How do you follow a Broadway debut in the title role of the most-talked-about hit in years: Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton?
If you're Austin Scott, you play the world's most famous playwright, William Shakespeare, in Max Martin and David West Read's Tony-nominated & Juliet at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. Scott, in fact, stepped into that role in the hit jukebox musical this past summer, succeeding Stark Sands.
In between those gigs, Scott originated the role of Joe Scott in the Tony-nominated Bob Dylan-Conor McPherson hit Girl From the North Country, while his screen credits include A Jazzman’s Blues, Pose, and Sistas. The actor will next be seen as NBA star Blake Griffin in the FX limited series The Sterling Affairs and in the Peacock film Mr. Monk’s Last Case.
In the interview below for the Playbill series How Did I Get Here—spotlighting not only actors, but directors, designers, musicians, and others who work on and off the stage to create the magic that is live theatre—Scott shares the hobby he picked up while starring in Girl From the North Country and why not getting cast in Hamilton the first time around may have been his luckiest break.
Where did you train/study?
Austin Scott: I didn’t go to a conservatory or any sort of college acting program. My training came in the form of scene study classes, workshops, private coachings, and on-the-job experience. I’ve learned as I’ve worked, and that process is ongoing.
Was there a teacher who was particularly impactful/helpful? What made this instructor stand out?
There are two that really stick out in my mind. My first acting and vocal coach was Bettina Devin in Northern California. I started working with her when I was a pre-teen, and she continued to be my mentor and primary coach until I was about 22 years old. She nurtured my natural passion for performing and taught me to trust my instincts. She coached me through the first period of my first professional career and taught me how to navigate the business side of the industry, which can be just as confusing as the creative side (if not more so).
Then there’s Joan Rosenfels, who helped me refine and deepen my craft. She taught me how to work. I started studying with her when I first moved to NYC in my early 20s. She gave me the tool box I use to build every character I play today. I had developed pretty thick armor and perfectionism during my years in L.A. auditioning for TV and film. Joan helped me break all of that down so I could bring more authenticity to my work.
What are the challenges/benefits of stepping into a role in a show that is already running?
When I step into a role that someone else originated, I have the benefit of building on the work and discoveries that the actor before me made. A good deal of the groundwork has already been laid so I’m not starting completely from scratch. That being said, replacing can certainly come with its challenges as well. Sometimes you’re stepping into a production that has been running for a long time, and your job is basically to “paint-by-numbers.” You’re essentially expected to be a carbon copy and do things the way they have always been done because it “works” and it’s easier/faster to teach the show that way. In that scenario, there’s usually not a lot of latitude to make your own discoveries or try anything new.
Luckily, that has not been my experience with either of the two shows I have replaced in. With & Juliet, I understood right away that, aside from the general staging which needed to stay the same for safety and consistency, the creative team was really open to me creating my own version of this character from the ground up. That artistic freedom is crucial to me, and it’s always the first question I ask if I’m considering replacing.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Shakespeare? What makes that part so special?
Without completely giving away any major plot points, my favorite moment in the show is when Shakespeare decides to bring one of his characters back from the dead. It’s such a spectacularly ludicrous moment, and I get to orchestrate it all. The audience goes crazy every time.
Can you share a favorite memory—either backstage or on stage—from your time in Girl From the North Country?
My favorite memory is a cluster of memories. The two heads of the hair department at Girl From the North Country taught me and a few other cast members how to crochet. We would all meet up between shows from time to time to work on our crochet projects and chat about whatever we had on our minds. I would always look forward to those days and I still crochet! In fact, that’s usually what I'm doing when I’m in my dressing room during & Juliet.
How did you get your first job in the theatre?
My very first theatre role was playing Little Ricky and various other roles in my hometown’s community theatre production called Benicia Follies. I was about seven years old. I remember crying a lot and throwing several tantrums but clearly I loved it because after that, I was hooked.
What is the most memorable day job you ever had?
I used to drive for Uber and Lyft when I lived in L.A. I can’t say I miss it, but it paid the bills, and I met some very interesting people.
Tell me about a job/opportunity you really wanted but didn’t get. How did you get over that disappointment?
The first time I auditioned for Hamilton, it didn’t work out. It was shortly after I first moved to the city back in 2016. The show had just opened on Broadway, and they were casting for the California sit-down and future Broadway replacements. They threw just about every role you can imagine at me: Philip/ Laurens, Lafayette/Jefferson, Washington, Mulligan/Madison. Basically everyone besides Ham and Burr. I had a string of about four or five callbacks with [Lin-Manuel Miranda] and everyone else from the original creative team in the room. I was so excited to be in consideration for such a hit show. I mean the show had just opened on Broadway, and this was by far the most exciting room you could be in.
I’ll never forget the moment in my final callback when Tommy Kail looked at me long and hard and then said, “Thank you.” I could tell that it was the end of the road, at least for the time being. I was crushed. I was young and naive and had told everyone in my life that I was in final callbacks for Hamilton. I knew I would have to go back with my tail between my legs and tell them I didn’t get it. But I took pride in the fact that I made it as far as I did with no substantial credits under my belt. I told myself that if I was able to hold my own in that room then it was only a matter of time before I would land something big.
And I was right.
About a year later, Hamilton called me back in to read for Alexander Hamilton, the role that would give me my Broadway debut and so much more. The summer after I found out I didn’t book the job, I met my fiancé during a regional production of In the Heights—which I never would have been in had I booked Hamilton that year.
You never know how it’s all going to work out in the end.
What advice would you give your younger self or anyone starting out?
Be patient, do the work, and don’t hide yourself. The most important thing you can bring to any project is your truest, most authentic self. You’ve gotta put yourself out there, and that can feel super vulnerable and uncomfortable at times, but your best work and everything you’ve dreamed of is on the other side of that discomfort. It’s worth it. The real work is learning how to quiet down all the noise in your head so that you can show up, be present, and surprise yourself.
What do you wish you knew starting out that you know now?
That I am enough.