T.R. Knight might still be best known for his five-season run as Dr. George O'Malley on ABC's Grey's Anatomyand for the infamous 2007 off-camera incident in which a homophobic slur from fellow cast member Isaiah Washington prompted Knight to come out as gay.
However, he got his start at an early age onstage in his hometown of Minneapolis at the Guthrie Theater, playing Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. ( Chicago actor Robert Scogin, who died recently, played opposite him as Bob Cratchit one year. ) Since leaving Grey's Anatomy, he's done several plays in New York and elsewhere. Knightwho lives in Los Angeles with his husband, Patrick Leahynow makes his Chicago stage debut as Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Chicago Shakespeare, directed by the Guthrie's former artistic director, Joe Dowling. We caught up with him to find out what his life in the theater has been like, and how he thinks Hollywood is dealing with LGBTQ issues now.
Windy City Tines: Your career in the Twin Cities started when you were five. What initially drew you to doing theater?
T.R. Knight: It wasn't a decision I made, because I was too young. But I think for a kid with not the best homelife at the time, I think it kind of had the allure of becoming another home. I realized I could escape life a little bit and become someone else. It still has its claws in me.
WCT: You were at the Guthrie during the last few years of their repertory company. How did working there shape your ideas of what you wanted to do in theater?
TRK: One of the people who taught me talked about that when you're a young actor, there's that question of you want to work, but where do you work and how do you start going about it? There's the school of thought that you take any job at all you can get just to learn. And he said one shouldn't take any job. You should work with the people you want to work with and try in some way, in any way, whether it's in the box office or whatever, to work with the people that you admire.
So that's kind of how I tried to proceed. I did work at the box office of a theater that I really wanted to work at in Minneapolis and I eventually got onstage there. Like Chicago, though Chicago's theater scene is much bigger, theater in Minneapolis is respected. I got to watch and learn from a lot of amazing people and also from people coming up from Chicago.
WCT: What does working onstage do for you that you don't get from film or television?
TRK: Theater was almost exclusively what I did until Grey's. I'm 45. So that is still the majority of my life. If I'm lucky enough to do something and have the time, and there's a pull, I hope to be lucky enough to do it.
There are also things that just can't be replicated or duplicated in a filmed performance. At the Court Theater, I saw Frankenstein by Manual Cinema. It's unlike anything I'd ever seen before. I'd never seen Manual Cinema's work and I still can't get over it. It's magnificent.
WCT: How did doing Midsummer with Joe come together?
TRK: With Joe, we last worked together 15 years ago, when we went to New York and we did Tartuffe. When you do a network show with 22 episodes or whatever per season, you get a two-month break. We had talked about a couple of things, but schedulewise, it never worked out.
I'd done Midsummer's with him 22 years ago playing a different character. An actor in Minneapolis who has since died, sadly, Richard Iglewski, who everyone called Julio, was our Bottom in the production. I grew up watching him on the Guthrie stage. I remember when Joe initially asked me about this, I thought about how Julio was so perfect. He was an actor I'd admired both as an audience member when I was younger and then when I actually got to act with him for two seasons as a company member at the Guthrie. He was an acting hero of mine. It's just like one of those actors where you think "No one can ever do that role again." He was so brilliant. I just didn't think I could do it. How do you approach something when one of your heroes plays the role?
Luckily, I am very different in size. I'm a short little hobbity guy. Julio was very tall and a very striking figure. Physically, that helped. I think so much of my fear about doing it went away because creating the world with your fellow mechanicals is what's so fun about this. There are thousands of actors in Chicago who could do as good or better and I'm very aware of that and very thankful.
WCT: How do you think the landscape in Hollywood is changing for LGBTQ artists?
TRK: The more people that come out publicly, I think that is what changes the landscape. I respect that everyone has to do it on their own time and everyone has their own story. But it's got to be a wonderful release to finally be able to be honest.
As far as representationit's changing. But like anybody who is in the minority, none of us is represented the way we should be. Even women, who are NOT in the minority, aren't being fully represented. It's changing slowly. I'm an impatient bastard. I sometimes wish we could all get together — we groups that are not represented accurately or enough — in some magical way and change things quickly.