Interview with Tom Zemon
Tom was actually the third Chauvelin that I've interviewed and it happened that we spoke on a night that he was going on for Rex Smith. My first impressions of Tom were that he's very quiet and shy but that turned out not to be the case. Actually, he has some very valid reasons for keeping a low profile at the stage door which he explained to me.
NR: Can you tell me a little bit about your background, like where you grew up?
TZ: Sure. I grew up in Hartford, Connecticut - just outside Hartford. I went to grade school and high school there and I actually continued my education there. I went to Hartt School of Music which is an opera conservatory but I majored in musical theater. I started working with the Hartford Stage Company and some other groups.
NR: When did you decide you wanted to perform?
TZ: As a kid. It was just sort of the way I found my peer group. I think kids join different activities and that was what I joined.
NR: So I guess you did a lot of shows in school?
TZ: Yeah, I did all of them.
NR: What was your experience like when you came here, since you came with the "new group" in October? At that time, half of the cast was still doing the old show and rehearsing with the new group. What was that like?
TZ: For me it was just a new show. I think it was really taxing for the people that were in it. Especially, I can't imagine what it was like for Douglas (Sills) to have done the old show at the same time. Isn't he amazing?
NR: You mean because there were differences in his character?
TZ: Yeah, both huge differences and subtle ones.
NR: Were the "old" ones just dropping dead, while the "new" ones were awake?
TZ: It was taxing for the people that were in it. It was a lot to do, especially for somebody like Douglas. But, as far as I was concerned, I was just coming in and rehearsing a new show. It was fine. It was fairly unremarkable.
TZ: Yeah, it was just a normal show. I thought what Bobby (Longbottom) did with it was good. I thought the changes Bobby made were real good and smart. I don't have anything very shocking to say about that. I agree that he in fact cleared the story up and told the story better. I liked every change he made. I thought it was great.
NR: I was just curious if it was strange in October because half of the cast was the "old" group and half were the newcomers. It wasn't just like there was one person being added to the cast. Didn't that seem strange at all?
TZ: Well, I knew some of the people already. I knew Craig Rubano. I knew a couple of other people. I knew a guy named Darrin (Baker). He's not with the show anymore. I knew Doug Storm so there were a few friendly faces around. Also, it wasn't my first Broadway show so it wasn't...It was really fairly unremarkable and Bobby is such a taskmaster and such an efficiency guru and he knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it. The other thing is because the show had already been done, it was sort of a known commodity in a way. We knew it was going to be better than it was. We didn't know if it was going to be a big hit, but we knew it would be improved.
NR: How do you compare your experience with Les Miz and this show?
TZ: Oh, I don't know.
NR: How long were you in Les Miz?
TZ: A LONG time. I did three and a half years of Les Miz, then I left for three years, and then I went back for three years.
NR: Wow. How did you keep that fresh, being in a show that long?
TZ: I had a couple of great parts. I played the drunk student for most of my time there. It's a marvelous character, completely underrated character called Grantaire. It's just a great part and there's all sorts of cynicism and colors and depth that don't exist...When all the other students are cheering the insurrection, Grantaire has got a completely different take on it. There's a lot to explore there and it was sort of endlessly fun to do the opposite of what everybody else was doing.
NR: When did you do Javert?
TZ: I did Javert toward the end and not for very long. I was just doing that for a couple months before I left.
NR: How do you compare him to Chauvelin, because people compare them all the time?
TZ: I know they do. There are similarities, but the main difference is that Javert is completely void of any sexuality. He's got a relationship with God. Chauvelin is a horny little devil. Chauvelin is all about his crotch. Chauvelin is a sadist. Javert is just really interested in being pure and correct. There are similarities...
NR: They're both French and they're both the bad guy.
TZ: Well, yeah, but there's the old thing that when you're playing a villain, you never play him like a bad guy. You play him for his truth. He doesn't think he's being a bad guy, he just has his point of view. Chauvelin just wants to get Marguerite back and he just wants the bourgeois to come down. He just wants what he wants. It's not popular opinion, but history is always written by the winners, you have to remember that. If the French revolution had not been successful, we would have a very different idea of what was appropriate. This show doesn't take the whole historical value of the thing as seriously as Les Miz either. This show is more of an entertainment. Les Miz, to me, concerns itself a bit more with the accuracy of it. In this show, when the guards come out, half of them hold the guns on the wrong side because there's supposed to be a balanced stage picture. In Les Miz, that would have never happened.
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