Injured 'Rent' Star Has No Regrets About Lack of Understudy

The actor talks with The Hollywood Reporter about what happened in the hours after he suffered a broken foot during dress rehearsal for Fox's musical.
Courtesy of FOX
Brennin Hunt (middle, in wheelchair) during Saturday's 'Rent' live performance (that was not televised)

After one of the lead actors in Fox's live production of Rent suffered a serious injury during the show's final dress rehearsal Saturday night, Sunday's broadcast wasn't exactly as live as originally planned.

Brennin Hunt, who played the pivotal role of Roger, broke his foot just before the final act of the show — forcing the network to air Saturday's dress rehearsal instead, and only going live after the last commercial break.

The soundstage on Fox's Los Angeles lot was filled with 1,200 audience members who instead were treated to the cast performing a staged concert of most of the rest of the show. As videos leaked to Twitter, many watching at home wondered why Fox didn't broadcast that version instead.

On Monday, the day after the broadcast, Hunt spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about exactly how the injury happened, which of his castmembers were the most supportive after his fall (spoiler: it's all of them, but particularly Jordan Fisher, who starred as Mark, and Brandon Victor Dixon, who played Tom Collins), and why the decision was made to air the dress rehearsal instead of the concert.

You broke your foot as you were running down stairs to do your final quick change. What went through your head when you realized something had happened?

I dropped a few bombs. I fell to the floor, and I had a hunch that I had broken it, but I was trying to think, "Oh, it's just a sprain. I can get through it. They can give me shots. We can do whatever we need." And then I started apologizing to everybody, and everybody was just so sweet. Marc Platt, our executive producer, came over and he said, "You've got to stop apologizing. You didn't do this on purpose. This happens. We're going to get through it. We're going to figure this out." And everybody was just showering me with love and kindness and positive vibes, and it really was such a sweet moment for me.

When they finally iced it, they calmed me down. And Brandon Victor Dixon carried me out with Marc Platt to the center of the stage to finish the finale on Saturday night in front of that audience, and the audience was very warm and kind to me as well. It was a beautiful moment, and then coming back to the set Sunday and seeing everybody again, they just gave me a warm welcome. They had the game plan together, and I feel like we nailed it.

We had another beautiful night last night doing a little concert for that audience, and it just has been one of the most amazing experiences of my career this far in working with these people. And honestly, the essence of Rent is love and family and community, and I totally got that off-camera for all these months with these people. That's part of the sadness of it being done. We became so close. It was family, and then, you know, we open and close the show in the same night and say goodbye.

Who was the first person to realize that something bad had happened and ran over to you?

Jordan because he was right behind me. We were running a full sprint together — we change in the same little area — and he saw me go down, and immediately came and helped me and yelled out to cut, and had everybody come over, and get the paramedics. He stayed with me throughout the entire thing, just rubbing my back and keeping me calm. Just a sweet, genuine soul, and I couldn't be more honored to have worked with somebody like him, and to have him around me.

And to have Brandon and Tinashe come over and hug me and love on me. And Sonya, our choreographer, and Michael Greif our director, and Marc Platt, and Adam Siegel — I mean, just everybody. I could name the whole list of people who came to surround me with love. I can't talk about it enough, because I feel so fortunate and blessed to have that community.

You went to the hospital afterward, and Marc Platt came with you. Was it just you and Marc at the hospital? Did your family come? Was your family at the taping that night?

My family came on Friday. Saturday they had a different audience. I called my wife and I let her know what was going on. My best friend, Ryan, from Oklahoma, rented a big AirBnB and had all of our family and friends there, and I said, "You guys don't worry about me. Just stay there." I knew if she came around me I would probably get emotional and get sad, because she would get sad about it. So it was Marc Platt and Gracie Parker was with me, as well, the entire time. And that just, to me, meant the world to have both of them there and Marc told me something very profound. He looked at me and he said, "I know you're disappointed, Brennin. We're all disappointed. But we can deal with disappointment. We can't deal with a loss. This is disappointment. This isn't loss." And he was just so sweet and so kind, and I can't say enough great things about Marc Platt.

When you were at the hospital, did you still think that they were going to be able to fix it somehow and you were going to be able to go on?

I told the doctor, "This is basically Game 7 of the World Series. Is there any shot, anything you can do to make me get through this?" And he said, "If you put any weight on this, you will have to have surgery, and you will do damage, and you'll probably deal with arthritis in this area as you age." And he just said, "Right now, I guarantee you couldn't even put weight on it without being in intense pain." And I tried just putting my foot flat, it was so painful. So we made the decision not to even try. There's no way I could have even put weight on it.

Marc and all the other producers, they put a plan together and I think it worked out and made for a beautiful story, honestly. What happened Sunday night in the room, with the concert singing in sync with the broadcast on the screens, there was so much improv and so much love and laughter between the cast and crew. They filmed the whole thing, and I hope at some point they put it out, because there was something magical that happened in the room last night while it was being broadcast before we did the finale live.

Have you heard talk of that being released?

I've heard chatter but you know, chatter is chatter. I'm hoping, selfishly hoping. A lot of the acts that they did last night I couldn't [perform] because I'd only gotten about two hours of sleep. Being at the ER, I didn't get in bed until 4 or 5 in the morning. I was physically exhausted and my vocals were tired and they wanted me to really rest for finale since we were going live for that. I had to sing the high note of "Mimi," so I definitely wanted to have my voice there.

Did they do the whole thing as a concert? Or just part of it?

It wasn't the entirety. They came to me first and asked how my voice was because they knew I hadn't gotten any rest and we'd been working 10, 12 hours a lot and [was given] medication. They asked if I could get through "Rent," the opening number. And I told them I would prefer to sit out of singing that for the audience and prefer to sit out singing "One Song Glory" just so I can save my voice for the live aspect, knowing that we had it recorded from the live version we did on Saturday.

So, the opening [TV] act was just shown to the audience. And then, when act two came in, we all came out and we performed act two and proceeded on. There were two other scenes that were taped: "Goodbye Love" — we didn't do that because I'm in that a lot and they wanted me to save my voice and I wanted to save my voice.

Was there any talk about other ways that you could put this on, aside from playing the taped rehearsal? Did anyone regret that there weren't understudies?

Those two questions I can't really answer because I don't think anybody would tell me if they regret there wasn't an understudy and somebody else was doing it and not me. For me, I'm glad there wasn't an understudy, because I felt like I gave my all on Saturday to that live performance, and I feel like everybody gave their all. I felt like we always tried to find new things and new ways of improving the show each and every time we did it, regardless of it being a rehearsal in front of an audience, or just doing it in front of 20 people, because we all just love the show so, so much. We're all big fans of it, and we wanted to give our best foot forward every time we stepped onstage.

I know a lot of people are disappointed that it wasn't live, but I can't say enough that it was live. [Saturday's performance is] exactly what they showed. There was no editing. They didn't tweak vocals. They didn't make any changes, and then they just went live for the finale because they didn't have that on tape because I broke my damn foot.

Dress rehearsal is a different energy than opening night of a show, so were you disappointed that everybody couldn't show their real, full opening-night potential?

I think everybody did give their opening night potential. We've had a couple of audiences come in and I always tell myself before I go out, "Let's do this 70 percent, gotta save your voice." The minute I'm onstage in front of an audience, it's 110 percent. And I can say the same for every single castmember, that they give their all every time, and I can tell because I've been spending months with them. When Valentina comes out and sings something a little differently and pushes even harder because there's an audience there, I'm like, "She's bringing it." And that's what happened on Saturday. Everybody was bringing it.

How much pain were you in last night?

They gave me painkillers, but I did not take them six hours before going on because I didn't want to be loopy. I wanted to be in the moment, and so I was in pain. Having my leg up and extended like that, and having to lift Tinashe off the table for the Mimi part in "Your Eyes," was extremely hard for me. But again, adrenaline and being in front of a live audience helps anybody push through anything. It's amazing what your body can do, even when you're in such pain. And being surrounded by this amazing cast.

Everybody just showered me with love and believed in me, and they all knew that I could do it, and gave me so much confidence going in, and I really didn't think about it. I just thought, "They're going to see my un-pedicured toes, which might look ugly, but the show's going on and I'm going to sing 'Your Eyes' as best I can and I'm going to perform this as best I can." I walk away from this very proud of everybody and everybody who put so much time and energy into this. They've been planning this for over a year. And we've been rehearsing for months and even before we got together we rehearsed. We've all been working with our acting coaches for months to dive into the characters. So, what you see is beautiful.

In my opinion, I think it is a gorgeous piece of work. I know it moves so many people and it will continue to move people. It's just a beautiful musical and any way, shape or form you make it or do it, it's going to move people. That's the message of Rent — love and community and outreach and being there for one another. I'm proud.

What do you think about how it was received? Do you think that producers made the right decision in playing that dress rehearsal footage? Or do you wish that they had broadcast the concert?

I think they made the perfect decision. My gut feeling, which I told Marc that night in the ER, that I would love to come out, cast or whatever I have, and finish it because I believe so much in this musical. I knew physically I wouldn't be able to do "La Vie Boheme" and all those other things, and that's why there was just no way we could have done the choreographed, planned-out version.

We'd been working on this for months to look a certain way. And that's what we ultimately showed on Sunday was our Saturday live performance, the way the show was intended to be produced. I think they were very smart to capture everything they did last night because I'm pretty sure it's going to be released at some point because it has beautiful content. For those Rent fans out there, I would say don't be bitter about it not being live because it was live. And you're going get two versions, I think, out of this. I think it's a blessing in disguise.

Would you have done anything differently between Saturday?

I wouldn't have jumped off that last step on Saturday! I would have taken it a little more easy. But there's no regret. That's a line from Rent. It's today, there's only us, there's now. Pun intended, but it's so true. Why would I look back on what could have happened? That's just not what life is about. What happened, happened. I think we embraced it and we embodied it in the best way that we could. And I think it's beautiful. I think everybody came together and made a beautiful piece of work.

You have a single out and you were in a movie that's coming out in the fall, but what do you want to do next? Are you going to pursue acting? Are you doing more music?

I'm doing all of the above. I've got the single "Can't Hold a Candle," it came out today. It's featuring Christian artist Jaci Velasquez and we'll be featured in Walking With Herb, which is supposed to come out in the fall.

I've always wanted to pursue acting, I've just done music first. I've been in Nashville for about 12 years as a singer-songwriter. As you know in the music business it's [got] an age restraint, and with the acting you can start [later]. I always figured later in life I would do acting, but it turns out God had other plans for me and the acting thing's pulling me here. We're actually planning on selling our place in Nashville and coming to L.A. and going full force with the acting world. [I'm] just working to get better and learn as much as I can and further myself as an artist. I continue to write songs, and I've got a couple songs I'm going to go into the studio and record that are more in the rock/pop vein, which is what I grew up on.

I'm pretty stoked about the future. I think this is just the beginning of something great. I can't say enough to the people, the creatives who had me be a part of Rent and gave me this platform in my career as well as just letting me a part of this beautiful family of Rent.

Are you going to stay in L.A. for pilot season?

I will be here and I'm hoping there's some pirate roles for me since I'll be on a peg leg. I'm definitely going to be here. I'm going to be hustling and seeing what else is coming next.