'Awards Chatter' Podcast — 2016 Tonys Actor Roundtable (7 Broadway Standouts)

THR_Tonys_Men_THR_David_Needleman_188_V2_splashD_tonyActors - H 2016
David Needleman

THR_Tonys_Men_THR_David_Needleman_188_V2_splashD_tonyActors - H 2016

"I love this moment that we're having right now," Leslie Odom Jr., the 34-year-old best actor in a musical Tony nominee for Hamilton, says of a Broadway season in which his show, with its colorblind depiction of America's founding fathers, has been but one of many highlighting diverse stories and talent. As described by Odom and six other distinguished performers who gathered for THR's third annual Tonys Actor Roundtable (presented by New York's iconic Empire Hotel), many of whom shift between stage and screen, the Great White Way puts Hollywood to shame.

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"Hollywood's in a major drought right now in terms of capturing people's hearts and minds," says Zachary Levi, 35, the former star of TV's Chuck turned best actor in a musical nominee for She Loves Me. "They're sacrificing talent over whatever sells tickets," adds School of Rock's Alex Brightman, 29, also nominated in that category. Blackbird's Jeff Daniels, 61, and Long Day's Journey Into Night's Gabriel Byrne, 66, both best actor in a play nominees for grueling productions — the former's an explosive 90 minutes with no intermission, the latter's a nearly four-hour grind — have long jumped between Hollywood and Broadway and confirm these concerns. "They've got a lot of problems, and diversity is a big one," says Daniels. Laments Byrne, "It's run by corporations, movies are products, the products have to sell to the widest possible audience, and, in order to do that, they shave off anything that's emotionally challenging or complex." Reed Birney, 61, a best featured actor in a play nominee for The Humans who plays the veep on House of Cards when not beating the boards in New York, proudly notes, "Broadway has always done stuff before Hollywood," as fellow theater vet Danny Burstein, 51, nominated for best actor in a musical for Fiddler on the Roof, nods in agreement.

Over the course of a 45-minute conversation that took place in New York in mid-May, all of these formidable talents acknowledge that Broadway still has room for improvement — "What we really need to pay attention to is the next two seasons," cautions Odom, who is black and says that apart from Hamilton "there are no shows for me to do, there are just no roles" — but that, warts and all, it's a pretty terrific place to work. "The gift that I have," says Brightman, "is that families come see my show, and it's inevitably somebody's first Broadway show every performance — that's usually affirmed at the stage door — and so that is who I'm doing it for."