Jim Halterman 「Conrad Ricamora On The King And I And How To Get Away With Murder: “I’m Living The Professional Dream”」

Posted on June 15, 2015

Conrad Ricamora first grabbed our attention last fall as Oliver, the computer-tech plaything for crafty gay law student Connor (Jack Falahee) on ABC’s 「How To Get Away With Murder」.

Their unlikely romance culminated in the season finale, when Oliver tells Connor that he’s been diagnosed HIV-positive.

But Ricamora, 36, didn’t have time to bask in the glow of that Hollywood success: He’s now taken on the role of Lun Tha in the Broadway revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 「The King And I」, which brought home the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical last weekend, as well as acting awards for co-stars Kelli O’Hara and Ruthie Ann Miles, and the award for Best Costume Design for a Musical.

NewNowNext sat down with Ricamora to talk about his role in 「The King And I」, the HIV storyline on Murder and his own journey out of the closet.

Tell us about your character in 「The King And I」?

CR: I play Lun Tha, who brings brings Tuptim as a gift for the King from the King of Burm, — but they are secretly in love with each other.

Lun Tha and Tuptim figure out a way to try to meet with each other throughout the year that Anna is in the palace. Anna starts helping them and then eventually my character is sent away. I come up with this plan for her to come with me.

You’re part of a hit show on TV and a Tony-winning musical. How have you handled all that attention?

CR: I sing two beautiful songs in 「The King And I」 but my total stage time is only about 12 minutes. Which is nice, because I just finished a show, 「Here Lies Love」 down at The Public Theater, that was so exhausting. It was 90 minutes nonstop on stage — all the time singing and dancing. So this is a little bit of a break. My body was so beat up after Love, this has been really great.

Honestly, I’m living the professional dream life right now — having an amazing TV job and an amazing theater job as well. They complement each other and enhance each other in ways I never expected. That was the coolest thing.

What are you learning from 「The King And I」?

CR: I’m learning a huge amount from singing classical musical theater. The last show I did was a rock musical by David Byrne from The Talking Heads. It was amazing but such a different skill set... I’m learning a lot being a part of this amazing company.

Kelli knows how to move around on a huge stage better than anyone I’ve seen because she’s done it for so long. She’s amazing. Ken [Watanabe] is also just really, really great to watch.

How were the Tonys for you?

CR: I was getting dirty looks from people in the auditorium during the Tonys because I was screaming so loudly when Ruthie Ann Miles won [for playing Lady Thiang].

You have to understand, she was literally one of the first people I met there years ago when I moved to NYC to start the workshop of 「Here Lies Love」, and we’ve been together ever since.

Kelli is simply the most generous actor. She leads this company with a warm spirit that is everything but most importantly she is inclusive. It was so great to see her win on Sunday [and] with such a great sense of humor! I loved her jig at the end of her speech!

I’m just so happy to be a part of such a gorgeous show and story that we get to tell every night. After all of the great celebrating we did [after the Tonys], the best joy was actually getting to come back to Lincoln Center and tell this story again and sing these songs.

The audience this Tuesday went absolutely bonkers during the curtain call. They were all so happy for Ruthie, Kelli and all of us.

Getting back to 「How to Get Away With Murder」. Your character learns he’s HIV-positive—how did that inform your performance and Oliver’s relationship with Connor?

CR: Jack [Falahee] was the person that told me: I was in the makeup trailer and we were shooting the episode before the finale. He was like, “Did you hear? Did you read?” I was like, “No. What?” He was like, “You have HIV.”

I just stood there and it took me the rest of that day to come out of this funk. I realized I’d become so close to this character that I’m playing. I care so much about him that it really did hurt to find out he had HIV. So that was my first reaction.

Then we shot the scene three days later. I kept thinking, if this is what the story is going to be then how would you feel? What would it be like?

I mean as a gay man I’ve gone and got tested every year. Anyone that has done it can tell you what it’s like sitting in the waiting room, no matter how sure you are about anything, just being terrified.

I sat with what it would be like to come back positive and then stayed with that for about a day. The day before we shot it I stayed in that [mindset] the whole day and then the next morning I came on set and just wore a hoodie and had headphones because I knew that that’s where it had to live to be honest.

That was what I wanted to do was have the honest portrayal of what it would be like to have this diagnosis and then to share it with someone for the first time. I’m happy, too, that it’s being brought back into the mainstream because I feel like ignorance is not bliss in this case.

Why do you think Oliver is so drawn to Connor? I’m guessing it’s not just the good sex.

CR: I think that’s a huge part of why many people stay together. I think he’s excited by him. I think that there is something about all of the illegal things he’s doing by helping that is really exciting to him.

I imagine that the job he has in IT is a very run-of-the-mill, fix-your-server problems. There’s a little bit of James Bond in Oliver and this is how it comes out. He likes that side of it.

I think he falls for [Connor] because he’s extremely good-looking and charming, and he’s real. Oliver knows that Connor is being real with him when he’s not with other people. That he’s actually very real — besides the obvious huge secrets that are there.

But I feel like Connor can be himself around Oliver in ordinary, everyday ways — like the ways that he carries himself, his posture. He runs over to my house a sweaty mess and he doesn’t care what he looks like. I think there’s that ultimate level of comfortability with the person you fall in love with.

How has it been working with Jack Falahee? Since you have to have such an intimate relationship, do you get a lot of time to talk about your characters together?

CR: He’s the best guy — so great. There’s very, very little [rehearsal time] because I was doing a show here and flying back and forth when we were shooting [Murder]. I didn’t have days to be like “Do you want to hang out and talk about what we’re doing with what could be a long-term arc of these two characters together?”

So we’ve never actually been able to do that or have a lot of face to face time. We just seem to naturally have a great rapport with each other. It seems to work without overthinking it too much.

During the course of shooting the pilot, did you always know you were coming back for more episodes?

CR: No, I didn’t know — I thought I was just going to be in for the pilot and then they kept bringing me back. Then as the storyline started opening up there never seemed to be an end to it. So I was like “I guess I’m kind of a part of the show now” I was in nine episodes out of 15.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

CR: I’m obsessed with coffee shops. I think the best ones are the greatest places on Earth. I opened one when I was in undergrad, a student-run coffeehouse and we came up with a business plan.

I remember when Ellen had her sitcom she ran a bookstore-coffeehouse called Buy The Book.

CR: I remember being in the closet in high school and when [Ellen] first came out. I wasn’t scared for her but I was for myself — that somehow now people were going to be able to know.

When did you actually come out?

CR: I came out my senior year in college. That’s when I was like “What is the world and who am I?” As opposed to just being reflected back from who my parents saw me as or wanted me to be or whatever.

Being out doesn’t seem to have pigeonholed you.

CR: No, I think that’s something that’s huge that’s changing with actors is that Neil Patrick Harris playing a straight man on television for years and years and years. I think people just don’t care.

「The King and I」 continues at Lincoln Center. 「How To Get Away With Murder」 Season Two debuts September 24 on ABC.