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

By Brandon Voss
03 Feb 2013

Stan and Maggie Grace
Photo by Joan Marcus

Sam Gold has been lauded for pulling beautifully naturalistic performances out of his actors. How would you describe your rehearsal process with him?
SS: Sam has an incredible eye for detail, and he's really a dream come true for an actor. He's amazing because he really guides you while at the same time giving you the freedom to explore the character and find your own way in it. We look for that courage and mutual trust in our directors. The rehearsal process was very specific but also freeing at the same time, and that's tough to be both.

Your sexual chemistry with Maggie Grace, who plays Madge, seems integral to the play's success. Did Sam encourage you two to bond outside of the theatre, or did he suggest any other tricks for enhancing your onstage relationship?
SS: Though we're all great admirers of Elia Kazan, there was no "I'll tell you something in your ear, then tell her something in her ear, and here we go." [Laughs.] Hal and Madge's relationship and how it develops is an important part of the play, but Sam was very helpful in making sure that we knew exactly what the relationship was at the end of the day, so that we didn't build it up to be more than it really is. We kept it very realistic. These are two people at the very beginnings of discovering an affinity for one another. A lot of it is sexual, and it's by no means the defining romance of the century that you're going to witness in two hours. He also reminded us that it's just one of the many other relationships in the play, which is really an ensemble piece. Sam was careful to make sure that the audience sees the perspectives of all of the characters and not just those of Hal and Madge, one relationship that happens to be a catalyst for a lot of other people to think, to feel, and to look at themselves.

Speaking of other onstage relationships, it's great to see you and Ellen Burstyn together again so soon after you played her grandson last year in the miniseries "Political Animals." Is that a coincidence?
SS: Yeah, it was just one of those things. We were still shooting "Political Animals" when I mentioned to her that I was going to meet with Sam Gold again and audition for Picnic. My original intention was to ask her questions about the '50s and her own theatre experiences. A week later, she told me she was meeting meet with Sam Gold as well to discuss her playing Mrs. Potts. I said, "Wow! Well, you'll be my first phone call if this works out," and she did end up being my first phone call. I'm very grateful she's a part of this, because I've learned a lot from her this past year. I feel like I came across an angel in the world, and I've been lucky to be under her wing for a little bit.