EXCLUSIVE: Why 'Groundhog Day' Star Andy Karl Won't Let a Torn ACL Slow Him Down

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“I felt every
emotion that I could possibly feel in the past four weeks,” Andy Karl tells ET
by phone in May, about a week after it was announced he had been nominated for
a Tony Award
 for his portrayal of Phil Connors in the adaptation of Groundhog
, a musical based on the popular Bill Murray comedy. The actor, who has
built a career starring in musical adaptations of iconic films (Saturday
Night Fever
The Wedding SingerLegally Blonde and Rocky),
was preparing for the Broadway debut of the production following a successful
London run that earned him a Laurence Olivier Award when he inexplicably tore
his ACL during a preview performance on April 14, just three days before the
show’s official opening.

The dramatic moment
-- halting the show as Karl sought medical attention -- happened during the
second act. According to The New York Times, the visibly
shaken actor eventually returned with a walking stick to finish the show.
“Initially when it happens, your leg is swept up from underneath you. And, you
know, you can’t stand on your two feet, which is metaphorical but also very
physical for me,” he says of the dark hole he was in for those first 15 minutes
after being injured. Wearing a large black brace around his left knee, Karl
took the stage the following Monday to open the show before taking a few
performances off to recover more thoroughly.

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Now, the brace-clad
actor -- the accessory has very much become a comedic element, as Karl spends
several scenes in boxers -- is performing steadily. “I’m still getting the
laughs,” he says, hoping to shed the brace as soon as his physical therapist
gives him the OK. In the meantime, he’s showing fewer and fewer physical signs
of a major injury that would sideline most professional athletes, let alone a
stage actor performing eight shows a week.

“Every now and
again, I’ll think back to that fateful night before opening where everything
sort of felt like it was taken away from me,” Karl says, explaining that he
hasn’t sat down to fully deal with the injury. Instead, he’s called upon
imagery from Rocky the Musical, in which he played the titular
boxer fighting against all odds for a moment of glory. “It's not about how hard you get hit; it's about how hard you get hit and keep moving forward.”

Joan Marcus

While the show must
go on -- and it certainly has in full force, with Karl leading the charge --
the actor does wish that extra attention paid to his injury didn’t overshadow
the musical about an arrogant TV weatherman who finds himself repeating the
same day in snow-filled Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. “I love the story so much
and I want the attention to be paid on the performance,” he says of “a very
timely show” about changing perspectives as one man goes on a journey to
discover his own humanity within. “There have been little moments of that in my
life. There is a little bit of that nasty Phil Connors inside of everybody.”

Yet, at the same
time, Karl acknowledges those headlines may be what get people into the seats
at the August Wilson Theatre. “If I have to take the pity to get people to come
see it, I’ll take it,” the actor says, offering to give even more of himself to
keep the show going, which itself is a feat considering the stamina it takes to
perform in the show without injury. 

Onstage for majority
of the show with only a couple of songs allowing him to hide in the wings, Karl
says it’s a daily battle to get ready for a show like this. Unlike when he dove
headfirst into preparing for Rocky, “working out so hard and being
so committed” that everything else, including his wife, Orfeh, fell by the
wayside, he’s doing a better job at maintaining a balance. This time around, he
says, “I’m making sure I’m spending time with my wife. She’s my foundation of
courage.” But as the lead of a major production, no matter how much of a
healthy balance Karl wants to maintain, it’s on him to be everybody’s rock.

“It’s not a time to
let the stamina go,” Karl says. “It requires more.” 

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