Brennin Hunt has had a whirlwind weekend.
Hunt was set to play musician Roger Davis on Sunday in Fox’s live version of “Rent” — a role that he says “feels like home to me” because he, too, is a singer-songwriter and he knows what it feels like to try to write a powerful song. But the night before he was set to go live on that nationally televised stage, he broke his foot, which drastically changed plans for the telecast.
“What happened last night would not have happened if my foot had not been broken, and what happened last night was beautiful,” Hunt tells Variety. “It was the essence of ‘Rent,’ and I’m trying to stay as positive as possible and know maybe my foot broke for a reason.”
Since such television specials are cast so specifically, and in great part rely on the name talent to draw the audience, historically they have not followed the traditional theater approach of utilizing understudies or stand-ins. The full camera and dress rehearsal is filmed so the footage is available should a problem, such as a power outage in the studio or in this case an immobilized actor, occur when they need to go live.
Fox included a “pre-recorded” chyron on the front of the broadcast, and during a commercial break the cast delivered a message explaining why “much” of what the audience at home was watching had been shot, live-to-tape, previously. Director Michael Greif did have time to tweak the choreography for the final act so that the company could perform it true live, with Hunt in a seated position on the table in Roger and Mark’s loft. When the camera came up on this act, there was a “live” bug in the corner of the broadcast to differentiate.
“I was just fortunate that we got through all the way up to that point,” Hunt says. “If I would have broken it before ‘What You Own,’ there’s no stage-diving, there’s no climbing the ladder. I’m trying to think of all of the positive!”
Hunt spoke with Variety about exactly how he broke his foot the night before the live television event, how he and his castmates still got to perform for the live studio audience and what being a part of the show means to him.
First and foremost, how are you feeling?
It’s been a lot, and there has been pain, but I’m on medication, and I’m just trying to think positively.
What exactly happened on the night of the 26th? How did you injure yourself and when did you realize just how bad it was?
When we finished “What You Own,” when we climbed the ladders, Jordan [Fisher, who played Mark] and I had to run, all the way through that commercial break, downstage, across the scaffolding and down two flights of stairs to do our quick change for the finale. And we made it down one flight and we came around the next flight, and I was jumping off that last step to make a left, and my right foot just rolled over, and I snapped a bone in the arch of my foot. And I immediately dropped and was in a lot of pain, and I knew it wasn’t good because even with my in-ear monitors I could hear it snap. But I was just telling myself, “It’s not broken; it’s just a sprain; I’ll be back tomorrow! They can shoot me up with drugs or whatever, I’m doing it!” Then I get to the ER and they do the CAT-Scan, and they said, “Well, it’s broken.” That’s how it played out.
What were the discussions producers and Michael had with you and the rest of the cast during the rehearsal process about what would happen if someone got sick or injured?
We just kind of assumed nothing was going to happen and moved forward — the show would go on. I know they’ve had history — I think Aaron [Tveit] sprained his ankle or something the night before “Grease: Live.” I’ve heard story after story of people pushing through pain, but this was the first time I think anyone’s broken it. And they were saying, “If you put weight on this you’re going to have to have surgery.” So that was out of the question, for me to even try to walk in a boot. So we made do with what we had.
How did it feel to perform this live on Saturday before the incident? Were there things you were still fine-tuning that you didn’t end up getting to tweak?
I was proud of the entire thing. For the most part, it was a live show [in two pieces]. We performed all the way up to that point, and [on Saturday] I came out with it wrapped, with ice on it, not knowing it was broke. I was very proud of that performance; I’m glad it was captured. And that’s what I wanted a lot of viewers to know — that we did give it our all, it was live, it just happened to happen 24 hours before.
During the play-out of the Saturday performance Adam Pascal came over to talk with you. Was that the first time you had met him and what did he say?
He actually hugged me and laughed and said, “I know you don’t want to hear this right now but,” and he pointed at my foot and said, “This is the best thing that ever happened to you. You’re trending right now.” So we had a good laugh, and he was so sweet and kissed me on the cheek and said I killed it. He was very supportive. The entire cast got to watch the performance and they were all so supportive. Saturday [was the first time I met him], and it was very surreal. I don’t really get star-struck, but I have been in awe of him and this entire cast since day one, so it was a dream come true to get to meet them and sing “Seasons of Love” with them.
What did your Sunday look like when you realized you were going to have to be in a cast?
Honestly, this entire process, even the night I broke my foot, I was showered by so much love from the producers and the cast, and just everybody on that set gave me so much love and positive energy. Obviously a lot of people were freaking out — myself included — and then the ER visit and the discussions going into that on what we were going to do, there was a lot of stress in trying to figure out what to do. But they were just so professional and so loving and I can’t thank the producers enough for making me feel comfortable and making everybody else feel comfortable that the show was going to go on, we were going to figure it out.
And it seemed like the cast rallied around you and adjusted choreography for the live studio audience on Sunday.
We put on a little concert for the audience last night. I was in a wheelchair and we performed the numbers along with the monitors that were broadcasting what we did on Saturday. So for me, and I know a lot of the other cast members felt this too, it was the true essence of what “Rent” is — because we do love each other. We became a family, working together for months. And you get to see it in that, and they captured it all last night, so I hope at some point they release that footage.
And then you did get to perform that final act live for the in-studio audience, as well as the at-home viewing audience, on Sunday. How different was that version from how it was originally staged to be?
It was very moving. It was amazing. Normally I’m on my feet and I’m moving around and when they carry Mimi in I run to Brandon Victor [Dixon, who played Tom Collins III] and I carry Mimi in. I’m on my feet more. But by the time I get to the table and I sing “Your Eyes,” that was the position I’m always in. I just had my leg propped on a chair. It was essentially the same other than me running out and grabbing Mimi and putting her on the table.
Did being able to be still in that scene allow you to just focus on the emotion and the vocals?
It was actually more challenging, honestly, to have my foot up and have this big boot on and try to stay in character with my foot elevated. And then even the leaning down to lift Tinashe [who played Mimi] up off the table hurt really bad. Maybe it helped in the character. But it was pretty uncomfortable for me, honestly — especially staging the thing for months and then, “Oh you’re not doing that!”
Overall, what do you feel you learned about yourself as a man and as a performer from your time embodying Roger and working on a production of this scale?
I came into this process just like a sponge, trying to soak up as much as I could. There were so many people who have been doing this a long time, like Jordan is so young but he’s been doing it a long time so I was trying to learn as much from him as I could about being an actor. And Michael Greif, the original director, I owe such a big debt. He’s so great and so articulate with the way he directs and has such a beautiful mind and a beautiful soul. And Marc Platt, oh my gosh, what a producer and visionary. This whole experience has been so great for me as a new actor to the game, and I hope this is just the beginning.
Do you feel like you want another shot at Roger, to elongate your time with the show and be able to perform it all the way through at once?
I love the show so much so if there was any opportunity to do a special one-off somewhere or if it goes back to Broadway or whatever, totally. I’m obsessed with the show and I would love to be a part of it any way possible. And Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal and Idina [Menzel], they’re family, and the legacy continues. And I know 20 years from now there may be another cast and maybe we’ll come back and do something with them. “Rent” will always be a part of my life.
You are releasing a song today called “Can’t Hold a Candle.” Any connection to or inspiration from “Light My Candle”?
It’s funny, it’s the song that started me on this journey that essentially got me into the acting world. I wrote the song with my friends Skip Black and Tripp Weir, out of a place of desperation. I had just lost my publishing deal and didn’t know how I’d make money. And so I wrote this song and a couple of days later I get an email from a director who wanted to use the song in this movie. The movie is called “Walking With Herb” and it stars George Lopez, Edward James Olmos and Kathleen Quinlan. And [the director] goes, “And I want you to be in it. I’ve got this little part for you.” So while I’m studying to do this movie role, I get the call for “Rent.” I just found it fitting to release it the day after “Rent” because it is the essence of love and faith and the future and living in the now. And it features Christian artist Jaci Velasquez and the movie will be coming out, I think, in the fall. I will be playing a golfer who’s an a–hole.
What else is on the horizon for you?
I’ve got a few things that I’ve been reading for. I’m just trying to pray about it and see where I’m supposed to land. And I know this foot injury is putting a little bit of a wrench into it but I’m not trying to get any negative energy in there. If I have to hobble into an audition room, maybe they have a pirate part for me!