An interview with Rory O'Malley

Tony Award-nominated actor Rory O'Malley (CFA '03) returned to his alma mater last Monday to participate in a staged reading of 8, a play that documents the court case battling to overturn Proposition 8 in California. The Tartan spoke with him after the reading to talk about his experiences at Carnegie Mellon, his activism work, and his role in The Book of Mormon.

First, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your time at Carnegie Mellon and your experiences with the drama department, and how that shaped your career.

Well, I got here in the fall of '99, and it shaped so much of my life, being here and being a Tartan and going to school here at Carnegie Mellon, because there's such a drive that the students have here for whatever their passion is, be it computers or drama. And I love that there's so much diversity in that.

And I think that really fed into how I got involved and let myself get involved with activism, because I felt that there were so many amazing people who were so good at what they did here surrounding me, and it's definitely very different from being an actor, but it truly broadened my horizons in a way that, had I been anywhere else, that I don't think that I would have really appreciated as much. And like I said, we saw Vagina Monologues here, Judy Shepard came to speak here — things happened here that really did shape me and it took coming here [to McConomy] to think of that, like, "Oh, a lot of the stuff that I'm doing now started — the seeds [were] at Carnegie Mellon and my time here."

Was forming Broadway Impact your first foray into activism?

It really was. I mean, I was the guy who yelled at CNN — I got really angry and, you know, you get like, "Aw, dammit," you know, "I wanted it to be this way." Well, when Obama was nominated as the candidate for president in 2008, I felt like I had to stop doing that, and so I did go home to Cleveland and volunteered for months there and did phone banks and rallies and whatever they told me to do, I did, and that really did spark my activism. And because of Prop 8 [passing], that translated into what Broadway Impact is now, because of my friends Jenny Kanelos and Gavin Creel and other people in the theater community who were so devastated by that, we were really spurred into action.

It sounds like you managed to get the Broadway community pretty mobilized. Was that just you guys coordinating everything, or was it everyone coming together?

It's everyone. People are like, "How have you been able to grow into what you are in just four years?" But really, it's because we've been able to harness the passion of the theater community because they have so much. Whatever cause they get behind, it's unreal what they're able to accomplish, and because they are articulate and passionate people who want to reach out to others — that's what we are as actors, inherently — it just makes them the ideal group of people to do activist work and to make a difference and tell a story of why something has to change.

I have to ask — what was it like working on The Book of Mormon and getting nominated for a Tony?

It was a dream come true. When you leave here at Carnegie Mellon, you just hope that you'll work, you know — "Getting a job would be so fantastic!" — but to have the job that is literally the most fun I've ever had in my life, to have that job that I get to show up to every day and to have been nominated for a Tony, which is so surreal and I still can't believe that that happened, it's amazing, you know? But honestly, having Broadway Impact and doing this kind of stuff [that is] the foundation of something even greater than any of that, that has made me even more happy than all that.