EXCLUSIVE: How David Bowie Inspired 'Great Comet' Star Lucas Steele's Tony-Nominated Performance

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To snag a Tony nomination for his first major Broadway performance (his debut was in the ensemble of 2006's The Threepenny Opera), Lucas Steele has made his way from small-town Pennsylvania all the way to the far reaches of outer space. When Steele’s character Anatole makes his dramatic entrance in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, he does so from behind a wall of light and fog. “Like Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Steele tells ET over the phone from backstage at the Imperial Theatre, where he’s between a suit fitting and a haircut, his coif dyed preternaturally blonde for the role.

“Otherworldly” is how the actor describes Anatole’s look, one Steele has adopted for the Broadway run of the musical he’s been with for five years, since its humble beginnings off-Broadway. Hardly anyone would disagree with that description, least of all Natasha, the naive ingénue whom Anatole seduces over the course of the story despite her existing engagement. (Based on a passage of Tolstoy’s War & PeaceComet delivers sweeping Russian drama with a punk twist.)

Though Steele earned his Tony nod in the featured actor category, it’s Anatole’s cunning, if not quite villainous, sexual conquest that drives the plot. “He is an alien to Natasha’s world,” Steele explains of Anatole’s hypnotic sway over the musical’s leading lady, played by fellow Tony nominee Denée Benton. (In total, the show earned 12 nominations.) “She’s never seen anything like him, she doesn’t know how to speak to him.” This is due, in part, to Anatole’s disarming stare, an intensely charged look that’s caught fans’ attention -- and one high-profile fan in particular.

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“Ben Stiller was kind enough to tweet about how I’m doing the 19th-century version of Blue Steel,” the actor muses. “He said just call it ‘Lucas Steele,’ but whatever you do, trademark it ASAP. But I like to think of it as Blue Steele, with an ‘e’ on the end,” Steele says referring to his last name, one he realizes he’s “been very fortunate to have” -- especially when it comes to social media and the press. (Check out the hashtag #SteeleTheTony on Twitter for an example.)

The actor readily confesses that “Anatole has way more swagger than Lucas Steele has in real life,” citing David Bowie as a major inspiration for his character’s gender-fluid appeal. “That was definitely an idea we discussed [with creator Dave Malloy and director Rachel Chavkin] when creating Anatole: How we make him a sexual being that both men and women would be attracted to.” Steele also shares a special connection to the Thin White Duke; before landing in Comet, the actor, musician, and writer spent several years workshopping an electro-pop album conceptualized as a modern-day take on Ziggy Stardust.

It seems clear that some of Anatole’s unearthly magnetism has rubbed off on Steele through his years walking in the character’s custom-made boots. “I will admit that way more people look at me on the street or on the sidewalk when I’m in that mindset,” Steele notes, adding that he’s grateful for the fandom that’s built up around the show. They may come for Josh Groban, another of the musical’s Tony nominees, but their enthusiasm quickly spreads to the rest of the cast by the time fans crowd around the stage door. “Josh’s fan base is so supportive of him, and in turn they have been truly been so supportive of us,” Steele says. “It’s been really great.”   

Steele has another built-in fan base with a lot of fervor -- his hometown of Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, population approximately 500. “I’d say, to my knowledge, at least half the town has been to see the show already,” the actor says, humbly answering to his hometown hero status. “Just to give you some perspective: The Imperial Theatre holds almost 1,200 people, so [it] could fit two and a half times my town.”

A preening Russian playboy may be worlds away from Steele’s small-town roots, but the actor remains decidedly down-to-earth. Anatole “spends his money on women and wine,” goes the opening number’s helpful exposition. As he maintains his stamina for an athletic eight-show week, Steele’s list of vices is a bit more moderate. “These days, I spend a lot of my money on Gatorade,” he offers with a laugh. Though he does have his eye on something more extravagant.  

“I actually have a deal with a buddy of mine,” he says, describing a top-shelf bottle of Scotch at a hotel bar near the Imperial. “I think it’s like, $400 for a couple ounces of it. If things go a certain way on June 11, I’m going to roll in there and buy that Scotch.”