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Conrad Ricamora just wrapped up a two-year stint in David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s much regaled disco-spectacle Here Lies Love at the New York Public Theater, all the while flying out to Los Angeles on his days off to shoot How To Get Away With Murder, the latest offering in Shonda Rhimes buffet of television mega-successes. Just when his load seemed to have lightened, he was cast in and began rehearsals for his Broadway debut in Lincoln Center’s revival of The King and I. While his career (and those HTGAWM sex scenes) couldn’t be hotter, it’s been a long road to get to where he is today. Growing up on an Air Force base in Niceville, Florida, he went on to pursue an undergraduate in psychology on a tennis scholarship before an acting class he took on a whim caused him to unexpectedly recalibrate his career aspirations. Conrad took the time during rehearsals for The King and I to chat with Instinct about rehearsing those steamy sex scenes, coming out, and the struggles of being a gay, Filipino actor.
INSTINCT: Was there a particular role that made you say, okay, time to put down the tennis racked and pursue this acting thing? CONRAD RICAMORA: I moved to Knoxville, Tennessee for grad school in 2008 where I played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. It exploded this emotional world inside of me and I connected to material in a way I had never before.
What’s the biggest difference between working in theatre and television?
With television, I’ve learned that I can get all of the information about the scene, do the work, and trust that it’s there. Whereas in theater, it has to reach the very back row. As I’ve gone back to shoot I’ve gotten better about trusting that it will be there. Connect and let go. I don’t have to magnify it to the last row because the camera will come in and get everything.
What is the rehearsal process like for those talked about sex scenes?
You rehearse it very dry. ‘Okay at this point I want you to turn him this angle for this amount of seconds and then push him onto the bed. One kiss, three four, push down, hip up.’ It’s choreography.
Is it weird knowing millions of people are watching?
I can’t think of millions of people watching it. I’m thinking what am I trying to do in this scene with this character, with Jack [Falahee]. When the pilot aired I was like, ‘What have I done?’ but then I quickly realized it’s fine. If this would’ve happened to me in my early 20’s, I probably wouldn’t have handled it so well. But I’m 35. I’m a grown-ass man.
What about your parents? Weird?
They understand. They’re pretty sophisticated in understanding the art form and they see me playing a character. They call me saying, ‘Oliver did this…’. I think purposefully they phrase it like that so they can have some separation. Who wants to think of their little boy doing some of those things?
Is it important to you to be out of the closet?
You know, I never valued being an openly gay actor until this past year. I used to have the mindset of it doesn’t matter; I’m not trying to hide it, but I don’t need to promote it in any way. But it does provide solace to people out there struggling with these things. I remember watching the first Real World growing up in middle school and seeing Norman as an openly gay man and something in my brain clicked. I didn’t know that that existed in Niceville, Florida. So yes, it’s as important a real-life role as any character I play.
Do you feel any responsibility being a gay Filipino in the media today?
Growing up, it was hard. I grew up in a very southern, white community feeling very different, other than, that I had to work extra hard to be accepted and belong. So the thought of being on TV and showing people someone that looks like them, someone that might be going through life in the same situation that I went through, that there is a role model, is very special. Had I had that growing up, it would’ve saved me a lot of feelings of being out of place or that something was inherently wrong; That I had to be like those Abercrombie boys.
When did you reconcile these emotions?
It’s only been in the last couple of years. Through lots of therapy! It has been such a white, straight, male-dominated society and I only think now in the last couple of years that it’s actually cool to be diverse. So much of the popularity of the show I think is because we’re representing what society actually looks like. It’s a good feeling.
HTGAWM returns Jan. 29 and you can catch Conrad in Lincoln Center’s revival of The King and I beginning March 15.
marry me a little- showtunes about good marriages, bad marriages, and proposals
fancy dress - the drowsy chaperone // if momma was married - gypsy // i’ve decided to marry you - a gentleman’s guide to love and murder // the little things you do together - company // the story of lucy and jessie - follies // it takes two - into the woods // marriage - cabaret // daffodils - big fish // the next ten minutes - the last five years // this day/walking by a wedding - if/then // turning into beautiful - murder ballad // sugartime baby - here lies love // days and days - fun home // hemming & hawing - 35mm: a musical exhibition // fable - the light in the piazza // marry me a little - company //
my junk - a collection of showtunes from pop/rock musicals
american idiot - american idiot // exquisite corpse - hedwig and the angry inch // rent - rent // donna - hair // hey, good lookin’ - dogfight // the bitch of living - spring awakening // gotta get outta here - lizzie // american troglodyte - here lies love // why, must we tell them why? - 35mm: a musical exhibition // didn’t i see this movie? - next to normal // the great compromise - bloody bloody andrew jackson // wonderland - bare: a pop opera // i love ny - murder ballad // my junk - spring awakening // hot toxic love - the toxic avenger // gimme! gimme! gimme! (a man after midnight) - mamma mia! // know your enemy - american idiot // men will do anything - here lies love // second nature - bloody bloody andrew jackson // what you own - rent //
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: Actor Conrad Ricamora performs onstage at The Point Foundation’s Annual Point Honors New York Gala at New York Public Library. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for Point Foundation)
show off- showtunes sung by broadway’s most popular ladies
it’s today - mame // the life of the party - the wild party // it won’t be long now - in the heights // show off - the drowsy chaperone // killer instinct - bring it on: the musical // popular - wicked // candy store - heathers: the musical // the world according to chris - carrie: the musical // out tonight - rent // there she goes!/fame - fame // model behavior - women on the verge of a nervous breakdown // gorgeous - the apple tree // diamonds are a girl’s best friend - gentlemen prefer blondes // here lies love - here lies love // dance: ten; looks: three - a chorus line // so much better - legally blonde: the musical // the ballad of sara berry - 35mm: a musical exhibition //
Jose Llana (left) and Conrad Ricamora, the male leads in David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s exuberant pop opera Here Lies Love, began their professional careers in the closet. “I was worried that if a casting director knew I was gay, it would affect my ability to be cast,” says Llana, already concerned that his Filipino roots would limit his opportunities.
For Ricamora, who also stars in the new Shonda Rhimes show, How to Get Away With Murder, it was New York’s Pride march in 2001 that transformed his philosophy.