While on hiatus from his smash TV series, Younger, the hunky Italian-American actor is currently starring in Crude, a sexy, funny, topical, and original off-Broadway production. Written by Jordan Jaffe and directed by Kel Haney, Crude is now playing through May 21 at Ars Nova’s Theater 511 in New York.
In between performances, no topic was off-limits as Tortorella and I chatted about Crude, Younger, The Following, Scream 4, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Instagram, the new TV show he’s developing, and much more.
ALEX NAGORSKI: You’re making your off-Broadway debut with Crude.
NICO TORTORELLA: Woohoo!
Congrats! What about this play enticed you to want to try branching out from film and TV to focus on the stage?
Well, I grew up on stage in Chicago. I was studying at Steppenwolf and Goodman when I was younger. Over the course of five years, I played all three brothers in one show called Over The Tavern. It was a period piece, a 1950’s Polish family comedy. I was already doing 8 shows a week when I was a little kid, so doing Crude is kind of like a homecoming for me. It’s been ten years since I’ve been on stage doing a show outside of that little tap dance number I did with Sutton Foster and the Baltimore Symphony – which was incredible in and of itself, but that’s a whole other story.
I’ve been saying for years that I’m ready to get back to the stage and that I want to get back to my roots. Scheduling wise, it’s been a little bit difficult when you’re also working on film and television. And I’ve been living back and forth between New York and LA for so long, and finally I’m settled back in New York full-time. The opportunity came to itself time-wise and this show kind of just fell into my lap, and it was the perfect script. Jordan Jaffe just does such a good job of writing the way that I speak, if that makes any sense? It was a no-brainer. I read the script and was like, “Yes! Yes! Yes! When do we start?”
Tell me a little bit about your character, Jaime. How would you describe him?
He is your typical, upper-class Texas bro. He comes from a big oil family. I think that he had bigger dreams growing up of being famous and giving some big things to the world. He is a filmmaker and he was making all of these investigative documentaries when he was living in LA for a little bit, and then he moved to Texas because his dad offered him a job at the company. He tried to uphold his artistic integrity while working for the man. He’s split a little bit between what he wants to do, what he’s supposed to do, and how he’s supposed to support his family. So that’s kind of where the show opens … and it’s kind of all pretty much downhill from there.
As an actor, how do you go about getting into the proper headspaces to tackle characters as different and complex as Jamie and Younger’s Josh?
To me, people are the most interesting things in the world that we have. I’ve spent time with so many different types of people from all walks of life. I’ve spent a lot of time in Texas. I grew up with some of the richest kids in the world. I know their type, and I just kind of draw from personal experience and turn it into a version that speaks through me. There are always pieces of me in every character that I play. I think that even on a subconscious level, just in my waking life, I’m studying people all day, every day.
In its official synopsis, Crude is written up as “a dark comedy about the price you pay for selling your soul in the new millennium.” Could you please elaborate a little bit about how you interpret this description?
I mean, it’s working for the big rig oil companies, right? I think that that’s what that stems from. He and his family are just making ridiculous amounts of money, and he is balancing his personal beliefs on saving the world and dangerous chemicals with working for this big company. At the end of the day, we all have issues. It’s just that some are bigger than others.
The show warns against environmental disasters and chronicles the biggest oil spill ever – even bigger than the BP rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico six years ago. How do you think everyday citizens like you and I can help prevent something like this from happening again?
An oil spill? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The technology is so advanced. For the most part, there aren’t restrictions or guidelines or rules until something bad happens. It’s not heavily regulated until something bad happens, you know? To drill that far down, into the ocean with that type of technology, it’s kind of inevitable. At some point, something bad is going to happen.
We don’t really realize what the full potential of everything is, but we all use the product every single day of our life. It is nearly impossible to not use petroleum products in our lives. There are literally a million different things made out of petroleum. Everything. Anything made out of plastic, everything we’re using when we’re heating our homes, flying, makeup … I mean … everything. And unless you’re living in the middle of fucking nowhere, under a tree, there’s nothing we can do. We’ve just got to keep on trekking and just pretend like it doesn’t exist.
As an artist, what has the experience of being in this play taught/shown you about both your work and yourself?
Oh man. This has been the first time I’ve really felt like an actor in a long time. I spent so much time when I was getting into film and television trying to tone down my acting. Since I grew up on stage, I was used to performing for large audiences and so everything had to be bigger. You spend so much time dumbing everything down for a tiny lens that’s sometimes only inches away from your face.
Getting back to work in theater, I’ve had to retrain myself what that beast is. This has been like a conservatory program for the last several weeks. These kids are all conservatively trained at Julliard. And working so closely with directors and writers, you know, that opportunity doesn’t really lend itself to television often.
Television is very fast-paced. There are tons of people that have hands in the pot. Everyone has something to say about everything, and at the end of the day, the actors’ creative influence is only so much. Being on stage, especially in New York and as part of a brand new play where I get to create this new character, has been so collaborative. It’s re-taught me what this art is and what it means. In Hollywood, in the big picture of everything, it’s very easy to lose grasp of what you do and what your art is because everything becomes so mainstream and about celebrity in a lot of ways, depending on what level you’re at.
Being in this play has just taught me that, oh yeah, this is what it’s all about. It’s about being vulnerable and open, and sharing the stage with somebody else and trusting each other, and keeping things fresh and jumping into characters. I could just keep going on and on and on.
That’s awesome! So now that you’ve gotten a taste of off-Broadway, is more theater – including Broadway – something you’d like to continue pursuing?
Oh for sure, 100%. I definitely want to do Broadway. I definitely want to do a musical at some point. I’d love to do a new musical. I know Frozen is coming. So there’s always a chance for that.
I don’t know, dude, I just want to keep doing good work and it’s all about the projects.
In the show, Jaime starts out as a documentarian. You recently shot a documentary yourself, NicoNicoNico, with your brother, Rocco. What is this film about? And when and where will your fans be able to check it out?
When and where, yeah. That’s the big question. So NicoNicoNico is the umbrella brand of everything. We shot this documentary last summer, and he’s still working on it. I’m already at the next step, and for me that’s a TV show called NicoNicoNico, that’s in development right now. I’m sure that the documentary will come out at some point. I don’t know when exactly it will. It will probably just be like on some random Tuesday when I decide to make it open to the public. I’ll just drop it online somewhere.
That’s very Beyoncé of you.
Yeah, totally. I’ll pull a Beyoncé! Look, I’m always shooting something. The stuff that I release is really highly curated … but also not planned at all. I almost feel like I did it too long ago for it to come out right now, but not long ago enough for it to be a throwback type of thing. You know what I mean? I want to let it breathe for a second. And the second generation of what I’m working on right now is on a whole other level, so I almost want to come out with the second gen, and then go back and release the first.
I see. Last season of Younger ended with quite a cliffhanger. What can you tease about season 3?
I know nothing! I know absolutely nothing. I know the writer’s room is putting it together right now, and they are planning shit out, and we start in a month. That’s the mystery of TV. I have no idea the direction that it’s going.
If it were up to you, where would you like to see Josh and Liza end up?
I want Josh and Liza to have a baby. I’ve been saying it forever.
You don’t think he should try to be with someone, for lack of a better word, more mature?
You mean less mature then, right?
Well, just because she’s older than him doesn’t mean she’s more mature. She’s still lying to pretty much everyone in her life.
Oh, yeah, good call! I’ve never heard it put that way. I appreciate that. I don’t know! I think that they are really good for each other in a lot of ways. I think that as her character progresses, their relationship will move somewhere as well, but I don’t know where. She’s a troubled one, that Liza.
What’s your personal favorite Hilary Duff song?
Hmm. “Chasing The Sun.” It’s the first one that pops into my head. Maybe also the only one that I know the title of.
How many tattoos do you have in real life? What’s both your most recent and your favorite?
Too many but not nearly enough. My most recent is a tattoo for my mom. We’re both Leos. It’s a lioness picking up her cub and on the lioness’ arm, it has “Mom” tattooed, so the tattoo has a tattoo. So original! And my favorite? Probably one that’s a portrait of my grandpa.
Something that’s become almost synonymous with your name recently is your presence on Instagram. Why do you think you’ve taken off with such a massive following on that platform? And how much preparation goes into all your shots – are they ever spontaneous or do you carefully curate each post to fill a specific purpose?
Yeah! I have a good setup in my house. I have a clam light, and a couple of other lights, and a camera set up. I do everything myself, for the most part, unless I’m shooting with a friend. I think Instagram has just been a really, really great outlet for everybody – but for artists especially. It’s just a free, open space for you to do whatever the fuck you want, whenever you want, and people get to see it. If they’re into it, more people will get to see it. And somehow in all of this, I’ve created a brand. And it’s taken off! I’m all about it, dude. It’s just an outlet that seems to have worked. And until it becomes something else, I’m here.
You’ve worked with Logo a bit lately and are an outspoken fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race. So I’ve gotta ask, going into the season finale, are you Team Kim Chi, Team Naomi or Team Bob The Drag Queen?
Oh, man. I think we’re all going to see Bob win, but I would love to see Naomi win. I’m just, like, Team Naomi’s body.
You were one of the central characters in Scream 4. What was it like to be part of such an iconic franchise and what’s your favorite memory from set?
It was incredible! That’s one of the greatest franchises of all time.
Traditionally, in every Scream movie they’ve shot, the actor that plays Ghostface pranked all the new actors. He would pop out or scare the shit out of you. They try to keep it a secret from all of the people that it hadn’t happened to yet. So I had no idea that this was happening! So I’m opening the door to go act inside Emma Roberts’ house, and Ghostface pops up, jumps in front of me, and everyone’s thinking that I’m going to freak out, or scream, or jump back like everybody else does. Instead, I just fucking clocked him in the face. Like, are you guys serious? I literally just punched him in the face!
When you’re not acting or working, what’s your favorite way to spend your downtime?
Just chilling out for the most part. I watch a lot of TV. I work out. I have a dope apartment in Williamsburg now. And I’m developing my own TV show. Sometimes I think that I have more hours in the day than other people do because I’m always fucking doing something. But with the little bit of downtime that I do have, I just try to not do anything.
What’s the craziest fan encounter you’ve ever had?
Honestly? Probably during The Following. Just being out with James Purefoy and seeing people think that we were actually fucking serial killers. I mean, people were genuinely afraid of us!
I bet you got a kick out of that.
Click here to purchase tickets to see Nico Tortorella in Crude, now playing off-Broadway.
April 26 – May 21 Monday—Saturday 8pm Theater 511 @ Ars Nova 511 W 54TH ST
NEW YORK NY 10019
When a catastrophic environmental accident [a really f*ckin’ huge oil spill] threatens to derail Kurtz Petroleum, it’s up to documentarian turned big oil public relations flak Jaime Kurtz (TV Land’s Younger‘s Nico Tortorella) with the help of his commercial making bro-buddy Aaron (W. Tre Davis) and Aaron’s drug dealer Manny (Jose Joaquin Perez) to come up with the perfect pitch to save the company, his relationship with his environmentally conscious wife Brittany (Eliza Huberth), and his stolen dog [or sh*t hits the fan]. Packed with drugs, sex, and spin doctoring [and loads of #$**^%#@!], Crude is a dark comedy about the price you pay for selling your soul in the new millennium.
Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he primarily focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. After growing up in Poland, Germany, and Russia, Alex spent several years living in New York before moving full-time to the Berkshires in Massachusetts. To read more from Alex, check out his blog, Headphone Infatuation, and follow him on Twitter @AlexNagorski.