Garrett Clayton on Playing Heath Ledger's Famous Role in '10 Things' Musical Parody (Exclusive)

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10 Things I Hate About You
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10 Things I Hate About You is the latest cult hit to get the musical parody treatment.

Inspired by Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, the 1999 film starred Julia Stiles as the antisocial rebel Kat Stratford and the late Heath Ledger as bad boy Patrick, who is "hired" to date her. A two-hour Los Angeles stage musical offers a wink and a nod, as well as some social commentary, to key scenes from the classic teen romantic comedy (all in good fun, of course) and the stranger-than-fiction life trajectories for some of its cast members (we're looking at you, Andrew Keegan!) as part of the popular Unauthorized Musical Parody Of... series. And just in time to celebrate the movie's 20th anniversary.

"The thing I love about the shows themselves is they pick something that is a staple in entertainment, whether it's Clueless or Stranger Things and now 10 Things I Hate About You, things that we all find iconic," Garrett Clayton, who plays Ledger's role in the stage production and previously starred in the Teen Beach Movie franchise and Hairspray Live!, tells ET. "I love that it's unabashed humor that's smart, witty, and if we go really far with a joke, we always come back and make fun of the joke itself. It might not be [someone's] cup of tea, the joke we made, but there's something there for them."

Joining Clayton as part of the main ensemble is Stephanie Renee Wall (as Kat), Ashley Argota (as Bianca, played in the film by Larisa Oleynik), Katie Self (as Cameron, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Jason Michael Snow (as Joey, played by Keegan). One of the crowd-pleasing jokes that runs through the production is Keegan's real-life transition from actor to leader of a "spiritual community" based in Venice, California.

"And Andrew Keegan thought it was funny, too!" Clayton shares with a laugh. "We were a bit worried about him seeing the show and then he came with the original writers of the movie on opening night [in March]. We were all, 'OK, Andrew Keegan's either going to love it or he's going to really hate it.' He had such a good demeanor about the whole thing and there were a lot of truths that we [included], like the kombucha thing. When we made a joke about that, my friends said they saw him nodding, 'That's true. You can't make your own kombucha if you have your own religion.'" (Oleynik and Susan May Pratt attended the show in April.)

While 10 Things I Hate About You has memorable musical moments in the film -- Patrick's iconic performance of Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" on the school benches has become a timeless scene -- the production takes popular hits from every decade to tell Kat and Patrick's unlikely love story. From Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" to Britney Spears' "I'm Not a Girl (Not Yet a Woman)" to the Friends theme song, the production has the perfect mix of bops and ballads, featuring artists like Joan Jett, Dixie Chicks and Sarah MacLachlan, for the musically inclined.

Garrett Clayton in 10 Things UMPO

Garrett Clayton plays Patrick Verona in the Unauthorized Musical Parody of... '10 Things I Hate About You.'

Bryan Carpender

"I think the songs people find complement the characters really well. There's a mash-up I get to do with Kat in the show, Garbage's 'Only Happy When It Rains' and U2's 'Beautiful Day.' Through the song, we're a bit like magnets, bouncing off each other, until the end when we're starting to mold into more of a couple," Clayton says. "But it's because we're not changing who we are to be together, we are accepting who the other person is for who they are and loving that about them." 

Clayton, who is engaged to fiance Blake Knight, had only two weeks of rehearsals to prepare for the three-month run, and he admitted it was a little nerve-wracking following in Ledger's footsteps. "When I was asked to do it, I was elated," he recalls. "It was important for me to make sure that there were character traits from what he portrayed [in the movie] that were within [my] character." 

For instance, the stage show keeps Patrick's Australian accent because "it felt more natural," simply because of the way the character is conceived. "I think him coming from an outside circumstance and having been a bit more traveled than his peers, he had a sense of self, which is why his arc is more toward the end of the show," Clayton muses. "I was trying to make sure that certain traits of Patrick are kept true and that, in the beginning of the show, he could -- to be frank -- give a flying f**k about what anybody thinks. But once he gets more interested, that's where the complicated part comes in."

"I did feel a little bit of weight, because everybody loves Heath Ledger so much, in a general sense, which is why we tried to keep more true to the character and not make as many jokes about him," he adds. "We wanted to respect him and the love that people have for him, whereas [with] Andrew Keegan or Kat's dad, we were a little bit more slapstick." 

While the 10 Things I Hate About You stage show is Clayton's priority for the next several weeks, the actor has several projects on the docket. He stars opposite Emile Hirsch in Peel and next brings his touring cabaret show, It Takes Three, with Argota and Desi Dennis-Dylan, to the West Coast starting in late June. "We touch on everything from 'Dreamgirls,' Cheetah Girls, 'Lady Marmalade,' 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,'" Clayton teases, adding that they also perform tunes from Janet Jackson and Chicago. "It's really fun."

The Unauthorized Musical Parody of... 10 Things I Hate About You runs through June 30 at the Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Angeles, California.

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