Off-Broadway actor Michael Urie discusses his latest movie, Petunia, which filmed entirely in NYC
I love a good indie movie, but love even more when that movie is filmed — and set — in my home city. Thankfully, Petunia, a dramedy directed by Ash Christian and written by Christian and Theresa Bennett, fueled my overdue need for a good old-fashioned NY-based indie flick and gets bonus points for being about a dysfunctional family composed of likeable individuals.
The movie recently premiered at Cinema Village (22 East 12th Street).
In the film, Julliard graduate and Texas native Michael Urie plays George, a married man who is in a polyamorous relationship with Robin, played by Pitch Perfect’s Brittany Snow. Urie’s co-stars in the film also include Thora Birch, Christine Lahti, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and Tobias Segal.
Known nationally for his roles in the TV series “Ugly Betty” and “Partners,” Urie is residing in Manhattan for the summer, where he’s starring in the off-Broadway play Buyer & Cellar.
Urie candidly spoke about his involvement with Petunia, his current theatre gig, and how much he loves Citi Bike.
What was it like filming Petunia in your backyard of New York? I noticed some scenes were shot in DUMBO.
It’s always a pleasure to shoot something in NYC, the greatest place in the world! I think [director] Ash [Christian] and his team did a fabulous job of showing the city off. Funny enough, there were scenes that took place so far away from Manhattan that I had to be reminded we were still in New York — but those areas were great interior locations, and they saved some wonderful sidewalk scenes for some outside stuff — like a phone call I got to make on 34th street!
What do you love the most about New York, and where do you go in New York to clear your head and get away from it all?
I love New York most for the theatre. I’m a creature of it and can’t stay away from the place for too long. In fact, while shooting Petunia, I was racing to the theatre to open in Angels in America Off-Broadway. The parks system in New York is also the greatest. And my new favorite thing? Citi Bikes! They’re incredible and bringing people together in a whole new way.
What attracted you to the role of George McDougal in Petunia and what message do you want readers to walk away with after they see the film?
I was thrilled to be offered a role like George, a person who’s mysterious and seductive. I often get cast (happily) in the silly, colorful types, and I’m thrilled that they gave me a chance to slow down and play subtleties. I love the relationships in Petunia, and George certainly has a complex one (or two). I hope that the audience is happy with what happens to George.
You’ve successfully tackled film — you co-wrote and directed the film He’s Way More Famous Than You — TV and theatre. Which creative outlet is most near and dear to your heart?
I’ve had much joy getting to bounce around the mediums. Theatre is certainly where I thrive the most artistically as an actor. Directing is something I’m also extremely excited to tackle again, after directing a comedy feature, a short, and a full length documentary, I feel very much at home behind the camera—and feel its kinship to stage acting, in a funny way.
They’re both an opportunity to fully ‘own’ something, whether it’s being the final word amongst collaborators (i.e. directing) or truly being the master of your own performance — which one is once the curtain goes up on a play.
“Ugly Betty” was such a hit and your character, the eccentric Marc (a snarky magazine assistant), was hilarious. Do you miss the cast, crew, and filming that show in NYC?
I miss “Ugly Betty” every day. Luckily, I still get to see my cast members often, Judith (Light) and Vanessa (Williams) are trotting the boards now too, so we get a lot of face time, and I just shot a movie with Ana Ortiz. Mark Indelicato came to my show Buyer & Cellar opening night along with Vanessa. They’re all so dear to me, still, and I could’ve played that role forever.
I am so sorry your series “Partners” was cancelled. What have you learned from that whole experience — working on a TV show that just didn’t take off as successfully as “Ugly Betty?”
Well, “Partners” was certainly a bummer! It was, creatively, incredible. I loved the actors, the writers and Jimmy Burrows, the king of sitcoms, so much — and even with a staggering 6.5 million average viewers, we sadly couldn’t compete with the mega hit climate they’ve got over at CBS. Though “Ugly Betty” was a big hit, and certainly spawned fans all over the world, that show, too, was cut short, so the whole “canceled show” feeling was not new to me…It’s always a bummer, as an actor, to make a family and then have to leave them — “Partners” was no exception.
What’s next for you career-wise? Summer plans?
I’ll be appearing Off-Broadway in Buyer & Cellar through the summer at least — and will continue promoting our comedy, He’s Way More Famous Than You, along with Petunia — and actively trying to get the next directing gig up and running. (I wouldn’t mind another TV series either…)
Buyer & Cellar is currently playing at the Barrow Street Theatre; 27 Barrow Street. For tickets, visit buyerandcellar.com.
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