THE LEADING MEN: Sebastian Stan, More Than Meets the Eye in Broadway's Picnic

By Brandon Voss
03 Feb 2013

Stan in Picnic.
Photo by Joan Marcus

If someone only saw production photos or video clips, it would be easy to say that the glistening muscles and shirtless scenes in Picnic are gratuitous, but Hal's titillating physique is actually an important part of the story.
SS: It's a very important part of the story. It's a big part of the play. But the reactions have been interesting. Have you seen the documentary "Mansome" by Morgan Spurlock? It's really funny and very accurate in showing where we've arrived in terms of our expectations of a shirtless man. Because we're in the 21st century and seeing so many in top physical shape has changed our perceptions of the masculine ideal, I probably would've been criticized if I were in same shape as William Holden's Hal in the film version. People would be saying, "He isn't in good enough shape for this role."

How does your physique inform your performance?
SS: I've had projects where I've had to be shirtless for a few minutes onscreen but nothing like this, so confidence is a big part of it. I knew that the physicality of the character would inform how he moved and how he perceived himself in the world. For so many years, Hal's confidence has been built on something that's not solid. He knows that people like the way he looks, like his body, want to take pictures of him with his shirt off, but there's not much else there.

Despite his good looks, Hal is very much an outsider. Can you relate to that?
SS: I can. I was born in Romania and later lived in Vienna, Austria, for a few years, and I eventually made my way over to New York in '95. My journey of growing up, looking for a sense of belonging in different schools, different countries, definitely helps me relate to the character's wanting to fit in. That's the closest parallel between me and Hal. Maybe that's something Sam Gold knew about me and thought that I could bring to the character — I'm not quite sure, because I've never asked him.

You were only 12 when you moved to the United States. That's not exactly the most ideal age to be different.
SS: Yeah, it was an interesting time. I really didn't want to be different at all. I lost my accent — although it still comes out every once in a while — but I just wanted to be like everyone else. It took me a few years to finally realize that I should actually embrace where I come from, because it's something that sets me apart. In my head, that's sort of what Hal's trying to do too. Hal's desperately trying to be someone he thinks he should be and someone he thinks will fit it. Finally, he comes across someone, Madge, who basically says, "Listen, dude, calm down and stop trying to be someone else, because I like you for you." The peace of mind he discovers at the end of the play is that it's OK to own who you are.