Randy Harrison's experience playing visual artists should help him in 'Red'

Friday February, 3rd 2012

By: Peter Filichia
Source: NJ.com
Edited by: Marcy
Is Randy Harrison getting typecast?

For the third time in his professional career, he’ll portray a visual artist.

This time, he’s Ken, a fictional assistant to famous painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970). He’s at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, co-starring in “Red,” the John Logan-written drama that won the 2010 Tony Award for best play.

In 2000, Harrison began his stint as Justin Taylor on the Showtime cable series “Queer as Folk.” During the five seasons, he saw his character go from a moody teenager to a visual artist.

Then, in 2009, Harrison portrayed Andy Warhol in a musical called “Pop” at Yale Rep. “I do like pop art,” he says. “I understand it as a reaction to abstract expressionism.”

There’s good reason why Harrison sounds a bit more erudite than the average person when speaking about art. “I’m a big fan,” he says. “Just for fun, a couple of years ago, I took a contemporary art course at the Museum of Modern Art. And as soon as we finish here, before we move the play to Cleveland, I’ve decided that I’m going to Washington, D.C., to the National Gallery to see a Rothko there.”

He stops to smile and shrug. “And yet, there’s something funny about my playing a visual artist,” he says. “I have no talent in that area at all. Zero. None. I can’t even draw a straight line. My talent in this area is limited to appreciation and support.”

Not that Harrison has to do much with a brush in “Red.” He’s on hand to help Rothko, who’s been commissioned by the Four Seasons restaurant to come up with dramatic and eye-catching work. As time goes on, Ken is not above criticizing what the master is painting.

Says Harrison: “We’ve all had parents, teachers and mentors that we’ve loved. That doesn’t mean, though, that we don’t reach a point where we feel compelled to express our opinions. Sometimes they go very much against those people who nurtured us, and sometimes we have the need to move beyond.”

However, Harrison still has great regard for his teachers at Pace Academy in Atlanta. “As a young boy, I’d done some community theater when my family was living in New Hampshire: Winthrop in ‘The Music Man,’ Oliver in ‘Oliver!’ I was taken away from it when I was 11, when we moved to Georgia. I had three ‘non-theater’ years for reasons I can’t explain. Then when I got to Pace, the teachers were so amazing. Not many high schools have their kids reading ‘Waiting for Godot’ and acting in plays by Tom Stoppard.”

Yet Harrison originally pursued musical theater. He attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, which features its students in a showcase for agents each spring. One who saw him there told him that an upcoming series called “Queer as Folk” needed a young man to play a teen. Although Harrison was 22, he was cast.

He remains, however, a theater actor.

“I miss being on a set a little bit,” he says. “There’s a sense of community from seeing the same people every day.”

Harrison slowly shakes his head. “But I love rehearsing and really examining a script. And in TV, you’re sometimes given new lines 20 minutes before filming, and you’re suddenly facing someone you’ve never met before, let alone rehearsed with.”

So look for more theater work from Harrison.

“I love working with Anders Cato,” he says, citing the director of “Red.” “This is our fourth show together — one of which was ‘Waiting for Godot.’ I’d wanted to do that once since high school. ‘Queer as Folk’ helped that happen.”