Michael Xavier will do anything for a Boomerang. The British heartthrob, currently starring opposite Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway, is goofing off at Drift Studios in Chelsea. However, like any good mess around, sometimes things can go awry. While shooting in the hallway, Xavier takes a quick step toward an exit door, an iPhone at the ready to capture the moment on repeat in perpetuity, but alas, it’s a fire exit and with nothing more than a nudge, the fire alarm starts to sound.
Everyone rushes back into the studio, as building management is quickly called to squelch any suspicion of an actual emergency. There’s nervous laughter around the room, but Xavier seems unfazed. What he really wants to know is: Should he post the Boomerang? (An adamant no from his publicist provides him his answer.)
But Xavier is like a kid in a candy store—an extremely tall and thin “kid,” that is. His boyish smile can disarm anyone in his presence, and his blue eyes and wavy hair makes him look as if he walked out of a different era, a look that serves him well as down-on-his luck screenwriter Joe Gillis in the 1940s. It doesn’t hurt that he performs the title song in swim trunks at the Palace Theatre, where Sunset Boulevard is running through June 25.
He actually used to sing that song in his bedroom when he was a teenager, as he would listen to the show’s original cast recording on repeat. “I was kind of dreaming that one day I’d get to do it for real,” he admits.
Sunset Boulevard marks Xavier’s Broadway debut, after a successful career in musical theatre in the West End, where this production originated at the English National Opera.
Before the show had even opened in Britain, Xavier recalls being at the sitzprobe—the first time the score is played with the orchestra—and there were already rumblings that the show might come to Broadway. A few producers mentioned to Close that the show would do well in New York, and Close immediately turned to Xavier, put her arm around him and said, “Well, I’m not doing it without him!”
“Here we are, so she stuck true to her word,” he adds.
It was Close again who told Xavier that the move to Broadway was official. However, Xavier was in Los Angeles at the time and was on a Hollywood star tour with a few friends, sitting on top of the bus next to the tour guide, who was pointing out celebrity abodes to him.
“My phone was buzzing in my pocket, and I got my phone out and it was Glenn ringing me and I was like I can’t answer this in front of this guy. Excuse me, sorry. Glenn Close is calling me. He’d be like, yeah whatever. You’re on this tour with us, surely not,” Xavier remembers. “So I didn’t answer it. Every time I say that people go, you screened Glenn Close’s phone call?”
He called her back when the tour was over and she gave him the official news: They were going to Broadway. Broadway has always been a dream for Xavier, working in musical theater, though growing up in England and working primarily in London, he didn’t know if it would ever be a possibility.
“I just keep pinching myself because everything, touch wood, is going really well. The venue, getting to work with the orchestra, the show itself, the character I’m playing, obviously Glenn Close, being on Broadway. The whole package is like tick, tick, tick, tick, tick,” he says, miming checking off boxes. “Broadway is the home of musical theater—it’s where it all originated. Being in the West End is an amazing achievement and an amazing thing to do, but there’s something about the excitement of audiences on Broadway.”
However, Xavier does admit that doing Sunset in the West End was unlike any other experience he’d had performing or seeing shows there. “I’d never experienced an audience reaction like it in London, whether it be being in a show or watching a show,” he says. “I’d never experienced crowds screaming at the end of a number. They just went wild. They go even more wild on Broadway. But I think there’s an element of expecting it on Broadway. I think it was a surprise in London because London audiences are often quite reserved.”
While Xavier doesn’t have any stage fright and doesn’t get starstruck with the many celebrities who’ve come to see the show (Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and oh yeah, Hillary Rodham Clinton who is “very down to earth” he says), he does get nervous performing in front of two specific people: his parents.
He still remembers running up to his mom as a young boy and telling her that he wanted to be an actor, to which she responded, “Well, you better do some acting then.” He dismissed her and refused to “turn it on.”
“I still find it kind of a little bit uncomfortable performing in front of my parents,” he admits. “My mom will go, how does that song go? And I’m like, I’m not going to sing it to you, and yet, I can stand in front of 2000 people and perform.”
Even though he stated his dreams as a child, Xavier didn’t get into performing until a high school friend convinced him to audition for the school production of Grease. He got cast in a few small roles, though he remembers it as a pivotal moment.
“The minute I started rehearsals I was like, this is it. This is what I want to do,” he says. “I remember going back to my mom and saying, remember when I said I was going to be an actor as a kid? I’m serious now. Ever since then, it became a burning passion. I couldn’t really picture myself doing anything else.”
Now that he’s found success in his chosen profession, he wants to pay it forward and has started Musical Theatre Master Class, which brings working actors to speak with and coach students, something Xavier didn’t feel like he got a lot of when he was starting out.
Though he still has career highs and career lows and can definitely relate to Joe Gillis’s desperation for work—so much so that he essentially becomes a ward to fading film star Norma Desmond.
“As an actor, you ride the highs and lows of the career because for every great job you get, you may have “failed” at five other jobs,” he says. “By failed, I mean there are a lot of great actors out there and there are people that may be more right for the role than you are. If you go in for a particular role and you don’t get it, it’s probably because the other person is more “right” than you. It’s very difficult not to take it personally, but I think the more I’ve been in this industry, the more I can step away and detach and see it as a business. I just love what I do, and if I can carry on getting paid to do what I love then I’m happy.”