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

Getty Images

Lucas Steele explains how the Thin White Duke came to inspire his Russian playboy in 'Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.'

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

Tonys 2017: The
Standout Performances on Broadway

“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

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.”