Eight years after Broadway’s “Book of Mormon” put Rory O’Malley on the show business map, the Tony Award-nominated actor and singer has landed a role he says he’s been preparing for since his formative years.
The Cleveland, Ohio, native stars in “American Princess,” Lifetime’s delightfully zany, poignant comedy set at a New York Renaissance fair. The 10-episode series, which debuted June 2, follows Amanda Klein (played by Georgia Flood), a young Manhattan socialite who appears poised for a life of wealth and wedded bliss until she catches her fiancé, Brett (Max Ehrich), in the intimate company of another woman hours before they’re set to tie the knot in the Catskills.
Devastated, Amanda darts into the forest, where she happens upon a Renaissance fair. Before long, she begins to ingratiate herself to the fair’s patrons, swaps her wedding gown for Elizabethan garb and opts to stick around upstate with her newfound pals instead of returning to her Big Apple routine.
O’Malley plays Brian Dooley, one of the Renaissance fair’s most revered (and feared) denizens. The character’s fairground-based alter ego is William Shakespeare, the right-hand man to Queen Elizabeth I (Seana Kofoed). Though Brian may be at the top of the Renaissance fair’s social pyramid, the character has deep insecurities, too, often feeling shunned by his peers in spite of his elite status.
Playing Brian, O’Malley said, brought him back to his student days at the all-boys Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland. As a teen, the actor had little interest in sports, but instead found his “currency” in an athlete-centric class focused on Shakespeare’s work.
“My Shakespeare teacher was [also] coach of the football team,” O’Malley told HuffPost. “His class was full of our school’s football players, because they all wanted to be in their coach’s class. [But] he’d always have me read whatever play we were studying out loud in class, because he know I could get us through it. That meant so much to me, because it was my time to shine in front of the football team.”
“American Princess” also gives O’Malley, who is gay, the chance to play a fully realized queer character on a television series, the likes of which would’ve been hard to come by when he was breaking into show business in the early 2000s. By the show’s fourth episode, “Why Are You Romeo?” Brian begins to open up to a new love interest, Juan Andres (Juan Alfonso).
Future episodes, O’Malley said, delve deeper into that relationship as Brian reveals even more of his vulnerable side.
“I’ve been around long enough to appreciate the fact that [series creator] Jamie Denbo and [executive producers] Jenji Kohan and Tara Herrmann have presented me with a character I can embody completely,” O’Malley said. “He’s not just a sidekick with comedic lines ― there are jokes to cover up his real sensitivities and fears. You can see he’s got all of these walls built up for a reason.”
In that respect, Brian fits into O’Malley’s artistic oeuvre perfectly. LGBTQ themes have been a common denominator in a number of his recent roles ― such as Michael on FX’s “Partners” and Ryan Kendall in “8,” Dustin Lance Black’s play about California’s since-overturned same-sex marriage ban, Prop 8. He’s been an outspoken proponent for equality in his offstage and offscreen life, too, co-founding the advocacy group Broadway Impact with fellow actors Gavin Creel and Jenny Kanelos.
“There are many reasons to be afraid as an actor, and I decided early that on that who I was ― my sexuality, what I looked like and the core of who I was as a person ― couldn’t and shouldn’t be something I was afraid of,” he said. “I had to live my life first. If me being out meant I wasn’t going to land a role, then fine ― I don’t want to play that part anyway. There are actors graduating from [my alma mater] Carnegie Mellon University now who aren’t questioning whether they should be out or not. The world has changed so quickly, and I’m proud to have been a part of that.”
There are many reasons to be afraid as an actor, and I decided early that on that who I was -- my sexuality, what I looked like and the core of who I was as a person -- couldn't and shouldn't be something I was afraid of. I had to live my life first. "American Princess" star Rory O'Malley
And “American Princess” also coincides with a milestone in O’Malley’s personal life. He and his husband Gerold Schroeder adopted a son, Jimmy, in November 2018. The actor sees his new role as a father as “the fulfillment of a promise” between him and Schroeder, whom he married in 2014.
“We realized we were both Midwestern guys with big Irish families, and we wanted a child one day,” he said. “I think that Jimmy is the reason we came together.” Fatherhood, he added, has “been the greatest six months of my life, hands down. Nothing else compares.”
No doubt more theater lies in O’Malley’s future; prior to “American Princess,” he played King George III in “Hamilton” on Broadway and on tour. He’s also stayed active on the concert stage, performing two autobiographical solo shows, “Pub Crawl” and “Out of the Basement,” at venues on both the East and West coasts. He’s also the new host of Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse’s “Unscripted” podcast, interviewing guests who represent the “intersection of Broadway and Hollywood,” like Noah Galvin of “Booksmart” and “Glee” stars Kevin McHale and Jenna Ushkowitz.
Being a new dad, he said, has shifted his professional goals, but only “in a practical way.”
“I’ll always be thinking of my family first and what’s best for them,” he said. “If it’s going to take me away from my family, I want it to say something. I’m so proud to be a part of ‘American Princess’ ― anytime you can have a three-dimensional gay character on television, that’s a huge win for everyone.”