Billy Magnussen Strips, Kisses Sigourney Weaver, And Shacks Up With A ‘Gossip Girl’ Guy

A sort of blond Adonis, 27-year-old actor Billy Magnussen is not only chiseled to Ken doll perfection; he’s also quite a riot. Especially in his ongoing stage engagement, assuming the role of wannabe actor Spike in playwright Christopher Durang’s latest work, the poignant and amusing Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Indeed, Magnussen takes Lincoln Center Theater by storm, self-described as a “bull in a china shop,” attracting laughs with the delivery of his hilarious lines and smiles—and stares—with several instances of near nudity.

Performing shirtless is nothing new to the young actor, who in 2008 joined As The World Turns, taking over the character of Casey Hughes, who just so happened to be topless a lot of the time. Between then and now, Magnussen has appeared on the big screen (think Damsels In Distress, among others) as well as on some of TV’s biggest hits, such as Boardwalk Empire, CSI, Law & Order, and In Plain Sight. Yes, this kid’s got the chops, the mug, and the bod to command jobs any up-and-coming actor would be thrilled to land. Plus, he mans the bass guitar in a rock band called Reserved For Rondee, which regularly jams in music clubs around NYC.

Magnussen has the rare honor now to call David Hyde Pierce and Sigourney Weaver his colleagues, as they, along with a wonderfully funny and endearing Kristine Nielsen (whose impression of Downton Abbey’s Maggie Smith alone is reason enough to secure tickets), make up the mass of VSMS. Directed by Nicholas Martin and produced in association with the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton (where it opened in September) this touching Chekhov-esque parody has just been extended to January 20 at LTC, and I highly recommend attending. If nothing else, Magnussen’s boy toy to Weaver’s cougar presents a romantic-meets-raunchy pairing that must be seen to be believed.

Magnussen, whom I’d prefer to refer to as Billy, because we’re friends, came by for coffee last week to discuss this theatrical venture I dare say New York Magazine would deem “Highbrow” and “Brilliant.” Between sneezes (he’s allergic to my “catty-cat,” as he nicknamed the feline foster staying with me), Billy shared some fun stuff, from the story behind his wrist tattoo to the surprising ritual that sometimes takes place backstage between scenes.

Something that perhaps doesn’t adequately come across in what follows, however, is this: Billy really throws himself into this Spike guy, giving dimension to a somewhat self-congratulatory climber type. He makes despicable also attractive, redeeming even. There’s a lot of Billy in Spike, which those who know him well will agree shines through in the best possible ways. That attitude, that talent, that laugh. Billy’s bud or not, I sincerely suggest seeing this lovely little show in this intimate environment. You never know where it could be headed next.

What’s the story behind this wrist tattoo?
I was with friends out partying and they’re like, “Let’s all get tattoos!” And I was like, “Okay, let’s go.” [They said,] “Billy, you go first.” I got a tattoo and they’re like, “Eh, we’re not gonna get tattoos.”

You were the only one?!
I was the only one!

A permanent “friendship” bracelet.
I guess! At least this reminds me my friends are assholes. [Laughs]

I’d be pissed. So, onto something more relevant, how did you get involved with this play?
I auditioned. I auditioned five times. It started with just the casting director, then the director, then the writer, then producers, that kinda thing.

Were you nervous?
No, because the character isn’t nervous. He’s just chaos in the room. I remember there was a piano, and I just started playing the piano [proceeds to imitate playing piano] for no reason.

[Laughs] Was it difficult stripping down to your skivvies? I suppose not with your ample exposure, shall we say, on As The World Turns
No. Getting into shape was the difficult part. I don’t even think about [taking off my clothes] anymore. The sooner the better. Just get over that hump. Whatever.

Do you have a specific workout routine?
It varies. I was training for a triathlon for a while and that’s really advantageous to getting in shape.

Oh, I bet. What do you eat to stay fit and trim?
Raw vegetables all the time. I usually start the morning with an apple and five strawberries. Then, like, two raw vegetables for lunch and a white meat, like fish, [with more raw vegetables] for dinner. I love broccoli, peppers. If [I] get hungry [I] eat dill pickles or Wasa Crackers.

Keep in mind, protein is readily available (and absorbable) from plant-based sources. No meat necessary. Anyway, have you been hating the diet?
No. Also, I have a pretty big vitamin regimen. I love B12!

That’s too funny. I’ve never met anyone who “loves” a particular vitamin. I applaud your enthusiasm. Is it tough to learn lines by rote?
[My] job is to memorize the lines. After [I] memorize the lines, [I] have the freedom to play and do anything [I] want.

Speaking of playing, did you have to overcome some sort of professional hurdle to get intimate with Sigourney Weaver?
She was wonderful to work with. Unbelievable. I can’t be more thankful for how open, free, and fun she [is]. Everyone in the show [is]: Kristine and David. They’re all so awesome. It’s an honor to be working with them. Just learning from them. These are veterans.

What kinds of things have you taken away from them thus far?
Little things, from how to work with a line or throw a line out, to keep[ing] composure through the run. It’s a long run. Holding it together…it’s a lot. It’s eight shows a week. It really is draining.

But you love it.
I love it. It’s a wonderful project to be on. But, you get a little [exasperated] after a while. But, every show’s a new show. David and I share a dressing room, so we pep talk before and hang out, bullshit and talk about the show as it’s going on. My favorite thing is switching things up.

Such as?
Sometimes throwing Sigourney on the floor. It’s up to her. There’s a moment in the play where I’m alone with David and I get closer and closer. There was one night I started playing with his beard. The nipple thing just came out of being like, You ready? [Laughs]

That wasn’t written into the script?
No. The motorboat-ing wasn’t in the script either. I popped my shirt open in the audition, too.

Gotta love the cheek. What was the most difficult scene to master?
I would say my audition for Entourage 2. I have to be Spike doing his best audition—it’s really bad—but still be funny. There’s so many layers. That was the most challenging thing, finding that audition. It’s ridiculous. I mean, I’m talking about Entourage 2!

I know, which actually isn’t the most implausible program to exist…
Yeah, I know. [Laughs]

What’s been your favorite aspect of this experience so far?
Giving a bow at the end of a show to give thanks for the audience’s time. That’s my favorite. Just to say thank you. They went on a journey with us. They play with us. The uncertainty is what’s exciting. The audience, through [us], gets to play. You get older and you forget. You forget how to imagine. And, doing a play, the audience is the energy. They really are. They create the world.

Given this, what’s your opinion of the art of theater versus the art of film and TV? You’ve been fortunate enough to do all three.
With film [and television], it’s not a do-or-die kind of moment. You get takes. The stamina in theater—you have to be in character for two-and-a-half hours! In film, you shoot a scene and walk away.

I’ve always wondered, when you leave the stage and go backstage, what do you do?
Sundays, I’m doing the show and I go back and watch football. Then I hear my cue. Then I go back and watch the Jets lose. I play Words With Friends. I think it’s insane.

[Laughs] Wow. Does David watch football with you?
[Laughs] No! I try to get David to watch football. He’ll be like, “Oh shit, the Yankees are losing.” He has no clue. I had fantasy football and I’d tell him about my team and he’d be like, “Yes! Who?” He’s such a nice guy. I really have a friend there. All of them.

I’ve interviewed David at various events and he’s just a lovely individual to talk to.
He’s a soft, sweet guy. And he’s amazing to watch during the show. He’s always there, but he’s a stealth missile the whole play. He’s so specific all the time. It’s kind of wonderful to watch.

Absolutely. You’re all wonderful to watch. It’s a great play. So, is there something you love most about what you do?
I like playing the bad guy. Even in this I’m the “bad guy.”

Indeed! Well, you and Sigourney Weaver. Speaking of being bad, what kind of name is Hootie Pie [the name of Weaver’s unseen assistant in the play]?
When [Christopher Durang] was writing that day, Pootie Tang was on TV!

Hilarity. Ah, the wily ways of writers. That’s some interesting trivia. What’s some fun trivia about your life in NYC?
I live[ed] with Hugo Becker? He was Prince Louis on Gossip Girl. We did Damsels in Distress together. He’s back in Paris now. I miss him, man. He was so cool.

Oh la la! Small entertainment world…
He’s so funny, because that’s not him on Gossip Girl at all. He’s goofy. He’s a goof-French-ball!

[Laughs] Were you ever invited to appear on the show?
Yeah, but I was on the soap opera at the time, so I couldn’t ever get off.

Bummer. The series came to an end this week. Did you tune in at all during its six-season run?
No. Absolutely not. [Laughs]

Photos by T. Charles Erikson

David Hyde Pierce on the Time He Made a Mess in Paul Newman’s Kitchen

In his deliciously twisted new thriller, The Perfect Host, actor David Hyde Pierce plays a crazy—okay, crazier—version of his beloved Frasier character, Dr. Niles Crane. Hyde Pierce, a four-time Emmy winner (he’s been nominated 11 times in as many years), is Warwick Wilson, an intelligent, affluent man who’s preparing to host a dinner party when a stranger named John (Clayne Crawford) arrives at his front door.

Although John, a dangerous criminal on the lam, pretends to be a family friend, the truth soon comes out—as does Warwick’s violent streak. Of his unexpected role in Nick Tomnay’s directorial debut, Hyde Pierce, 52, says, “It was fun to hear people gasp at seeing this character—who’s quite similar to the one I played on TV for so long—go in very different, very dark places. Surprising people was one of the reasons I did the film. That and working with Clayne, who, if I’m the ‘perfect host,’ played the perfect guest. In real life, I’m far from the perfect host. I was assisting my partner Brian Hargrove [the couple married in 2008] while he hosted a brunch for Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in their apartment. Due to a misunderstanding about how some glass cookware works with heat, the eggs exploded all over their beautiful kitchen. Glass shards were everywhere, and we had to start cooking all over again without all of Paul’s famous guests knowing what had happened. He’d stick his head in and ask, ‘How are the eggs coming?’ and we’d yell back, ‘Almost ready!’ as we scraped our messes into the wastebasket.” Maybe that explains why the venerable stage actor can often be found at thespian hangout Sardi’s, where his caricature hangs on the wall.

Where Celebs Go Out: America Ferrera, Harvey Keitel, Hope Davis

At the premiere of Our Family Wedding:

● AMERICA FERRERA – “My favorite restaurant of the moment is Broadway East, on the Lower East Side.” ● CHARLIE MURPHY – “I’ve been going to this Mexican restaurant in New Jersey. I think it’s called El Torito, whatever. That’s one of them. I go to so many restaurants. This is what I want to explain, so no one’s insulted. I’m on the road 48 weeks of the year in different towns, and I go to a lot of restaurants, so to ask me what my favorite restaurant is, is kind of a hard question to answer. I like going to Baja Fresh in L.A.” ● GRETCHEN ROSSI – “In Newport Beach, it’s Flemings. It’s a steakhouse, and I eat the steak and potatoes and everything that you can imagine on the menu. But I just eat small portions, so that you get a taste of everything.”

● LANCE GROSS – “I love Tao here in New York. I don’t get to New York a lot, but the Cafeteria. I love the Cafeteria. I do all the nightclubs. I don’t even know the names. I just go into them.” ● REGINA KING – “Right now, I’m really loving Osteria Mozza in L.A., Mario Batali’s restaurant. It’s so funny because where he opened was a place in L.A. that there’s been four restaurants that tried to make it there; came; spent a lot of money; closed down. And he has been booming, banging with business, and rightfully so. So, if you go and get the oxtail ragu — oh, my God! Hah! It is so good, and mmmm, the pizza next door is even better, because it’s Nancy Silverton from La Brea Bakery making the dough. I love to eat, clearly.” ● PRAS – “Geez! Right now it’s gotta be Dylan Prime. That’s in my neighborhood. Every time I’m out of town, I always take a trip back to Dylan. I feel like I’ve landed back home. Do you like steak? I love — I’m a big meat eater, despite all the things they tell you about eating charred beef.”

At the opening of A Behanding in Spokane on Broadway:

● HARVEY KEITEL – “A candy store in Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn. It was called Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves.” ● ANTHONY MACKIE – “Hey, book that is black! I love to go down to STK. One of my very favorite restaurants is Three Sisters, on Madison and 124th — the best Caribbean food you can find in New York. ● JENNIFER MORRISON – “I have had no chance to discover that yet because we just opened last night. Where in L.A.? I love Madeo restaurant. We eat there all the time. Dan Tana’s, some of the usual spots. I’m a huge fan of spaghetti and meat sauce. It’s my weakness, anywhere I go.” ● ZOE KAZAN – “I love your magazine! I haven’t been going to a lot of bars or clubs lately. I’ve been going to theater hangouts, like the West Bank Cafe or Bar Centrale. In my neighborhood, I love Buttermilk Channel, which is a restaurant in Cobble Hill or Frankie’s 457. I like the fried chicken at Buttermilk Channel.” ● MARTIN MCDONAGH – “Angus McIndoe.” ● HUGH JACKMAN – “Oh, c’mon!”

● DANA IVEY – “I don’t want to give it away ’cause too many people will go there. I don’t want to say because it’ll be infiltrated by everybody, and I won’t get a seat! No, but Joe Allen’s is always good. That’s one of my faves. Oh, they have this great, great salad that I really, really like — trevisano, something, I can’t remember, but that’s what I get every time.” ● HOPE DAVIS –Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn.” ● JOAN HAMBURG – “You mean in this neighborhood? I love to go to Orso’s. Oh, I like a lot of places. I like Blue Hill downtown. I got a list!” ● SARAH PAULSON – “One of them is a secret. I don’t want anybody else to know about it, so I won’t talk about that place. I love a place called Café Cluny, on 12th Street and West 4th Street, down in the Village. Any favorite dish? The burger and the Cluny. It’s a giant martini, which is always really good. I’m, kind of, like a person who only goes to places that are in the neighborhood I happen to be standing in, in the moment, which is what’s so great about New York — you’re bound to turn around and hit something great.” ● MARCIA GAY HARDEN – “Oh, God, we never go out. Honestly, we don’t go out. Our living room, our kitchen, our dining room. What about in L.A.? Oh, God, I wouldn’t say L.A. before New York! I couldn’t possibly say L.A. before New York. Okay, wait! We like Settepani in Harlem. We love Orso. We love Orso.” ● STACY KEACH – “It’s a tough one, isn’t it? There’s so many. Joe’s restaurant in Venice. Everything is good, but I, particularly, like steak ‘n eggs, yeah. In New York, there’s so many wonderful restaurants, and we just got here. And every time I come back to New York, I discover new places, so I’m hesitant to give you names of places.” ● PABLO SCHREIBER – “The old standards are the — what’s the place over here on 46th where we go after the show? It’s right above Joe Allen’s. Yeah, I, always forget the name of it ’cause they have no sign. [That would be Bar Centrale. -ed] That’s my favorite place for after-dinner drinks. I went to a great Greek restaurant last night, called Molyvos, on 7th Avenue between 55th and 56th. That place was pretty delicious. I had the whole fish. It was a black sea bass, and they did it perfectly. I’m a father of a 16th-month-old kid, so I don’t get out much these days.” ● DAVID HYDE PIERCE – “No, I don’t have any. I don’t have a lot of places to talk about like that.” ● LILY RABE – “I love Maialino. It’s in the Gramercy Park Hotel. It just opened. It’s amazing. Yes, it’s really good. And I love Café Cluny. Morandi. Those are my favorite places to eat. And the Breslin is also really incredible. The Breslin has this pork belly that’s one of the most memorable things I’ve ever eaten in the city.” ● JULIE TAYMORE –Craft, Maialino, Bobby Flay’s restaurant Mesa Grill.” ● TOM WAITS – “Oh, gee, I eat at home. I eat at home.” ● PAUL DANO – “Eton’s — it’s a dumpling place in Brooklyn. Po. Franny’s — all Brooklyn.” ● ANTHONY ANDERSON – “I really don’t hang out much in New York because of the work schedule that we have. But when I do, I find myself having a drink at Tillman’s. My favorite eatery would have to be Abe & Arthur’s.” ● GRIFFIN DUNNE – “I’m mostly upstate these days, so I’ve got little holes up there that I hit, in Duchess County. What do I want to plug? Gigi’s, an Italian restaurant — very, very good. I think that’s in Rhinebeck, yeah.”

Links: Lady Gaga Loves the Boss, Justin Long’s Guilty Pleasure

● Lady Gaga reveals that she burst into tears and wept in the neck of Bruce Springsteen when she met her musical hero. [Showbizspy] ● The CW has released a teaser trailer for the revamped Melrose Place. Set to the sounds of Britney Spears’ “Circus,” it promises (just like the original) lies, deceit, and sex all in one apartment complex. [Youtube] ● Chris Pine’s newly found fame is evidently going to his head; his friends want him to lose the ego and dump new bedfellow Audrina “Ceiling Eyes” Patridge. [Celebitchy]

● David Hyde Pierce revealed on The View that he married longtime beau Brian Hargrove in October, before the ban on gay marriage was passed. [TVGuide] ● Britney Spears breaks the news via Twitter that Dave Meyers will direct the video for her song “Radar,” and it will be “sick.” He also directed “Lucky,” “Boys,” and “Outrageous.” [Twitter] ● Justin Long reveals that he has a passion for Lo Bosworth and the reality show that launched a thousand pseudo-careers, Laguna Beach. [MTV]