While he may be best known to television audiences for his titular role in Logo’s series “Noah’s Arc‘ as well as the series “DTLA” and guest appearances in such series as “Private Practice,” “Harry’s Law” and “Two Broke Girls,” and films like “Hot Guys with Guns” (written & directed by “Noah’s Arc” co-star, Doug Spearman), actor/writer/singer Darryl Stephens has carved out a regular place for himself in the burgeoning L.A. theater scene.
Currently appearing in Gary Lennon’s hilarious play, “Dates & Nuts” at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles, Stephens plays a drag queen named Patrick, who, like all the characters in the play, is looking for love and having a hard time finding it or, at least, keeping it. Lennon and Stephens teamed up previously in two other plays penned by Lennon, “The Interlopers” (for which Stephens was nominated for an Ovation Award) and “A Family Thing.”
I grabbed some time with Stephens recently to talk about the new stage role, the universality between Patrick and his previous roles where he’s donned a dress and heels as well as his thoughts on the legacy that “Noah’s Arc” had on television culture.
You and Gary Lennon are becoming quite the team since you've been in other projects. What are you drawn to in his writing and the characters he creates?
I just like the way Gary's characters speak. There is a directness and a no-nonsense approach to life that feels very New York to me. I grew up in Southern California and we tend to be much more guarded and even convoluted in how we deal with conflict or desire or relationships in general. His characters rarely suffer fools and they don't waste time being polite or politically correct. Taking on a character in a Gary Lennon play requires an actor to be fearless, which is exciting.
Theater should be an opportunity to explore and experiment. When you work in television, there's usually a cadre of executives sitting around the corner, critiquing every move from the video monitors, assessing each actor's appeal, and stressing out about how the inflection of a particular line of dialogue reflects on the network. For a long time, I've felt like TV work has sort of required a more watered-down version of what I do. Honestly, I'm still trying to find where I fit in on network television, which is sometimes frustrating.
But Gary wants us to bring all of our rough edges and complex craziness to his characters. That's what his stories are about. And there's always a sense of danger with Gary's work. Like, you're never sure what someone is going to say or if someone is going to just lose their s**t. That unpredictability is incredibly fun to play. I see working with Gary as a way to really expand what I do as an actor.
We all know that one drag queen is different than another but since this isn’t your first time putting on heels, is there a universality you find in drag queen characters?
Even though I portray a lot of LGBT characters, I really try not to repeat myself. I’ve obviously done drag before, but I’ve never played a character like Patrick. He’s a hot-head who would just as soon assault you in the street as flash his panties at you from across a crowded bar. The last two characters that had me in heels were technically transgender women. While I have been deliberate in trying to portray each of these characters as individuals, they have all shared one thing: they have all been driven specifically by a profound desire to fall in love. Patrick may express his desire differently than Victoria (from Gary Lennon’s play “The Interlopers“) or Jane (from Shonda Rhimes’ TV series “Private Practice“) but in the end, under all that switching and screeching, he just wants to be in love.
Gary's plays are always hilarious but there's also typically a current of drama or sadness that is also present. Is it a challenge to keep all the different emotions in check when you're in the moment of the play?
In “The Interlopers,” my character, Victoria, had a monologue directed at the audience, dressed as a man, after a transgender friend had been murdered by his father. The two actors, Leandro Cano and Diarra Kilpatrick, who played the father and transgender son, were so fantastic and the stabbing scene was staged so dramatically, that I would sometimes burst into tears in the middle of that monologue. While my character was talking about how awful it was–the tragedy of a father ending his child’s life out of fear and ignorance–the reality, that things like that happen in life every day, would hit me and I would fall apart. Being overtaken by emotion is a fine line to walk on stage. If you don’t manage to pull it together, the show grinds to a halt. There’s no film editor to truncate your sniveling fit and cut to the next scene to move the story along. So it was always exciting and scary to do that scene. Fortunately, there was a joke right after that moment to soften the blow for me and the audience. Life often swings from hilarious to devastating and then back again, and Gary captures those moments beautifully.
Does your workout regimen change when you're playing a role like Patrick? You're a muscular guy so I wasn't sure how you use your body's tone for the role.
You’re so funny. I don’t think this is the first time you’ve asked me about my workout regimen. I actually stopped working out during rehearsal. To soften up and slim down, mostly but also because it was tough getting to rehearsal and to the gym and doing everything else I needed to get done in a given day. The week we opened, I got back into the gym, but worked mostly on my lower body. Patrick wears a lot of short skirts and I don’t like using those curve-accentuating pads. Now that we’re almost halfway through the run, I’ve started working out my upper body again. I’ll be shirtless and sexing it up on the set of Doug Spearman’s new movie in about a month so I’m tightening all that up again. To be honest, I’m considerably less concerned about the gym these days. As I get older, I hope to be playing more smart men in suits, as opposed to hot boys in tank tops.
I'm not sure if you're in a relationship or single at the moment but, in general, are you a fan of dating? I know some people who love it while others find it tedious and maddening. Where do you fall?
I've never been fond of dating, but I find it particularly disheartening these days. Maybe it's because I'm older, but the fact that most people are using apps to find partners really makes me miss the old days. Remember when we could meet people in bookstores and libraries and folks in coffee shops weren't deaf under their headphones with their eyes glued to a screen? I don't even know how people who aren't on Grindr or Match do it anymore. But since I refuse to be reduced to a headless torso, I'm completely out of the game. The "men are disposable" nature of hook-up sites just bums me out so I'm really trying to focus on my career these days.
I know you always have a plethora of writing, acting and singing projects. What's in your focus besides "Dates & Nuts?"
I'm working on my second novel and brainstorming a new nonfiction piece. I'm in the early stages of conceptualizing a Web series about a 40-year-old actor. And I'm fine tuning a few feature scripts I've written with friends. Honestly, with this play and Doug's movie around the corner, it's tough finding time to sit down and do anything…
I’ve been talking to people involved in groundbreaking gay-centric television and want to ask if you see “Noah’s Arc” as being groundbreaking and what it brought to the television landscape.
It's hard for me to really grasp the impact of "Noah's Arc" on TV's landscape. I feel like that's a difficult thing to quantify or assess from the inside. I know I've heard from and continue to hear from hundreds if not thousands of people who loved the characters on that show. To me, it was a fun little soap opera. To some, it was television's first affirmation of black gay love-ever. I'm not sure how much the show managed to change television depictions of black gay men or the weight of its impact with respect to the TV shows that followed it, but I know that the people who enjoyed it have been incredibly loyal and vocal about how much it meant to them.
And for fans of "DTLA" (myself included), will we be seeing more episodes? Any hope?
Keep hope alive, is what I like to say. Thanks for the chat. Always great catching up with you, Jim.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
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