“When I was called for an audition, I was like, ‘Oh, my God -- this is the play, isn’t it, really?’” Nathan Stewart-Jarrett recalls to ET.
For the London-born actor, making his American stage debut -- on Broadway, no less -- has meant joining the legacy of what some consider the greatest play of the 20th century. The 32-year-old Misfits star is currently appearing in Angels in America as Belize, the role that won Jeffrey Wright a Tony Award for the 1992 original production and that he reprised in HBO’s 2003 miniseries.
In the critically acclaimed revival of Tony Kushner’s two-part epic now playing on Broadway, Stewart-Jarrett appears opposite some familiar Hollywood faces, most notably Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane. “They’re both amazing actors and really wonderful, generous people,” Stewart-Jarrett says over the phone from the East Village apartment where he’s staying during the production’slimited run at Neil Simon Theatre in New York City.
Garfield, who plays Prior, and Stewart-Jarrett trained just two years apart at the same London drama school, so “being in a play and playing his best friend is really kind of nice and special,” Stewart-Jarrett says of co-starring with a fellow alum. The Hacksaw Ridge actor stars as a gay man who discovers that he’s dying of AIDS and is abandoned by his lover. Prior’s best friend Belize, a former drag queen-turned-nurse, stays steadfastly by his side. Belize also finds himself caring for Lane’s ailing, despicable Roy Cohn (based on the real-life lawyer and Trump mentor).
“Sharing a stage with [Lane], when it’s just us two” -- which happens often over the show’s near-eight-hour runtime -- “it’s really remarkable,” Stewart-Jarrett says, adding that his excitement to work with the venerable star was colored by one role in particular -- for which Lane doesn’t even show his face.
“I called my sister prior to starting rehearsals, like, ‘Oh, my God -- I’m working with Nathan Lane!’” the actor recalls. “I haven’t really said this before, but I’ll say it now: We were so obsessed with The Lion King when we were kids, and that was why I called her, specifically.” (Lane voiced Timon in Disney’s 1994 animated favorite.)
As for criticism of Kusher’s treatment of the show’sonly black characters -- traditionally, both are played by the actor who plays Belize -- Stewart-Jarrett acknowledges taking it into consideration in approaching his performance. “I do understand why [the criticism is] there, and it’s a useful assessment sometimes; when you have only one black character or character of color in a piece, you do have to analyze why, and I understand that,” he says, adding that with Angels, he believes Belize has an active inner life beyond his relationships to the white characters.
“There was an idea, previously, that you as a black character -- and therefore as a black actor -- need to represent everyone entirely because you’re the only one in this play. I don’t agree with that; I think you need to play the truth of the play, and the character’s truth,” Stewart-Jarrett says. “I can’t walk around filled with responsibility to the black community and my ancestors and so on and so forth. I think that would be a mistake.”
The actor’s U.K. television work has found him among more diverse casts. After starring in the cult supernatural series Misfits from 2009 to 2012 and the sci-fi drama Utopia the following year, Stewart-Jarrett’s first appearance on U.S. television as gossip maven Barrett Hopper on Famous in Love was decidedly more lighthearted, though he did meet a dark end by the end of the first season. (The series returned to Freeform this month building off the cliffhanger of Barrett’s murder.) “It was just a lot of fun, being arch and mischievous,” the actor says of his character, who insinuated himself into several feuds. “And then I got popped off in the dark, it was great! A real unceremonious death,” he jokes.
Aside from pursuing more indie films -- the actor stars in Mope, a comedy about male performers in the adult film industry, out later this year -- and gunning to be part of Black Panther 2, Stewart-Jarrett isn’t one for dream roles. “I’ve never been typecast and I want to continue that. There are a couple things I’d like to do -- I did just mention Black Panther 2 and I’m not joking about that! -- but there’s no real dream role. The best jobs I’ve had have come from me not planning anything,” he says.
“Doing this play is probably one of them,” he considers. “I feel so happy and lucky being in it; I understand that I might wake up and, no matter how tired I feel, this is the best job in the world.”