THE LEADING MEN: Jared Gertner Says "Hello" to London in Book of Mormon

By Jared Eberlein
16 Mar 2013

Gertner on the U.S. national tour.
Photo by Joan Marcus

I would imagine it might be easier for everyone to trust those degrees of variation in each company when the material is so solid.
JG: I think that's true — the material is so good. But it's also difficult. I've done a lot of comedy and the part of Cunningham is the hardest comedy I've ever had to do. There's something very specific about it. The material is perfect, but if you go too camp or too cute with it, you can really miss the boat.

And if you "miss the boat" you have to deal with the audience's expectation, which for The Book of Mormon has been sky-high since day one.
JG: Yes, but it's surprising. You'd think audience members who have bought their tickets six months to a year in advance and have heard all this hype would come in with their arms crossed saying, "OK. Impress me. Make it worth all the money I spent on these tickets and all the time I've waited," but none of them have. In any city we played on the tour, so far with West End audiences or on Broadway, everyone comes in completely open and ready to be blown away. It still impresses me, that the audiences come so excited — not skeptical — but really excited.

That is impressive, especially in "jaded old New York."
JG: I really think it's Matt & Trey — people figure whatever they get from them is going to be fun and then they're surprised when they're actually moved by it; and that's where we really get them.

A cast's ability to keep it fresh every night has to play a part as well. How do you insure that's happening with Cunningham?
JG: Anytime you're in a long run, it's all about the actors you're on stage with. For me, I'm really lucky because Gavin is one of those actors who never gives the same performance twice. He's all over the place — which is great — but it's always focused and fueled by intent. And it's always coming from a real and honest place. I tend to be a little bit more consistent, so the two of us have found this great blend. From the audience's perspective it probably looks similar, but what's fueling it inside and the emotional connection changes night to night depending on how we decide to approach a scene.
You've been with Mormon for over two straight years —
JG: I am the most Mormon Jew in the land!

Gertner in Spelling Bee on Broadway.
photo by Joan Marcus

Yet, Cunningham isn't your first foray into a character that carries a show's comedic and romantic weight. "Barfee" in Spelling Bee and "Seymour" in Little Shop of Horrors run the gamut of shades that character-actors don't typically get to show an audience. How have you found such success in these types of roles?
JG: First, I've been super lucky. But I think it's what you said earlier about the joy. That's something I put in to all of my characters and it really does help. They talk in acting class about making positive choices and finding the positive angle — and when you're in college, you're like "enough already" — but it really does make a difference. But I've also been super lucky to play these parts that you don't usually find for guys like me. The little chubby guy rarely gets the girl or gets to be a rock star and save the day; but somehow I've found a few roles where I've gotten to do that. And I hope that they keep coming because I'm having a great time.

Any role in particular you've set your sights on?
JG: Well I'm hoping to be on Season Four of "Downton Abbey." I want to be the quirky Jewish-American cousin that shows up.

That seems like a match made in heaven.
JG: Seriously! Write your Congressman and let them know.

How long are you scheduled to play in London?
JG: I'll be here for a year. That's the plan. But if the audiences keep up like what they are now, I don't know if I'll ever want to leave London. I'm really happy here. I'm having a great time and until my body breaks down or I start to look my real age, I'm going to white-knuckle this thing. [Laughs.]