INTERVIEW: Comedic actor Jeff Hiller on his rewarding role in ‘Bright Colors’

Photo: Jeff Hiller stars in Bright Colors and Bold Patterns at the SoHo Playhouse in New York City. Photo courtesy of Russ Rowland / Provided by Fortune Creative.


Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, the hit comedy from writer Drew Droege and director Michael Urie, has been enjoying an extended run at the SoHo Playhouse in New York City. After Droege departed the central role, Broadway and TV star Jeff Hiller took on the responsibilities.

The show, running through Feb. 25, involves Gerry, who has recently been invited to Josh and Brennan’s wedding ceremony. However, not all things turn out 100-percent festive because the invitation specifically asks guests not to wear “bright colors and bold patterns.” This sends Gerry into an introspective (and comedic) look at the struggle for equality, rights for same-sex couples, respect and marriage.

Hiller is known for Broadway’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and roles on TV’s Nightcap and 30 Rock. Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with him about the show and his career. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

What inspired you to join Bright Colors And Bold Patterns?

If I’m being completely honest, I joined the show because they asked! I mean, I am not at a level of fame where I really get to make … choices, you know? The fact that the show is hilarious, heartbreaking and a completely fascinating character study and acting challenge were all the delicious cherry on top of the ‘I get to work’ sundae.

I have to say though, even if I could make choices, I would choose this. It has been a challenge to be the only actor on stage, and it has been so rewarding as an actor to get a script where I get to have peaks and valleys of emotions! I am a comedian, so I normally play someone who makes a joke and leaves. Don’t get me wrong, I love those roles, too, but it is so exciting to make a joke and then stay to make another joke! And then have a moment of honesty? That’s a dream!

What do you find interesting about this main character?

The best part about Gerry is that he is completely fleshed out and completely human. He isn’t a sketch or a one-sided presentation of a character. You really get to know him over the course of the show. He is lovable and sympathetic at times, and he is rude and insecure at other times.

Drew Droege has done such an amazing job showing us this man who is wounded, but still strong. And the best thing about Gerry is that he is hilarious — objectively hilarious. He has line after line that are fall-down-funny, and since I’m playing him, I get to say them! For a laugh whore like myself, this is the best john you can get! (Have I taken this prostitution metaphor too far?)

On top of that, what Gerry is dealing with as a gay man post marriage equality is something I have dealt with myself. How do you deal with being someone whose identity is wrapped up as ‘the outsider’ when you are realizing that you aren’t really the outsider anymore?

What has it been like collaborating with Drew Droege and Michael Urie?

Both Drew and Michael are comedic geniuses. I know that people throw the word ‘genius’ around a lot, but I am not being flippant or exaggerating. These are two men who can make comedy out of anything. I’m thrilled they know my name, much less that they want me to work on this beautiful show they’ve created.

I used to live in Los Angeles and knew Drew from the comedy scene. I took an improv class from him at The Groundlings, and I always made sure to check out his live shows and his videos. I was a guest star on Partners, a CBS show that Michael Urie was the star of, and I marveled at how he could take each new script that was thrown at him and find the details and the timing in each one to make it hilarious.

So, you can imagine that I was a little bit in AWE of them and thrilled to get to work with them on Bright Colors. … The best part about working with them is that they are absolutely not dictatorial! Not that I really expected them to be, but it has been so much easier to do this show with them telling me to trust my instincts. I think I’ve been able to make the show my own instead of doing a watered down impression of Drew — not that I didn’t steal a lot from him.

What do you find more satisfying theater or film/TV work?

Not to double down on the pitiful actor thing, but this baby just loves to work, period! Theatre is great because you really spend time inside the script and find new things throughout a long run. You also have the immediacy of the audience. That feedback is INTOXICATING! That said, working on TV is exciting because you get to the stuff right away. You do a read through (if you’re lucky), and a few days later you are in costume and on the set making choices in the moment. With television, you don’t get bored in the way that can sometimes happen with an extremely long run in the theatre (how do people do Phantom for 15 years?!?!). Working on film is great cause you usually get to meet a movie star, and in the end, isn’t that what we all really wanna do?

What’s on the horizon beyond your run in Bright Colors and Bold Patterns?

Well, I have a couple of movies coming out that are ‘already in the can’ as they say (they say that, right?). I am in a movie with Isabelle Huppert, so smell me! I am also in this Netflix movie called Set It Up that was one of the most hilarious and sweet rom com scripts I have ever read. This writer Katie Silberman is the best! AS GOOD AS DREW DROEGE, and you know I love him!

Other than that, I have nothing lined up. So, yes, I am ending this interview on the pitiful actor thing again, which I guess is my ‘brand’ because I have a podcast about being a pitiful actor with my great friend and fellow pitiful actor Jenn Harris called Touché with Jeff and Jenn all about being pitiful actors. Available on your podcatcher of choice!

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

Jeff Hiller stars in Bright Colors and Bold Patterns at the SoHo Playhouse in New York City. Click here for more information and tickets.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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