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20 Questions: Anthony Rapp

Answers about Andy Warhol, the tradeoffs of filmmaking, and what happened to that striped scarf.

Anthony Rapp may best be known as Mark Cohen in Jonathan Larson’s Rent, a part he created Off Broadway and reprised on Broadway and in the 2005 film. Other Broadway credits include Precious Sons, Six Degrees of Separation and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Since 2010, he has been touring the one-man-show Without You, about his relationship with his mother. This month, he plays Andy Warhol in the premiere of POP!, a musical about the late artist’s life, at City Theatre Company in Pittsburgh (May 5-27).

AMERICAN THEATRE: How much did you know about Andy Warhol going into POP?

ANTHONY RAPP: I had a little bit more than general knowledge. I have met some people who knew him, who talked to him over the years. Warhol was sort of an obscure, mysterious figure. He kept things to himself. The piece that we’re doing is very stylized. I did a reading of it last year and prepped by watching interviews he did and footage of him on a reality show. I’ve tried to absorb his manner and his way of being—he was quiet and soft-spoken, and he was always kind of amused by things that were going on. He’s definitely quirky, and the writers of the show have done a good job of capturing a tone that feels very appropriate.

What Warhol image would you like to hang on your wall?

Any of the Marilyns. I think that she was an amazing person, and his images are so iconic. When I went to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh a couple of years ago, I discovered that he did all this really dark stuff—electric chairs, beatings, accidents and scenes of crime…. I thought those were really stunning, but I wouldn’t put them on my wall.

Did you see the Warhol films at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City last year?

No, I didn’t. I’ve never seen any of the films on the skyscrapers or of people smoking. I think it’s interesting. In a way. But I’m not sure that I would want to sit and watch something like that for hours. All the same, he was certainly on to something, doing his thing.

You’ve played Mark, who’s a filmmaker, and you’re now playing Warhol, who also did film. Would you ever want to make movies yourself?

I did go to NYU film school for a semester. I dropped out. It was expensive and I was already working as an actor, so film school was a luxury, in a way. I do have an interest in making films. Having been on the other side of the camera, I recognize how time- and energy-consuming it is. So unless there was a script that either I wrote, or someone I knew wrote that I really felt like I could bring myself to do…and that would be worth all of the incredibly hard work. [Laughs] I would like to do it in the abstract, but it has to be something really special.

Your brother Adam is a prolific playwright. Would you ever act in his plays?

I have [in Gompers for City Theatre in 2004], and I hope that he would give me that chance again. It’s just that he hasn’t written anything specifically for me in a while. I’m a huge fan. I love being in the audience at his plays. And I’ve been thrilled over the years to see that many, many people also share my affection and enthusiasm for his work. Of course, there have been some weird backlashes.

Besides Adam, who is your favorite playwright?

Of course, Shakespeare. But among more contemporary playwrights…probably John Guare. I was in Six Degrees of Separation. And I adore House of Blue Leaves. The 1986 production with John Mahoney and Swoosie Kurtz remains one of the greatest pieces of theatre I’ve ever witnessed.

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

It depends on the show I’m doing. I like to do a little yoga, especially when I’m doing a musical. I find it’s a really great way to open up my breathing, get my body limbered up and warmed up. And vocal warm-ups too.

If vou could have one superpower, what would it be?

Hmm…something with energy that can shoot out of you and people would go, like, flying through the air. Sort of an energy force. To be able to manipulate things..

As a Rent fan, I’ve always been curious about something: Whatever happened to that striped scarf?

I have it in my closet. It’s got a big hole in it. It just wore out. I believe it was a thrift store scarf in the first place, so it was always a little ratty. I had to patch it up a few times. I don’t take it out now.

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