Broadway Dot Com

October 2, 2001

Christian Campbell

By Paul Wontorek



As star of the new cult musical Reefer Madness, Christian Campbell has chosen to take a different path than some of his peers out in Young Hollywood. After all, how many other up-and-coming actors would devote three years of their lives cultivating an intentionally campy theater piece about "young lovers and reefer sluts" when they could instead be cashing in on the rewards of TV and films? Campbell, it turns out, is different. Both he and younger sister Neve (Party of Five, Scream 1-3) were onstage at a young age, as performing members of a very theatrical Canadian family. Now after success in the gay indie flick Trick and a good number of TV credits, the off-Broadway transfer of Reefer has brought Campbell to the New York stage, where he is playing young, wholesome Jimmy Harper, who watches his life fall apart in the span of 24 hours when he falls victim to the dangers of marijuana.

How did you get involved with this sordid show?
Well, they were looking for someone who looked all-American and young and they found out about me. They asked me if I could sing and I said that I sort of could. I had never sung before. And that was three years ago.

Wow. I didn’t realize you’ve been involved with this for so long.
Yeah, it was a drawn-out rehearsal process when the show first started in Los Angeles. And we were working for free for the entire time back there. We had our day jobs or TV series or whatever and then at night, we’d go to rehearsal. That took about six months.

You didn’t get paid during the whole L.A. run of the show?
Oh no. We did it for free. Well actually, for five bucks. That’s the Equity minimum. We did it because we were committed to it. We stuck with it and did it for a year and a half.

But you’re getting paid now that you’re off-Broadway?
I guess you could say that. But it costs me more money to live here.

How has the show changed for New York?
The set definitely is different and there are new cast members–five of us came from L.A. There have also been major changes to the second act. The enigma of any production is always the second act. We were constantly tweaking it in L.A. We’re recording the New York cast album soon. The L.A. album has songs that have already been taken out. You’ll have to own both if you really wanna be a Reefer freak.

You really hadn’t sung before Reefer Madness?
Not really. I was really nervous. I wasn’t really committed to singing before the show. I did as much as I had to in school, but that’s about it. I gave up on it years and years ago.

Ever been to a real reefer den?
No. Unless you consider Amsterdam. That whole city’s a reefer den!

That reefer orgy scene is pretty wild. Any nerves in rehearsals the first time everyone had to strip down to their body stockings?
Not for me. Not anymore. We warned the New Yorkers that the first time you do it, you just look at each other and laugh. We all just look like shapeless forms. You kind of feel like you’re in a Dr. Seuss book. Then everyone laughs and you no longer feel weird. There’s nothing sexy about those costumes. It’s a great way to learn humility.

Speaking of Seuss, Michelle Pawk from Seussical has joined the New York cast. I don’t know how you can keep a straight face onstage with Michelle and some of the other reefer addicts.
You just learn how. What you do is get it all out during rehearsal. Onstage, I just set my jaw whenever I know there’s going to be laughter.

The style of the show is so specific. You’re really parodying a long-gone, over-the-top acting style. Did you watch old movies to research?
Here’s what I’ve done–everything I learned in school I have thrown out. I basically am trying to be the worst actor I can possibly be. That’s my goal every night. It comes very easy to me, actually! It’s a perfect marriage of actor and role. I keep reiterating to the New Yorkers in the show: there’s no such thing as motivation in this show. Or intention. Or subtext. There’s no subtext in Reefer Madness! You wear it on your sleeve.

You got your start acting as a kid growing up in Canada…
Yes, I did a lot of stuff back then. My whole family is in it. I was always around the stage. My dad would always throw me into whichever production he was directing. The first role I ever did was Nick in A Thousand Clowns.

That was at your mom’s dinner theater?
Yeah, she ran a dinner theater after my parents were divorced. My dad was a theater teacher and was always directing community theater or high school productions. He was also very interested in the Scottish style of pantos, so I would do that on a seasonal basis. It was my introduction to theater. But he would always use either me or my sister when he needed kids in his high school productions. We were doing them when we were still in pre-school.

Do others in L.A. wonder why you’re bothering to work for little or nothing in theater? It seems to go against the norm for Hollywood.
It does go against the Hollywood norm, but I just ignore whatever anyone says. I wouldn’t have done Trick if I had listened to anyone. I just do whatever feeds me. I’ve been running a successful theater in L.A. for about six years. It keeps me sane. Working in TV and movies bores the shit out of me. You sit on your ass 75 percent of the time waiting for the cameras. Theater is more proactive and hands-on. Sure, I’m proud of Trick, but the process of doing it… Eck. It makes me want to throw up.

Aren’t you trying to get a New York version of your theater group, Blue Sphere, started?
We did Trust last year at Raw Space Theater, which ran for six weeks. Again, making no money at all. But I was shooting the [Darren Starr] series The $treet then. It was a great show and I really enjoyed the writing, but it still bored me. I would race to the theater…

For your own sanity?
Well, it made me feel like I was earning a living. When I do TV and earn globs of money for doing nothing, it makes me feel guilty. I throw myself into other things to make up for it.

Are you planning on moving permanently to New York now?
I hope so, if I can afford it! It’s stupid to stay here and be unemployed. When the show ends, I may have to get the hell out of here! How do New Yorkers retire? I guess they never do. They work until they die. I hate L.A., but I have to live there because it’s cheap. It’s one of those rough situations. But yeah, I’d love to live in New York. New Yorkers all seem to manage. I am learning some tricks to living frugally–it’s really all about the East Village, isn’t it? That’s where you can still get a $5 meal.

Speaking of Trick, do you think that movie made you a gay sex symbol?
Yup. I am a gay sex symbol, which is really ironic because there’s nothing sexy about me.

Or gay.
Right, it’s funny. It’s a negative negative.

You’re married now.
Yes, to Erin Matthews, who plays reefer slut Sally in the show. She’s my beard. That’s what the gay community says–"Oh yeah, sure you’re married."

So you met doing the show?
Yeah, we started dating two years ago, a few weeks after the show opened in L.A. We’re a perfect reefer match.


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