He's straight, he's adorable and he's turning into both a fine actor and pretty sophisticated guy. Once a teen heartthrob, the California star Mark-Paul Gosselaar of Saved by the Bell - and recently the TNT drama, Raising the Bar - has just discovered theater and the acting jobs there.
As a result he is starring in Theresa Reebeck's wonderful play The Understudy at Manhattan's Laura Pels Theatre on West 46th which runs until January 16. The Understudy first played here in the Berkshires at the Williamstown Theatre Festival where it was warmly received. My colleague Charles Giuliano was convinced that it would make its way to Broadway, and this is the fulfillment of that prediction. That the now fully matured Mark-Paul Gosselaar is one of its stars is a total bonus touch. Hiring the actor is a real coup for the Roundabout Theatre.
He is co-starring with Tony Award winner Julie White, and Weeds series regular Justin Kirk. Gosselaar will replace Bradley Cooper who has been in the role since starting at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2008.
Gosselaar only recently tried his hand at theater acting. Most California agents discourage it since performing live doesn't generate anywhere near the commissions that acting on the big screen does. And Mark-Paul actually went and auditioned for the part, it was not arranged or offered, so he earned it. And he is loving it. Says Mark-Paul: "They say television is a writers' medium but this is the actors' medium. I have to completely agree with that because we're given so much time to rehearse and flesh out the characters and find new things every show and every rehearsal. It's just something I've never done in my entire career. I've been in this industry close to 30 years? I think? I guess that's kind of scary. But this is the first time I've really had time to think about the character and it becomes your life."
Resettling in New York City, the Californian who bikes everywhere thought that The Big Apple would be unfriendly towards bikers but instead, he has discovered the wonders of that big city. "I thought it would be more of an adjustment. I've been to New York a couple times for work. I've mostly never had the opportunity to walk around the city and I didn't really understand the city — the streets, the avenues — I didn't understand any of that because I didn't have to. I had a bit of anxiety moving out here because I'm a big cyclist — I race my bike when I'm not working — so I brought my bike and thought, "How am I going to ride here?" I'll tell you: This city, for riding bikes, it's one of the best places I've ever ridden. I really, really like this city. What is there? Eight million people in the city? And you can just walk down the street and run into people that you know. That amazes me."
So how has Gosselaar done in his first appearance on stage as the understudy, Jake? Quite well. Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News wrote that Gosselaar "brings appealing exuberance to Jake."
Best of all he likes being on stage. With this auspicious start, let's hope he finds his way to the Berkshires one day.