Michael Patrick Thornton is currently starring alongside Jessica Chastain in the Broadway revival of “A Doll’s House,” marking his second Main Stem show in a year. His debut came in last season’s “Macbeth,” starring Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga.
In the latest episode of “The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal,” Thornton chats with Paul Wontorek about how the actor went from practicing award speeches to performing on the world’s greatest stage.
“I’ve had this dream since I was a kid,” Thornton shared, recalling how he rehearsed Tony and Oscar speeches in the shower around age nine. “I wish I could kind of go back in time and tap that kid on the shoulder and be like, ‘Hey, everything you dream about is going to happen.’ You’re just not gonna believe what you’re gonna have to go through.”
When Thornton was 24, he suffered two spinal strokes. Within a matter of an hour, he went from being an average 20-something guy to a quadriplegic on a ventilator. “It’s a very medically anomalous thing,” he said.
As part of recovery, Thornton had to teach himself to breathe and talk again. But more challenges awaited him once he returned to auditioning.
“You’re going back to the same casting director offices, but you can’t enter through the front door,” Thornton said of becoming a wheelchair user. Instead, he was forced to rely on rusted ramps in alleyways that led to freight elevators with spilled soda on the floor. By the time he got into an audition room, Thornton said his wheels were sticking and he smelled of garbage — which didn’t help his confidence.
But Thornton persevered and kept his sights set on his goal of performing roles that are not traditionally done by wheelchair users — like his current character, Dr. Rank, a close confident of Torvald (and Nora) Helmer. In the role, Thornton bonds with Chastain’s character, Nora. As the seemingly playful flirtation between the two grows, Rank declares his love for Nora in an intense and beautiful scene.
“My longterm strategy has been to do stories where the wheelchair is not a plot point,” he said. “You force people to simply accept you as a human being.”
This week’s episode of “The Broadway Show” features interviews with the cast and creative team of the current revival of “Parade.” Viewers can also get to know “Bad Cinderella” star Linedy Genao, in this week’s Fresh Face segment. Wontorek chats with Ryan J. Haddad, playwright of “Dark Disabled Stories,” which is running at the Public Theater. Beth Stevens speaks with Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, the songwriting team for the new Broadway musical “Shucked.” Finally, director Danya Taymor reveals more about the world-premiere production of “The Outsiders,” currently at La Jolla Playhouse.
“The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal” airs on weekends. Check your local listings for air time and channel.