Don't ask Billy Magnussen to compare the theatrical production of Into the Woods with the screen adaptation by director Rob Marshall.
While in Miami promoting the film -- in which he portrays Rapunzel's prince -- Magnussen uses his hands to animate a point and passionately throws them down, palms first on a tabletop inside a room at the Mandarin Oriental. "The beautiful thing about live theater is that was that night," he says, "and it was that exciting moment...but you also have to think that this [film] is its own piece of art.
"It's not the play, it is a film that Rob Marshall adapted and it's its own identity."
Comparing the adaptation of Into the Woods with Baz Luhrmann's 1996 update of William Shakespeare's classic play, Romeo + Juliet, Magnussen remarks on Luhrmann's bravery, the guts it took to bring the work to a broader audience. "I'd rather have Mr. Shakespeare's work out there, where people who normally wouldn't go see his work can go see it," he explains.
With each answer, the 29-year-old blue-eyed blonde gets more and more excited: "I love that we are in this time where we're bridging the gap between theater and film and really putting in a lot of effort."
Magnussen knows what he's talking about since he hails from a theatrical background; he can thank his successful run as Spike in Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike for propelling him into the movie business.
Telling the story of how he got the role of The Other Prince, Magnussen looks down at his hands, suddenly shy, "I was doing Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Lincoln Center [in New York City] when it was off Broadway and we ended the show and I was in the dressing room I shared with David Pierce."
All of a sudden, he recounts, the door creeks open and it's Meryl Streep. "Oh shit, you're that chick!" was basically all Magnussen could think of at that moment. "She congratulated me," he continues, "and then I heard through the grapevine that she talked to Rob Marshall and Marc Platt and was like 'you gotta see this kid, I think he'd be great as Rapunzel's prince.'"
He auditioned for the role and ultimately landed the part.
"I just remember at the first read-through, Meryl Streep goes to me, 'you, I got you this friggin role,'" he adds with a laugh, wagging a finger while imitating the Hollywood legend in a sassy voice.
Billy Magnussen with director Rob Marshall and Mackenzie Mauzy
Courtesy of Disney
The "friggin role," as Meryl put it, gives Magnussen the chance to show his singing chops, he performs one of the most memorable songs of the film: "Agony." The Other Prince's brother is Prince Charming, played by the oh-so-handsome Chris Pine, and a moment comes when the two encounter each other in the woods and sing about their woes with their women.
With a beaming smile, Magnussen recalls filming the number on a waterfall with Pine: "I mean it was so ridiculous!
"Chris is such a talented, talented actor and very giving. You always hope to work with actors like that who are open for playing, and we were trying to throw each other off, in a sense. The whole time we were trying to goof on each other."
One of the most rewarding things for Magnussen was the experience of getting to work with composer Stephen Sondheim. Referring to him as a master, Magnussen says that of all the plays Sondheim has scored that Into the Woods, blends "a palette of so many wonderful colors.
"He really just adapts the music to who's playing the character, even though it's his story, he's very open to adjust to the person playing the character and lets them discover what's in his music."
"The story I really wanted to share was that you don't need Prince Charming," Magnusseun stumbles, "maybe Prince Charming isn't Prince Charming, maybe you don't need the perfect man - maybe you just need the right one. And maybe the right one isn't perfect, but he's right for you."
Check out Billy Magnussen's portrayal of The Other Prince when Into the Woods arrives in theaters everywhere on Christmas Day.
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