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There is perhaps no better indication of aging for an actor than the change in parts he is offered. Veteran theater presence Josh Hamilton had just such a realization when he began reading for Teddy, the eldest of three highly troubled brothers in Jonathan Marc Sherman’s new play “Things We Want,” a New Group production now at the Acorn Theatre. Of course, had Sherman, a longtime friend of his for two decades, not spent so many years writing it, Hamilton might have ended up with a more youthful part and the alarm clock might not have sounded.
“It’s a funny thing, because if he had finished the play when he first started writing it a while ago, I probably would have been Charles [the youngest brother],” grins Hamilton, 38, over a soy latte at ‘SNice in the West Village. “You don’t necessarily think of yourself as getting older, but every once in a while these little markers come along and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m reading for the father, not the kid.'”
Though not a patriarch in the literal sense, Hamilton, as Teddy, certainly fulfills the necessary parental duties. Set in a New York apartment, “Things We Want” shows three brothers — Charles (Paul Dano), Sty (Peter Dinklage) and Teddy — whose parents committed suicide years ago. They’re now living together in an alcohol-fueled maelstrom of pain and discontent, masked under the cloak of witty repartee. At the play’s outset, Charles has just dropped out of culinary school and suffered a broken heart; Teddy is an acolyte to a self-help guru named Dr. Miracle, and Sty is glued to the sofa in a state of uninterrupted inebriation. Things quickly devolve as characters either rectify their lives or sink into a deeper abyss.
Directed by Ethan Hawke, “Things We Want” proves a reunion of sorts. Hamilton first met Sherman when they were both 18 and he dropped out of college to star in the latter’s breakout work “Women and Wallace” at the Young Playwrights Horizons. A few years later, the duo, along with Hawke, founded The Malaparte Theater Company.
“When people know each other really well they can say, ‘Oh, you know that thing you do? That little trick? Don’t do that,'” says Hamilton of being directed by Hawke, with whom he costarred in last year’s “The Coast of Utopia.” “For me it was hard because the comfort level works both ways, where I would say things or speak up in ways that I might not have with a director I didn’t know as well. I might have overstepped my bounds. I could see him thinking, ‘Hey, who’s directing this play?'”
This story first appeared in the November 15, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Luckily, the boys’ club antics get a healthy jolt from the young, rising talent of Dano and Zoe Kazan, who plays the female romantic foil, Stella.
“They’re much hotter than I ever was,” Hamilton insists, reflecting on his own precocious start. “Ethan and Peter and Jonathan and I, we can all fall into accumulated years of ‘in’ jokes and references that only we get and just endlessly crack each other up. It was good to have Zoe and Paul kind of looking at us once in a while, being like, ‘First of all, we don’t know what you’re talking about. And it’s probably not that funny.'”
Hamilton’s grown-up status has been a real-life phenomenon, too. The New York native and his longtime girlfriend have a nine-month-old son. But some things still remain the same. As a hot young actor at 23, Hamilton once said his goal was to “Just try not to be bad.” Though he professes to take more risks now, and worry less in rehearsals, after much thought he concedes it might not be such a horrible ethos.
“Oftentimes when I’m doing a show, I think, ‘Who are these people? What made them come here?'” he says of theater audiences. “It gives you a very special responsibility to try and make it worth their while, try not to make them feel like it’s a waste of their time. So I suppose it might still come down to not wanting to be bad.”