The role also has Urie mastering new skills. “I’ve never done drag. So that was something I had to learn,” says the one-time RuPaul’s Drag Race guest judge. While he says that doing his own makeup has been fun, the full drag experience has certainly been eye-opening. “I feel for women! It’s really quite a lot that [they have] to go through,” he says. “In fact, after we hang up I’m gonna shave my legs. You have to do it all the f**king time! It just grows right back!”
Playing Arnold won a Tony Award for Fierstein, who later immortalized the role onscreen in 1988 with co-stars Anne Bancroft and Matthew Broderick. “They’re very big stilettoes to fill,” Urie admits. “To be in a play that’s so vivid for people and so iconic, it was daunting. But nobody could do it like [Harvey] did it. He’s such a unique performer and one-of-a-kind actor.” The creative team, led by director Moises Kaufman, has supported Urie creating his own take on the character, though for the record, his Harvey Fierstein impression is spot-on. “I was really able to interpret the role my own way without this ghost over my shoulder saying, ‘Do it like THIS!’” he hisses in the longtime actor’s unmistakable rasp.
Urie has been something of a pioneer himself, playing a colorful gay character on a major network sitcom before the past decade’s surge in LGBT representation on television. And he’s been open about his sexuality since landing that breakout role on NBC’s Ugly Betty, in an industry that can still be unwelcoming. “At first, I was encouraged to stay in the closet,” Urie recalls. “I think there are probably still gay actors who are in the closet because they’re afraid that their careers would suffer if their sexuality was public. I can’t think of any [that I know], which is good, I guess.” As for himself, “I realized that being gay is not going to hurt my career, it’s only going to help,” Urie says. “There are jobs I would not have gotten if I hadn’t been out of the closet.”