Jonathan Groff and Karan Soni’s Last-minute Preparation Anxiety

December 16, 2017

The entertainment industry is riddled with last-minute scheduling, casting shuffles, and rewrites. This can present huge challenges to actors whose job it is to lay it all out on the line before audiences–ready or not!

Take, for example, Jonathan Groff who plays King George III in the original Broadway cast of Hamilton. His stellar voice is featured on the original cast album of the hit show singing “You’ll Be Back,” but Groff actually replaced two other actors since the original workshop performances. As life would have it, he was given an extraordinarily short amount of time to prepare for the part. He talked about his rushed experience with NPR, saying:

“I had no real rehearsal. I rehearsed for about a day and then went into the show. And so when I went into the show, I had no British accent. … It was like I was doing the high school play. I just had no sense of character. I just came out in the costume and sang the song and walked offstage. And through the course of the first month, it was kind of like a rehearsal process in front of the audience, which was really awesome and really interesting. But it was a testament to the material that even without any sort of sense of what I was doing in those initial weeks, you could come out there and the song just kills because the song is so great.”

Indian actor Karan Soni can relate to the stress of last-minute preparation anxiety. Soni told Vulture he was given about 24-hours notice for his Room 104 role after the originally cast actor had to back out due to a scheduling conflict. The HBO anthology series creators, Jay and Mark Duplass, asked Soni to star in the episode entitled “The Internet,” and Soni would be the only visible character the entire duration of the show. Soni bravely agreed to portray the anguished young man named Anish who desperately tries to teach his technologically illiterate mother over the phone how to use his laptop to send a copy of the novel he’s been writing. But the only thing the New Delhi actor felt confident about was that his performance was going to fail.

“[Mark Duplass] texted me, ‘Do you want to be on my HBO show Thursday or Friday?’ I was like ‘I’m gonna do it’ [before receiving the script]. [Once I saw it,] I was like, ‘This is a very unique and difficult job.’ It was like a one-person show, and we shot that in two days, which is very fast. Most shows take five days. We did like 15 pages a day. I was like, ‘This is crazy.’”

Duplass’ creative style invites actors to improvise so they can add personal touches to the material. Soni’s scene partner, who the audience can only hear via the phone, was cast the morning of the shoot, and he only met her seconds prior to shooting. And because he only had time to memorize a certain amount of the script, his personal anxiety level coincided with his character’s level of frustration. “I pulled an all-nighter that night …The whole process was very stressful. I didn’t sleep, I memorized the first 15 pages and felt pretty good about it. Then I drove straight [to the studio]. I’d basically been up for 40 hours. They were like, ‘You’re doing great.’ I was like, ‘Guys, I can’t stress enough that I haven’t slept and I haven’t looked at the second half of the episode.’ They were like, ‘We’ll figure it out.’ Very supportive. The next day was more start and stop. I felt good when it was all over.”

Soni’s performance in the episode has since been reviewed as a “Must watch.”

Have you ever been cast last minute and felt enormous pressure to pull it off?