Amber Grey, Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada onstage (Photo by Bruce Glikas/WireImage)

Reeve Carney returned to Broadway on September 2nd as Orpheus in the Tony-winning musical Hadestown.  He made his Broadway debut in the title role of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.  Other roles have included Dorian Gray in Penny Dreadful on Showtime and Riff Raff on Fox’s musical version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  His great uncle was Oscar-winning actor Art Carney. 

Before the COVID pandemic shut down Broadway, I met with Reeve in the empty orchestra section of the Walter Kerr Theatre before an evening performance of Hadestown.  “An evening performance” is, week by week as the fall approaches, thankfully becoming an apt term for what is beginning to happen inside Broadway theaters that have been dark and dormant for much too long.  

You grew up in Greenwich Village, Reeve. Was it an artsy-fartsy environment in your home? 

Yeah. The first place I lived was right around the street from the Village Vanguard which was on Tenth and Seventh Avenue South. But then we moved to the Flatiron District and the Union Square area. But I always went to school in the Village. I went to PS 41. And The Little Red Schoolhouse. I used to live in the Catskills for a bit also when I was a kid. Croton-on-Hudson. My parents are musicians, too. They met at the Bitter End on Bleecker Street. They are both singer/songwriters. My mom is also a jewelry designer. All this stuff (he points to all the jewelry he is wearing) is mostly my mom’s.  

As I look at your professional resume from the title role in the Broadway musical based on Spider-Man to Dorian Gray in Penny Dreadful to Riff Raff in Fox’s The Rocky Horror Picture Showto Orpheus inHadestown – and even to your being Taylor Swift’s love interest in her video for her song I Knew You Were Trouble” – they are all rather odd, heightened roles. They are all about longing in some strange way. How do you ground yourself in the reality of them to make them believable? 

I can relate to that quality in those characters. And I think it is something I’m interested in watching as well. Longing is a quite active emotion. It is always interesting to play things as active as possible.   

I saw an early production of Hadestown at New York Theatre Workshop where the production values were much simpler and the actor playing Orpheus was different. I saw this Broadway. iteration of it the other night. What struck me was the choice you’ve made as Orpheus within the framework of what is now a very elaborate production. You have chosen to simplify him and be even more tender and still and quiet. And in that, you have become the sweet spiritual heart of the very busy and carnal narrative going on around it. There is a a controlled craziness to it all.  Are you aware of being kind of the idler on its motor?    

This is my third time doing it. (Carney played the role at the Citadel Theatre in Canada and The National Theatre in England before starring in the part on Broadway.). And this is the only time I’ve played it this way. I think because I’m playing an ancient Greek myth, there was a temptation or a desire to connect to the original text that at times may have even fighting against the beauty of the text of Anaïs Mitchell who wrote the music and lyrics and book. I think at a certain point they found they could take certain liberties with it. What I’m trying to say is that the original Orpheus was much more confident. I think that the things that originally motivated him sort of came from a place of ego maybe than certainly this Orpheus. And in the earlier version that I was a part of, there was that aspect of pridefulness in him and sort of an ego-driven impulse which was part of his fall.  At least, I think it was. That’s how I feel about the former versions I was involved in. It’s not true in this latest version. It’s more about the doubt which is part of what Anaïs has written so beautifully. I think the more you live on-the-text the less the intention is to be ironic or to go against that in a some way. I think it helps just to trust the text and build from there. As an actor, that is what I try my best to do.   

That was the biggest change about my character. I like to describe this Orpheus as guileless. The earlier version of Orpheus had a higher degree of machismo and bravado. There wasn’t that purity. And that’s something that Anaïs did change in the text for the Broadway debut in describing him as someone who is naive and can perceive the world as it could be in spite of the way that it is. That is one of the starting points that drive the choices I am making as an actor. 

Did you go back and listen to the operas about him – Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, Rossi’s Orfeo, among others – or study the myths or read Tennessee Williams’s Orpheus Descending when you got this role? 

I asked our director, Rachel Chavkin, what I should investigate. I did look at those things. But in general, I guess, I think that in all these characters that I have been asked to play, which you mentioned earlier, they all are not fully human in some ways. So I don’t find studying the other versions of Orpheus as helpful as trying to find what would motivate him as a human. I am not aware that there are a whole lot of actual gods that come into the theatre every night sitting in the audience. Maybe invisibly there are. It’s all humans watching these shows as far as I can tell. So I want to help the people who are visibly there to find those human aspects about Orpheus and my job is to help them get to the core of that the quickest. 

How do you do that?  

I like to think of it as that we all have as humans – and I do believe this – we all sort of have all of the spectrums of light. We have all of the frequencies of light within us. Or sound. Or whatever you want to choose. The vibrations. You can use either light or sound to describe it. I have a different fundamental vibrating frequency than Orpheus does. But we both share all the same frequencies. Just like you share all the same frequencies with Orpheus. I sense you do. And with any character onstage. I think that’s the beauty of this show. You’re able to see how easy it is for someone like Orpheus potentially to become someone like Hades. Because we really truly do have all of these things in our being, in my opinion. That’s how I feel. So I guess what I try to do is to try and find the fundamental vibrating frequency in each character and I try to turn the parts of myself down that get in the way of that and turn the other parts up. Dorian Gray and Orpheus to me are not polar opposites, but they definitely have different fundamental frequencies. 

Mine are somewhere in the middle. If I am around let’s say 1K – if that is my fundamental vibrating sonic frequency – then I’d say Orpheus sits somewhere around 6 kilohertz. Whereas, Dorian Gray sits around 300 hertz. 

Maybe it has to do with my musical background. But it is about light too.  I don’t know the numbers that correspond to the frequencies of light as well as I do with those that correspond to the frequencies of sound vibration. But light is maybe something that more people would understand. The way that our lighting designer in Hadestown, Bradley King, paints these beautiful pictures. He is such a brilliant lighting designer. He truly underscores the emotional aspects of this piece. You can see when we’re changing. He really watched closely in rehearsals. When we have subtle shifts in our emotions, the lights go with it. People understand darkness and light. I guess that’s what I should say. I guess that’s what I mean about frequencies.  

I definitely believe in an invisible realm. I am very fascinated by it. That is another of the beautiful powers of this show. I can feel that every night with the audience. There are things that are unspoken and unseen that I feel connect us as performers and audience. You don’t always get that with live theatre, but with this show we really feel it. 

I think the beauty of this show is that we have experienced both sides of the Orpheus myth as humans – the times we did look back and the times in which we didn’t. To me, this show gives us the opportunity to learn from Orpheus. Being able to accomplish something starts with having the best of intentions but it doesn’t end there. You have to go a little bit further.  

I wrote a song titled Intention.” The catchphrase in the song is there’s no greater drug than intention.” I think it is important no matter what you’re going through to do that, to have a good intention but also to follow through. I learned that from my parents. For example, I have had jobs that weren’t my ultimate end goal – like most people, everybody has that sort of a job sometime – but when I did them I really enjoyed those jobs. I learned from my parents that I might as well enjoy it because it takes just as much time to enjoy it as it does to not enjoy it. I am certainly not someone who says, I have no regrets.” For me, I don’t buy into that. There are things you go sometimes, Oooh, I could have done that a little bit better.” But you can’t let that stuff hold you back from stepping into your future. It’s interesting. Sometimes some things that you might be regretful for, ten years later you go, This great thing wouldn’t have actually happened if that thing I regret hadn’t happened.”  

I don’t know if faith and fear can exist simultaneously. I guess they can exist simultaneously. I don’t know. But I tend to go with faith more than fear. I grew up with a family that is quite spiritually interested. So it has always been a part of my life. 

But to bring this back to acting.  I have a few incredible teachers. You might know of one: Sandra Seacat.  And her daughter Greta. Also Sheila Gray. After studying with Lee Strasberg, Sandra came up with her own ideas regarding The Method. One thing she says is, Heal yourself, heal the audience.” That’s certainly what I try to do.