This week Playbill checks in with Chris Wood, who is currently making his Broadway debut in the new musical Almost Famous, which continues through January 8 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
Wood plays rock musician Russell Hammond, the lead guitarist of Stillwater, in the musical adaptation of Cameron Crowe's 2000 film. Set in 1973, the story follows 15-year-old aspiring music journalist William Miller, who Rolling Stone hires to go on tour with the then-up-and-coming rock band.
An actor and writer, Hammond is perhaps best known for his portrayal of the super-powered alien Mon-El in the CW series Supergirl. His screen credits also include the limited event series Containment, Kai Parker on the CW series The Vampire Diaries, PBS' Mercy Street, the CW's The Carrie Diaries, and HBO’s Emmy-winning Girls. Wood is also the voice of He-Man/Prince Adam in the Netflix animated series Masters of the Universe: Revelation.
A few weeks prior to the announcement that Almost Famous would end its run early on January 8, Wood shared his thoughts about his role in the Crowe-Tom Kitt musical, and how starring on Broadway is the culmination of a lifelong dream.
What is your typical day like now?
We’ve just gotten through the gauntlet of rehearsals into previews, opening, press, and recording the album, so I haven’t settled into anything “typical” quite yet. But I’m very much looking forward to it! Every day starts with a pour of coffee and some snuggles with my son. I’m a screenwriter as well, so if I’m on a tight deadline, I’ll take my coffee and spend a couple of hours writing. But most of the time, I spend the first part of the day with my family. We’ll have breakfast, play a bit, and then we usually head out to do something together. I typically make time for a workout around lunchtime while he naps, and then I’ll get cleaned up so I’m ready for the show that night and have a quick lunch. By then the West Coast will be starting their day, so it’s time for Zoom meetings and writing work in the afternoon.
I emerge in time for dinner and more playtime with my son, then it’s time to head to the theatre. I warm up my voice while I get ready, have some tea, and then sit down with the guitar to warm up my hands. We do the show. I say hi to any guests I have in the audience that night, then head home as quickly as I can to spend time with my wife before it’s time for bed. Rinse and repeat.
Tell me a bit about playing Russell Hammond in Almost Famous.
Russell is Stillwater’s lead guitarist, and he’s…a complicated dude. He’s driven and cares deeply about the music he wants to make, and he’s tortured by the success of his band. He feels like he can do better—he knows he can—and he’s stuck in what feels like an impossible situation where he doesn’t want to let these guys down, but he feels like they’re holding him back. He’s also got this deep emotional and romantic connection with Penny Lane, but they agree to a “no attachments, no boundaries” contract that they can’t really keep. Russell is back with his ex-wife, and this thing with Penny is much more real than either of them want to admit. And whatever the reason, they leave a lot unsaid, and people end up getting hurt. There’s a lot of growing up that needs to happen, and we see the beginning of that journey in the show.
What does it mean to you to be making your Broadway debut?
“To begin with…everything.” My dreams of becoming an actor started very early in my life, and it all started with Broadway. I grew up coming into the city a couple times a year to see shows when we visited relatives in the Northeast, and from the very first show I saw (Cats!), I knew I wanted to be up on that stage. It truly was everything to me. I started writing scripts and making my own movies, and that ambition got wider and started to include film work and writing. But I was just this kid from Ohio. I didn’t know anyone in the business, I didn’t even know how people got into it. I read about a lot of the actors I respected and kept noticing that most of them got started on stage, and always came back to the stage throughout their careers. So I figured that was the best path forward. Being here on Broadway after all this time is a lifelong dream come true for me.
Are there any parts of the role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
The pandemic starved us of connectivity and collectively challenged all of our mental health, and it also took away the magic of live theatre. There’s nothing like it. And, it feels better than ever to be able to share that energy exchange with the audience every night. Our show feels a bit like a warm hug from Cameron Crowe…which is never a bad thing.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
It’s good that attention has been called to this and that some changes have been made, but there is still a lifetime of work remaining to be done. I hope that those who have the power to make meaningful change choose to do it. And, I hope that we continue to create and celebrate stories that feature diverse voices, and that representation happens both on stage and backstage. We should accept nothing less.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know?
I’ve learned a lot about my own priorities, and what really matters to me. I suppose that happens when you become a father…everything sort of shifts. I’m still adjusting and learning how to focus myself, so I’m spending time on what really matters and less time on what isn’t important.
Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
I do! I’m the voice of He-Man/Adam on the Netflix animated series Masters of the Universe: Revelation, and our new season (titled Revolution) comes out this year. And it’s awesome. As for the writing and acting side, there are a few really exciting things happening that are very close to being announced! But sadly I have to give the obnoxious answer that I can’t talk about them yet. But there’s good things on the horizon!
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
I’ve been a passionate mental health advocate for years, and in 2017 I founded IDONTMIND. It’s a mental health campaign with a mission to inspire open conversations about mental health and to provide resources, education, and encouragement for anyone who needs it. Our work has been expanding and requires more and more support to make it all possible, and every little bit goes a long way.