By Jeff Walsh
Rory O'Malley has a hard time accepting being gay eight times a week.
As Elder McKinley in The Book of Mormon on Broadway, he ends up doing a big tapdance number to "Turn It Off," about his "cool little Mormon trick" of turning his gay thoughts off "like a light switch."
Offstage, he couldn't be gayer. In addition to his role in the hottest Broadway musical, from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, for which he is nominated for a Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Musical, O'Malley is also one of the co-founders of Broadway Impact, along with Gavin Creel, which unites the Broadway community to work toward marriage equality.
The Book of Mormon is a collaboration between Parker, Stone, and Robert Lopez, one of the people behind Avenue Q. The show is nominated for 14 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The more I saw interviews with Rory O'Malley leading up to the Tonys, the more he seemed like someone who needed to be featured in Oasis. He always comes across as so thankful, open and heartfelt that it honestly wasn't a huge surprise he got cast as a squeaky-clean Mormon. After all, he is the guy who whitened up Eddie Murphy's "Cadillac Car" song in the Dreamgirls movie until it had all the soul and bite drained out of it.
So, O'Malley and I jumped on the phone recently, to chat about his life, career, as well as being gay and spiritual. Here's what we said:
First of all, congratulations on your Tony nomination...
It seems like you're in a show that is the hottest thing on Broadway, and now you're nominated for a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical... how do you take all that in?
It's overwhelming. There’s no denying that. It's definitely a dream come true in every single way, and I keep saying it's a part time job being grateful every single day, getting up and just thanking God, ironically enough from our show... It really is truly amazing that I find myself in this show and in this moment, and I'm so grateful to everyone who wrote the show and produced the show and is in the show and to all of the people who have supported me for my entire life to help me to be here for this moment.
Since I'm coming from the cast recording perspective, and haven't seen the show yet, how big of a role is Elder McKinley?
I'm actually personally onstage almost the whole show, but I also play the angel Moroni and another elder in the beginning, so I'm onstage a lot. He's a featured character, so he's not leading. It's definitely a role that didn't exist when I first started three years ago, so compared to what it is now, it's great. It's awesome to have these beautiful moments onstage, these huge tap-number moments, and to get to live in them every night, it's unbelievable.
Does this role have extra resonance to you, considering you’re not just in a big tap number on Broadway from the creators of South Park, but it's about trying to not deal with your sexuality? Does any of that reflect your own personal journey?
Absolutely. I was raised Catholic, so I completely understand the conflict of this character. The difference in us, though, is I don't think I was as tortured. For me, once I realized and accepted 'This is who I am,' it was a clear thing to me that I had to live that truth. I didn't want to turn it off. There was never a moment where I said 'This is who I am, but I'm going to pretend that it's not real.' Certainly not outwardly. Once I said it aloud, and once I had said it to my loved ones, that was the truth. There was no turning back for me for any reason.
But certainly, I had a faith. Having your sexuality be something you're worried is going to destroy that, that was definitely something I went through and was a difficult part of my coming out process. But, luckily, I didn't go the way of Elder McKinley and turning it off, and my family was very supportive and loving, and I'm still on a journey of faith.