Patrick Stafford’s L.A. stage debut last summer as Alan Strang in The Production Company’s production of Equus made theater critics and audience members sit up and take notice of a major new talent in our midst. Patrick’s superb performance earned him a spot on StageSceneLA’s Best Of 2008-2009 lists in the category Best Performance By A Lead Actor (Drama). The Ohio native is about to undertake the title role in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, once again at the Production Company under the direction of August Viverito.  Patrick took time out of a very busy rehearsal schedule to chat with StageSceneLA about his very up-and-coming career.

Patrick, you were born and raised in New Carlisle, Ohio (2000 population of 5,735) and I’m assuming you lived there through your graduation from Tecumseh High School ‘00. Sounds like a Mayberry kind of growing up (if you get that Andy Griffith Show reference).  Was it? 

I did live in New Carlisle during my entire upbringing until graduation from high school.  New Carlisle, Ohio is a typical mid western small town. Two stop lights and football is everything.

So were you into sports when you weren’t stopping at one of those two traffic signals? 

I actually played all kinds of sports… soccer, basketball, golf… However, everyone kept growing and I stayed small.  It was hard for me to compete. I was a late bloomer. 

Was that one of the reasons you decided to try acting?

I turned to the theater because my size and strength didn’t matter.  In Dayton, Ohio there is a great organization called the Muse Machine which brings arts to young people across thirteen counties. Every year they do a large-scale musical and I was lucky to be cast in lead parts, giving me the confidence to pursue acting as a career.  My parents were also very supportive of whatever their children chose to do and they helped me cultivate my love for acting.  

Then it was off to the big city of Dayton for your university studies at Wright State University, and then on to Boston for your BFA in Theater from The Boston Conservatory, right? 

I was at Wright State University for a year and completed my training at The Boston Conservatory. 

Are there any roles that stand out for you as you look back through your Boston Conservatory scrap book?

Of my college roles, I am most proud of Sam Byck in Assassins (the failed Nixon assassin in the Santa Claus suit). The character isn’t usually played by someone like me and it was a stretch casting me. In the end, the audience responded to my performance not my appearance or age. I’m most satisfied portraying characters that have very layered pasts and difficult subject matter to address. Sam Byck is one of those characters.

Since you’ve been in L.A., your roles have been dramatic, but you’ve got a bunch of musicals on your résumé as well. How would you classify yourself as actor? 

I guess I would class myself as an actor with the ability to sing. 

As opposed to a “musical theater performer.” That’s interesting.  So, what’s it like being a Hollywood-based actor as opposed to a New York-based one?

I love California and Hollywood took notice of me when New York City didn’t. I lived in New York for three years with some success. I think that Hollywood is always looking for someone new and New York’s acting scene is more like an exclusive club that is really difficult to break into. 

Any plans to do more musicals here in L.A.?

I enjoy musical theater, but plays generally excite me more. However, I think L.A. is great at producing musical theater and people elsewhere don’t always realize that. 

Patrick (with Jim Hanna) in Equus

Your first big L.A. role was as Alan Strang in Equus. I understand that this was a role you’d wanted to do for years.

The first time I read Equus I told myself that I must perform Alan someday.  It just spoke to me in a way other plays had not.  I don’t know if I’ll ever find a role more right for me. 

Had you already moved west when you tried out for the role? 

Yes, I already lived in L.A. when I auditioned. 

Can you talk a bit about auditioning, getting the role, and what being in the production meant to you?

The audition was difficult.  They asked us to do a scene that involved a lot of mime and also the “orgasm scene” at the end of Act I.  I wanted the part with all my heart so I memorized it and tried to give them an audition as close to performance as I possibly could. They called me hours later to tell me the role was mine.  It was a very happy moment because it was the beginning of a dream fulfilled. 

Did being in Equus have have any effect on your career?

Being in that production changed my career because people in the business started to pay more attention to my abilities. I am so grateful to The Production Company for that opportunity.  I couldn’t think of a better way for me to be introduced to LA. 
Did Alan’s nudity ever make you wonder, “Do I really want to do this?” Or was it something that came easy to you?

I never blinked about doing the nudity.  The character is so well constructed that the nudity was just a by-product of the opportunity to perform an amazing role.  It was actually liberating. After doing Equus I will never have an issue with being naked on stage or in my personal life.

Many young actors have “seeking representation” on their bios, even actors with a number of local credits.  You, on the other hand, are already thanking your agents in your bio. How did you go about getting representation? 

I thank them because they took a chance on me. They saw Equus and signed me.  They understand me as an actor, support my abilities and work very hard to get me in the audition room. Both my management company and agency are filled with good people and that is sometimes hard to find in this business.

What advice would you offer to young performers “seeking representation”?

My best advice for young performers in regard to representation is:  Don’t wait to be noticed. Make them notice you.  Go do theater and rely on your talent above all things.  Also, a healthy understanding of who you are will put you ahead of most people. 

Patrick with Sarah Hyland in Modern Family

You recently made your national TV debut in a very cute role on Modern Family…as a 14-year-old! Can you tell us something about your first big TV shoot?

Well, the coolest thing about that shoot was that I was a fan of the show. I got to be a part of world that I had been watching from a distance.  We also shot at LAX and being “on location” was very exciting.  Also, the cast was very cool and inviting. 

Patrick with Jesse Tyler Ferguson and “Baby Lily” on the Modern Family set

I love the show too, so I can imagine how you must have felt, and it was exciting for me to see someone I know becoming part of that world!   Moving on…  The L.A. theater scene has a reputation, deserved or not, as being a place where actors waiting for their big movie/TV break work “in the meantime.” How do you feel about that statement, as regards others, and as regards your own career?

I don’t really think of it as waiting for a break. I think about theater in L.A. as a place to continue to learn and grow as an actor. I think every time you are acting you are learning. I can’t really speak for others but I know that if you are an artist then the medium in which you act shouldn’t matter. It’s the acting that matters… whether it is in front of a camera or a live audience is inconsequential. I’m interested in being the best actor I can be and I think that if you can act on stage then you can act anywhere. 

You’re currently rehearsing the title role in Amadeus, your second production for The Production Company.  What made you say yes to working once again for 99-seat plan “peanuts”?

It’s about the role. The Production Company does great work so it was an easy decision.  I’m lucky to have been offered the part after auditioning.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is a layered part and I look forward to learning as much as I can from this experience.

You’ll be playing a role that garnered Best Actor nominations for its Broadway star (a Tony nomination for Tim Curry) and its Hollywood star (an Oscar nomination for Tom Hulse)? How are you researching the role and making it your own?

I’ve read books and am constantly listening to his music.  But I’ve found that Peter Shaffer’s Mozart is definitely a theatrical version of the real man. There’s room for the actor’s interpretation. I’m still currently finding Mozart and believe that I’ll be finding him right up until the day the show opens.  The main thing I can say is I think that in the show, Mozart isn’t much more mature than a fourteen-year-old in a lot of ways.  If I keep that choice present in my mind it indicates several things about how I act the part. Peter Shaffer is a very smart playwright and most of what I need is present in the script.

How can audiences expect this production of Amadeus to differ from those they’ve seen before?

The scale is definitely different. The focus is specifically on characters rather than pomp and circumstance. There are other surprises but I don’t want to reveal anything.

What would be the best thing that could happen to you as an actor in the next five years?

I would really like to continue working in live theater and also more consistently on TV and film.  My perfect career situation would be to have a series regular TV job and do one production on stage a year. Above all things, I really just want to be someone that people respect as an actor.

With roles like Alan in Equus and Mozart in Amadeus, I think you’re already getting that respect.  Thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions, Patrick! I can’t wait for opening night of Amadeus!

Patrick Stafford received his BFA in Theatre from The Boston Conservatory. He now returns to The Production Company/The Chandler Studio Theater as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus after starring as Alan Strang in Equus (LA Weekly, LADCC Award Best Revival). Patrick has appeared in New York in Eric Bogosian’s Humpty Dumpty and The Hand That Feeds You and regionally in Big River, Assassins, and The Rivals. Patrick recently made his TV debut on ABC’s hit comedy Modern Family as Jeff.  He is a member of AFTRA.

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