’NCIS: LA’ Star Barrett Foa Takes a Trip to Streisand’s Basement
LL Cool J and Chris O'Donnell may be the marquee-name stars of CBS' hit drama "NCIS: LA," but there are plenty of viewers who have tuned in weekly for the past five seasons just for a glimpse of handsome surfer/tech dude Eric Beale -- or more accurately, his portrayer, Barrett Foa. But only some of them know that the 36-year-old heartthrob spent his first decade working almost exclusively on the New York stage, including the Broadway productions of the musicals "Mamma Mia!" and "Avenue Q."
Now, Foa is finally returning to the Big Apple's boards to star in Jonathan Tolins' acclaimed solo piece "Buyer & Cellar" at downtown's Barrow Street Theatre. In the piece, Foa plays a variety of characters, primarily Alex More, an out-of-work actor who goes to work for Barbra Streisand in the stores she created below her vast Malibu estate -- as well as La Streisand herself!
Yep, that's right. Instead of lounging by the pool or gracing the Great White Way, Foa is spending the entire summer downtown in a theater that seats less than 200 people, following in the footsteps of the show's original star, Michael Urie (as well as Christopher J. Hanke, who recently concluded a three-month run.) Why?
"I could have decided to come back to Broadway and maybe got myself plugged into 'Chicago' as Billy Flynn," admits Foa. "But that role, as much as I would love to play it someday, wasn't going to provide the same kind of challenge as this show. Because I have a nest egg from the TV show, I can take a risk and do a play for my personal growth."
Foa first saw the play in its original off-Broadway run at the Rattlestick Theatre about a year ago -- at a performance where Tolins happened to be sitting in front of him. "I knew Jon a little bit from L.A., and he turned around at some point and said to me, 'pay attention, you might be playing this part someday,'" he notes. "But I really thought that was never going to happen. And even after I got the call in December, I took me a while to decide whether I wanted to spend my whole hiatus from 'NCIS' working on something so daunting. Both Michael and Chris have told me this play is one of the hardest things they've ever done, but that the view is worth the climb."
Furthermore, Foa admits -- at the risk of getting his "gay card" taken away -- that he's never been much of a Streisand fan. At least until now. "My parents weren't big music collectors, so I didn't grow up listening to her," he says. "But doing my extensive research for this play has allowed me to fall in love with her, even her crazy eccentricities. I've not only pored over the book that's featured in the play ["Barbra Streisand: My Passion for Design"], but I have listened to her early records and watched movies like 'What's Up Doc' and 'Yentl' and I've come to appreciate her endless talent."
What about having to imitate her voice? "I talked to Michael about that, who gave me some clues. But it's great that Jon wrote in the prologue that the person talking doesn't do impressions. Which is good, because impressions are not my thing. All I'll say is that my take on her voice is that it sounds a little bit like she always chews her words," he says.
"But one of the things I love about this the show is not only do I have the chance to play Barbra, I get to play two women, as well as a feminine gay character and a more masculine gay character, which is really freeing, and I even get to play James Brolin. " he adds. "And while a lot of the show is just hilarious, you also get these beautiful, poignant moments as well. The show explores so many themes, like the meaning of friendship and what fame and celebrity does to a person. It really takes you on a rollercoaster ride."
Speaking of rides, how long does Foa plan to stay on the "NCIS" train? "I don't know. I'm still enjoying the part of Eric. And this season, we're moving to Mondays at 10pm, which might mean we can be a little edgier and sexier. And the show certainly gives me some freedom to do other things," he says. "But there may be a stopping point soon. I'd like to use my skills in a different way, like doing a comedy -- either on stage or on TV. And while the ease of living in L.A. is pretty unbelievable, being back in New York has reminded me of the two things I miss most here: my family and people being right on top of each other. I just love that!"