Drop Dead, Gorgeous
St. Louis-born actor Colin Donnell is no stranger to being “killed off” on TV, yet hes still as visible as everthanks to his mysterious role on Showtimes Golden Globe-winning hit “The Affair.” How the St. Louis-born actor stays calm, cool and collected in the wild world of Hollywood.
It's deceptively easy to catch up with Colin Donnell. He currently has roles in two hit TV shows—not to mention a recent Broadway appearance and a movie in preproduction—yet nowhere in his laid-back personality does he show signs of high-stakes stress. (When we interviewed him earlier this year, he was traveling from his NYC home to LA to audition for a couple of pilots—not that you’d ever suspect from his relaxed demeanor.)
The Kirkwood-Glendale native starts filming this month for the second season of “The Affair,” the gripping Showtime series that won a 2015 Golden Globe for best television drama, beating out “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones.” Donnell plays Scotty Lockhart, whose murder became a pivotal plot element for the show’s two leads. He’s also in “Arrow,” a hit CW series based on DC Comics’ Green Arrow, where Donnell’s character, Tommy Merlyn, died at the end of season one— much to fans’ disappointment. But just like with “The Affair,” death doesn’t mean automatically being written out of the script forever: Donnell will be back in season four next fall.
When he’s not being killed off on TV, Donnell can often be found kicking up his heels on New York City stages. In February, he even had the fun of starring in the Gershwin musical “Lady, Be Good” as the romantic lead opposite his real-life wifeto-be, actress Patti Murin. We caught up with the charming actor on the simple joys of steady work, marriage and cursing on cable.
ALIVE: How did you become part of “The Affair”?
Colin Donnell: The whole thing came about in a cool way. I had been in for Sarah Treem and Mark Mylod (the director of the pilot) a couple of times for other roles, and they said they had this role for one day on the pilot, but if it got picked up for the season, there would be more. I was just excited to be part of a Showtime pilot.
ALIVE: Tell us about the experience of being on the set.
CD: I had a great time—that cast is incredible. Ruth [Wilson, who plays Alison Bailey] is a phenomenal actress. Dominic [West, who plays Noah Solloway] is somebody I had admired for a lot of years. And who doesn’t like Joshua Jackson [who plays Cole Lockhart]? He’s just so generous with his time and conversation and friendship. Sarah was amazing as the creator, and we had three wonderful directors who handled the entire season. It was a really rewarding experience. It was also a really different experience from shooting “Arrow.” When I was shooting that, I was in Vancouver, far away from home, and it was a different style of shooting.
ALIVE: In what ways?
CD: You have a little bit more freedom for a cable network. You get to drop the F-bomb. It was great! And all of a sudden people are naked on set, and you’re like, “What?!?” [There's also the] experience of being able to shoot in New York and being able to go home at night to Patti, my fiancee, which makes it a lot easier.
ALIVE: Yes, congrats on your engagement! Where will the wedding be?
CD: It will be in New York. It’s going to be a small wedding. And then Patti is going to be coming to St. Louis right after we get married to work at The Muny … She did “Chicago” there most recently. She loves St. Louis, and I’m going to spend as much time there as I can.
ALIVE: Do you make it back often?
CD: My schedule is always a bit goofy, so getting home isn’t always the easiest thing to do. It’s always a good time. I’ve got lots of friends from high school, and I’m sure three or four of them have had kids during this conversation! I have a couple of older brothers who have moved away, but my parents still live in the same house I grew up in.
ALIVE: Tell us about your acting background at Kirkwood High School.
CD: Freshman year in high school I auditioned for a musical, and they had me juggle. That’s literally the entire story: I could juggle and they were doing the musical “Barnum.” And it sort of took off from there … then-choir director Karen Flaschar and Milton Zoth, who ran the drama department, did an amazing job of fostering what I didn’t know I had, which was a really deep love for the arts.
ALIVE: Did you grow up going to the theater?
CD: My parents took us to The Muny and Stages St. Louis. It was a trip in high school and college being able to come back and work at those theaters after going there when I was a kid … And your parents get to see you do it, which is fun.
ALIVE: And brag you up to everyone around them?
CD: Yeah! My parents are easily embarrassed people, but they’re also super, super proud. They’ve been there throughout my career—and before, when I was trying to figure it out … [After college at Indiana University] I was living at home, and then I packed a U-Haul and drove to New York. And it was one of those freak things—four weeks later I had a job doing what I wanted to do, working on a musical on the Upper West Side. There’s no other way to put it than I got lucky. I’ve never had to wait tables. Knock on wood!
ALIVE: What was the show?
CD: It was called “Almost Heaven: The Songs of John Denver.” It was a smash hit. [Laughs.] It was really a fun show and such a lovely tribute. There were three men and three women, and I was the cover for the three men so I sat backstage and learned everybody’s parts. It was great. On Christmas Day, I went on for one of the guys, and my parents were in town. They were like two of 11 people in the audience!
ALIVE: Do you get asked for advice about getting into show business?
CD: If kids are thinking about doing this weird, messed-up thing we call a career, I always tell them, “If there’s anything else you can possibly see making you happy in life, do it!” There’s a lot of times when it’s not fun. But at the same time, it’s incredibly rewarding. It’s not something I ever got into to be famous or to make a ton of money, which is probably good, because I would have been sorely disappointed! [Laughs.] It sort of calls to you.
ALIVE: Looking ahead, what do you dream of doing someday?
CD: I get excited about doing the role that hasn’t been done yet. I love being the first one to put on a character. I love working. I love doing rehearsals. I love talking about it with writers and directors and everybody involved. When I look ahead, I just try to be open to whatever is next, because inevitably if I were to try to plan it out, it would take a 90-degree turn in another direction.
ALIVE: That’s such a flexible outlook!
CD: It’s a certain way of living. [Laughs.] I’m pretty simple. I like what I do, and I now have a beautiful, smart, super-talented fiancee who makes my life incredible. And we’ve got a little dog who poops a lot. I get to wake up next to a beautiful girl, and I clean up poop—that actually sums up my life in the most perfect way.
Photo credit: Nathan Johnson