world are Oscar Wilde’s—“The Nightingale and the Rose,” “The Selfish Giant.” The latter is probably my all-time favorite.
TONY: Why are you drawn to that story?
Denis O'Hare: It’s deeply sad, and I think kids like tragedy. They long for big emotions or something. I remember as a kid, I was attracted to very, very tragic things.
TONY: It’s a stark contrast with Disneyfied fables.
Denis O'Hare: Yeah, people don’t die as often! But in Grimms’ Fairy Tales, everyone dies; a lot of people die in Into the Woods, too.
TONY: In Into the Woods, you play the Baker, whose mission is for he and his wife to have a child. You and your husband are fostering a baby in real life. How has becoming a dad affected your approach to the role?
Denis O'Hare: Oddly enough, being a parent has made it a little more challenging. I know how to hold a baby because I’ve done it for a while; and I have to actually unlearn that, because [my character] isn’t supposed to be good at holding a baby.
TONY: Was that the hardest part?
Denis O'Hare: My biggest struggle with this role has been the fact that the Baker is so willing to abandon his son, and that’s really hard for me. I think that any actor can imagine things and play things. For instance, I don’t need to experience what it is to suck blood to be a vampire.
TONY: Yeah, that’d be a little too Method…
Denis O'Hare: But being a parent—it’s a shortcut to your gut. I find the notion of leaving a child behind overwhelmingly emotional. I have a very hard time controlling myself in those scenes, because it’s not an intellectual process.
TONY: Speaking of True Blood, what was your reaction when you found out that your character, Russell, would be returning?
Denis O'Hare: I had a heads-up a long time ago. When Alan Ball initially hired me for the third season, he warned me I would be buried, but also said, “You’ll probably survive.” I love the character, and I think he deserves to finish what he started.
TONY: It seems like he’s come back with a vengeance.
Denis O'Hare: There’s a very surprising evolution. There’s an old Celtic-Greek idea that whenever a warrior is killed, you bury him to revive him, but he always came back missing something—either an eye or a limb or a sense.
TONY: That could be bad. It already seems like he’s lost his mind.
Denis O'Hare: Well, I think it’s an interesting idea that Russell is transformed. He’s definitely the same guy, but he’s got some different stuff going on. Oddly enough, he’s funnier—but he’s also a little crazier.
Into the Woods runs through Aug 25 as part of the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park.