Andrew Jackson, Rock Star
Reesman, Bryan, Stage Directions
Ben Walker reveals how he stays centered in the center role of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
The edgy emo musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson created a major stir during its last Off-Broadway run at the Public Theater in New York, so much so that it was actually brought to the Great White Way for a three-month run starting in mid-October. What is amazing is how the irreverent show - which portrays our seventh president both as a political idealist and genocidal murderer - even made it into the mainstream. Originally performed in Los Angeles more than three years ago, the musical enjoyed two runs at the Public before hitting Broadway. Its sarcastic wit, rich pop culture references and sharp political commentary - a mash-up of high and low art, if you will - contributed to its longevity and success.
The show's engine is Benjamin Walker, who previously appeared on Broadway in Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Inherit the Wind along with some Hollywood films. While BBAJ's ensemble cast definitely exudes talent. Walker's sexy swagger, sense of irony and sheer boldness has made him a magnetic figure on stage. He believed so much in the show - which he likes to a "Romper Room White House" - that he gave up the chance to appear in the next X-Men movie to bring BBAJ to Broadway. That's dedication.
Stage Directions: You turned down the chance to be in the next X-Men movie to do this on Broadway. You completely created this role, but was it still a painful choice to make?
Benjamin Walker: I don't know. If I had missed this opportunity, I probably would've regretted it for the rest of my life. I've worked with this group of people for so long, and not to see it be able to come to fruition would've broken my heart. Hell, I've been broke this long. I've got nothing to lose.
Politically, the show is not as obvious as you think. As times it seems like you're satirizing Bush, but there's a little bit of Obama there as well. What was the process of building this character, and how has it mutated since you first developed it in Los Angeles three years ago?
It's interesting. It has deepened as we've continued to cultivate the project, but when you talk about the political parallels, when we did it in Los Angeles it was a Bush play. There was a stolen election. Then it was a Lincoln play. Then Palin when we were down at The Public. Now it's definitely Tea Party and Obama and "change we can believe in." There were a few aspects of the show, particularly in the third section, that have changed, but it has mostly stayed the same. There are still those parallels there every time we do it. Frankly, it is because of who Jackson was.
How do you relate to him and to that role?
I feel like as an American we can all relate to him in terms of how divisive he is. We're still debating whether he was a great president or a genocidal maniac. Especially as Americans today, we're such a divided country right now that the legacy of Jackson is certainly something we need to be discussing.
How do you view the evolution of your role? How different do you see your Andrew Jackson now as opposed to the one you were playing three years ago or even months ago?
I've definitely grown up with him, and through the progression of the show he becomes a man. As I get older I start to notice the new nuances in him. Even over a span of three years, you grow a lot in your twenties and you start to feel the responsibilities of being an adult in a way that he did, that moment of: "Now I'm in the White House, gotta pay the rent. What I do now?" That's been exciting and really rewarding as an actor. …