Tom Lenk, who starred as Andrew on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, will make his Broadway debut as Franz in the Tony-nominated musical Rock of Ages on Sept. 14. Lenk originated the supporting role, the son of a German developer who wants to demolish the Sunset Strip (including LA’s favorite rock club), in Los Angeles and Las Vegas productions. He phoned EW to give us the scoop and the often hilarious backstory.
• A UCLA theater grad with formal voice training, Lenk went to college with Rock of Ages‘ Tony-nominated director Kristin Hanggi. They’ve worked together before — on a production of Ann E. Wrecksick, an Annie spoof about bulimic orphans, in the basement of a Mexican restaurant in Silver Lake, Calif. the summer after his first season on Buffy. She knew he was also friends with Rock of Ages writer Chris D’Arienzo, and phoned Lenk to tell him that D’Arienzo had a role that might suit him. “In Ann E. Wrecksick, I had done a character of a German fashion designer. I’d also been doing this sketch for years about a German character who’s obsessed with Star Trek and Melrose Place, based on my time having been invited to appear as a random Buffy person at a Star Trek convention in Germany and a friend’s Hungarian husband who was obsessed with Melrose Place,” he says. “So they knew I did this German thing, and it happened to be perfect for the show.”
• Franz’s big moment, the song “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” comes when he starts a relationship with Regina, who works in the Mayor’s office and protests his and his father’s plans. “I’m a little nervous. The way I performed it in LA and Vegas is not nearly as exhaustive as the version that’s happening now on stage. I would stand and sing, and then do some dancing. But now it’s dancing while I’m singing, so I have two weeks to become Beyoncé,” he says. (Thankfully, he’d already been taking dance classes at his gym and doing Silver Lake’s Sweaty Sundays, “an all-level ironic jazz dance class.”) He also has additional motivation: At the beginning of the song, he rips away his costume to reveal “a bedazzled onesie, so to speak.” If memory serves him well, that was actually his idea back when the show was being workshopped. “I think offhandedly, I was like, ‘Guys, this song is just missing something. What do you think if I ripped off my clothes to reveal a sparkling unitard?’ And the director was like yes and yes.’” To prepare for that moment, he’s hired a trainer, reinstating the “TWAT system” — “Tan it, Wax it, And Tone It ” — which he and the other Ann E. Wrecksick actors developed when they had to appear on stage in their underwear. “Here’s the thing: When we did Rock of Ages in LA [in 2006], I ripped off my clothes and it was funny and everyone had a good laugh,” he says. “I went to see the show last month in New York, and the guy ripped his clothes off to reveal a totally rockin’ bod. I was like, Ohmygod, you can be funny and arousing? If I’m gonna take my clothes off every day on stage for six months on Broadway, I might as well get a date out of it. So I’m gonna try to get some biceps and pectoral muscles by Sept. 14.”
• He begins rehearsals today, but he won’t actually get to perform with the actors he’ll share the stage with until the afternoon before his evening debut. “Which makes me want to have a complete heart attack/throw up,” he admits. “I know I should be prepared for this. I do have a theater degree. I do theater all the time [at LA's Upright Cabaret]. I did a tour of Grease in Germany like 10 years ago, but I was an understudy for Doody and Eugene and I never went on. So I never got my big put-in rehearsal.” Clarification: He could have gone on once as Doody, but he’d booked a German Audi commercial that was coincidentally shooting in Austria on that same evening. During that commercial audition, Lenk, who speaks passable German and will use a thick accent in Rock of Ages, was asked if he skied. He lied and said yes. “I get to the set, and I’d missed something in the translation — it was ski-jumping. They let me freak out for awhile until they revealed that I had a stunt double,” he says. “I only booked the commercial because ski jumpers are like jockeys, they have to be tiny and lightweight. They already had the costume, and they needed somebody to fit it. I was too big even. It was crazy. I missed my big show, Grease das Musical, which is fine.”
• Lenk, who made his “Broadway-adjacent debut” last month with a sold-out-thanks-to-Twitter performance at Don’t Tell Mama, plans to do more solo shows while he’s in town. (Dates and venues to be announced.) His typical show features original, belted comedy songs (like “The Master Cleanse”), mash-ups (sample: “Gimme More”), as well as sketches and stand-up comedy. One of his favorite things to do is read the responses to an old online article about “Your Next Crush: Tom Lenk”: “It has the range of the most amazing to the most horrifying to the most sexually explicit comments that teenage girls wrote about me. I read them back-to-back, and I do all the voices of what I imagine them to be like. That makes me laugh, always.” He also sings original song lyrics he wrote in junior high and intended to send to bands like the B-52’s. “They’d never seen the light of day, until I did them at the show Mortified.”
• We tried to seize the opportunity to get some details on The Cabin in the Woods, the Joss Whedon-Drew Goddard film in theaters Feb. 5, 2010, but all Lenk would say is that he has a small role, Ronald the Intern, and that the film is a combination of genres that he doesn’t think anyone’s seen before. Also, that he signed a confidentiality agreement.
• He’s shot a role in the indie romantic comedy My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, starring Alyssa Milano and Christopher Gorham (who was a year ahead of Lenk at UCLA and whose wife, Anel Lopez Gorham, appeared in a midnight Scooby-Doo Live production with him in the theater department’s sculpture garden). He plays Milano’s brother/sidekick, “a guy who accidentally ends up in a gum commercial and becomes a local celebrity. He’s famous, but he didn’t get any of the good stuff, the money, that comes with the fame. Just the ‘Hey, aren’t you that guy from the commercial?’ Not that I can relate: [Taco Bell] burrito commercial, Blockbuster Video commercial, iPhone commercial…”