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On an otherwise quiet Wednesday afternoon on New York’s Great White Way, the sidewalk outside the Eugene O’Neill Theater stage door resembles the aftermath of a Hannah Montana concert as teenage girls armed with digital cameras and cell phones wait behind a set of police barricades. The source of their idol worship is not Miley Cyrus, however, but Hunter Parrish, the 21-year-old star of “Weeds” who is currently making his Broadway debut as Melchior in “Spring Awakening.” Unfortunately for his admirers, Parrish is ensconced inside his dressing room, devouring a plate of penne pasta and chicken after his high-energy matinee performance (and resting up for the evening one that follows).
“They’re here for all of us,” demurs the modest Parrish, who is bewildered to learn that his fans have been waiting for more than an hour and a half.
“No, they’re waiting for you,” replies one of his female co-stars on her way out. “Everyone else has already left.”
It’s certainly a contrast to the low-key set of “Weeds” — the Showtime series whose fourth season Parrish just finished shooting three-and-a-half weeks ago — though one for which the actor is clearly prepared. A native of Plano, Tex., and the youngest of three kids, he got his acting start early, attending theater camp in New Jersey at the age of six.
“I was a crazy ADD kid so my parents were like, ‘OK, maybe he can be enthusiastic on stage,’” explains Parrish, whose father works for AT&T and mother is an occupational therapist. “It’s like when you get to age eight, they put you in softball just because that’s what you do. Mine just happened to be acting.”
After a camp-organized Broadway showcase landed him a manager, Parrish was cast in a commercial in New York, before heading back to Texas, where he signed with a local agent. He spent middle and high school doing at least one professional play or musical a year in Dallas’ theater district, and then moved to Los Angeles, where he’s lived for the past five years. “Spring Awakening” marks his first time back on a stage since he left Texas.
And though Melchior’s crazy hair and 1891-by-way-of-2008 schoolboy costumes might give another young male actor some pause, Parrish is enthusiastic about his dramatic incarnation.
“I love the knickers! I do, man. I don’t know why,” he exclaims, between swigs of Sprite. “Wardrobe to me is such a big thing. It’s like putting on a Batman suit. You don’t see Batman out being amazingly heroic without his suit on.”
Other aspects of Melchior’s character have proven more difficult, though. For one thing, he is an atheist, while Parrish has been a devout, practicing Christian his whole life. Thankfully, “Weeds” helped paved the way for more risky professional parts.
“I’ve had to make decisions on the show that have been a struggle in the moment, but now I’m sort of past that,” explains Parrish. “I had my first major sex scene on ‘Weeds.’ Then this past season I did my first nudity thing. We’re very controversial on the show, so a lot of things my character does push the envelope and I just have to calm down and go, ‘Are you OK with this? Is this necessary for the art? Focus on that.’”
It is a challenge the young actor embraces. “I don’t know why I attract these roles. They’re so opposite of me,” said Parrish, who next plays a bully in the film “Seventeen Again” opposite Matthew Perry. “It’s actually exciting to me to play Melchior, who has this strong hatred of God….It’s great to show people that you can believe in something in a character and believe it 100 percent and have it not be the way you choose to live your life.”