You know him from Ugly Betty and Modern Family. Now Michael Lorenzo Urie is on the London stage playing Barbra Streisand’s shop assistant! The American caught up with him as he prepared for the marathon one-man show – and asked him about his great name...
y dad’s family came from Scotland. I actually worked in Scotland and the locals told me there’s a Ury House and a Urie Loch. That side of our family is a mystery to us because my dad’s father died when my dad was very young. I may look into it when I’m over there. I was sorta hoping to get on that show, Who Do You Think You Are? let them pay for it! My dad’s mother came to the US with her family and my dad’s father followed her, because he was in love with her. My mom’s maiden name was Bonazzi, she’s third generation American – her parents were both full-blown Italian and they grew up in New York and met there. My uncles were born in New York and they moved to Texas for work – they were in the construction business. I’m really more Texan than anything! You don’t sound very Texan. I know, I was raised by New York Italians. Then I went to Juilliard drama school when I was nineteen and whatever twang was left was stripped away. Michael Benjamin Washington was a year ahead of me in High School, I looked up to him so much because he’s an amazing actor. He didn’t get into Juilliard and I thought it must be the greatest school in the world if he didn’t get in, so I’d never get in. I then had the idea of being a drama teacher, but my grades weren’t great because I
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spent all my time building sets and rehearsing plays, so the teaching schools I applied to didn’t accept me. I decided to go to a community college which had a great theater program, really creative and modern. My teacher there urged me to audition for Juilliard, which I thought was crazy. Next thing I knew, I was in New York. The minute I got here I knew it was home – regardless of what I was doing, I wanted to be doing it here! Was that the family background? Maybe it’s in my genes! I like driving around the wide open spaces of Texas and I love nature and trees, but it makes sense for me in New York and Chicago and London – cities that thrive on pedestrians and mass transportation. I’m a creature of the urban! At Juilliard you won the John Houseman Prize for Excellence in Classical Theatre. Would you like to do more classical work? I would – I loved doing Shakespeare and Commedia. In fact I got Ugly Betty after a casting director saw me off-off-Broadway in a basement doing a Jacobean play, The Revenger’s Tragedy. It was a really cool production, very rock & roll and sexy and I played this evil, petulant Duke. He was the villain – well, they’re all terrible in that play – but I was very mean and bitchy and I looked like David Bowie. A casting
director stopped me after the show and said “I loved what you did.” I remember it well – actors always remember that kind of interaction – and I kept tabs on what he was working on. I saw a breakdown [information on a proposed show] for a tiny co-star part in a pilot he was shooting in New York and I thought it sounded similar to what he’d seen me doing. I told my agents to get me an appointment, but they didn’t want me playing a part that small as I had previously done one high profile series regular pilot thing that didn’t get picked up. I insisted so they did, and I got the job. And that was Ugly Betty. Is it true that Marc St James was not originally going to be a recurring character - Wilhelmina Slater, the villain played by Vanessa Williams, was going to have a different assistant in each episode? Yes, Marc was a great part, but only made greater by working with Vanessa. She could have kept me in the shadows, but as we were shooting she would say, stand closer to me and you’ll be in the shot. She noticed I was imitating her physicality, thought it was funny and asked me what else she could do that I could imitate. Between her and Silvio Horta, the creator, and Teri Weinberg the producer, and the directors we shaped the character, and Marc became an integral part