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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 6, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 40
Jafar's spell: An interview with Jonathan Weir
Arts & Entertainment
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Jafar's spell: An interview with Jonathan Weir

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

DISNEY'S ALADDIN,
THE MUSICAL
PARAMOUNT THEATRE
October 12-29


Jonathan Weir is no stranger to playing the villain. He's played Scar in Disney's The Lion King and now tours the country with the Disney production of Aladdin. He's playing the villain Jafar in the current Disney tour.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Jonathan Weir: I had my first real theatrical experience of seeing a live show, when I was living in Saint Louis. My family took me to the Muny [an outdoor venue] and saw The King and I. It was starring Pernell Roberts (from 'Bonanza'). I remember the couple in front of me, at the end of the musical, when the King dies. Anna is at his side and his hand falls to signal his passing. The women in front of me started to cry, and her boyfriend put an arm around her. I remember thinking 'something on stage can make that happen.' When I was in ninth grade, I did theatre and felt like I found a home and a place.

Andrews-Katz: You grew up one of 10 kids in your family. Where do you fall in the lineup and do you think it was a desire to stand out that encouraged you to go into acting?

Weir: I'm the youngest of the group. Certainly, in many ways, we are all products of our environment. There were eight boys and two girls in my family and I was the only boy that didn't play sports. I was more engaged in pretend worlds, acting out with the neighbor kids. My brothers and I would put on Disney albums (Peter and the Wolf&) and we would act it out. I took a lot of ribbing, in retrospect, but I process the world through creative viewings.

Andrews-Katz: You do a lot of work with the Writers Theatre in Chicago. How did you first get involved with them?

Weir: I moved to Chicago after grad school. While working with Steppenwolf Theatre I turned Equity. It was for a show called 'Stepping Out.' Writer's Theatre was quite influential as I worked with some phenomenal actors there. I've worked all over Chicago in all different kinds of venues, but I've now done over 10 productions with Writers Theatre. As actors, we long for an 'artistic home,' and I've been fortunate enough to find one and string together a career.

Andrews-Katz: You've played The Governor in Candide? Do you prefer 'children's musicals' or more complex work like Candide?

Weir: I'm going to take exception and say, I don't think Disney's Lion King and Aladdin are exclusively children's shows. They are both very different - especially Aladdin - from the animated features. There's enough to appeal to those that grew up with the movie, but in the show we draw much more of adult audiences. There's sophisticated humor that is accessible to kids, but both shows have adult themes. It's about someone trying to find who they really are. I don't see much of a difference between Candide and Aladdin.

Andrews-Katz: You've played Disney villains before (Scar in The Lion King). What is it about the villain that you are drawn to as an actor?

Weir: I think the villains are drawn to me! I had a unique experience with Lion King. I was the standby, and then left the show. I'd go back in every few months - including Broadway a few times - for 13-14 years. It's always more fun playing the antagonist, it's usually a strong point of view. For whatever reasons, Disney buys what I'm doing. I'm pretty much a nice guy, so I enjoy when I get to play the opposite.

Andrews-Katz: Have children or parents ever 'booed' when you take your curtain bow? How do you deal with that?

Weir: It's a little odd, but you have to take it as a compliment. It happens. Currently, we are in Minneapolis and it happens here a lot. At first I thought, 'Did I do something wrong?' but then I realized they bought into what I was doing.

Andrews-Katz: What are the moments during the show that you just say to yourself, 'Wow. I'm a part of all this'?

Weir: There are several. The first moment is the opening number 'Arabian Nights.' It's the full company on stage at one point. We are comprised of some of the most talented, creative, loving and supporting people I've ever worked with so it kind of unites us at the beginning of each show.

With everything happening in our current times, it's so gratifying to have an audience (especially on an Opening Night) that gives themselves over to the story. They respond to the energy of the cast and it's reflected back to them. The audience seems to relax, laugh and enjoy themselves. That's another moment, when I hear that robust feedback from the audience. It's a special thing.

Andrews-Katz: Do Disney villains get a fan base? Do they get stalked at the stage door or do children tend to shy away from you?

Weir: In Chicago we [the cast] would go to the stage door and there might be 50 or 60 people waiting to see Jasmine, or Aladdin or the Genie, so sometimes I take my time in heading out. One night, the cast members came back into the theatre and said there was a kid waiting to meet me. There are a lot of young kids that are truly 'villain' fans - we can only hope it doesn't imply anything further. Overall people are supportive and want to connect with the actors. I've had a lot of enthusiastic support, but not any real stalkers.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of any limitation - what would it be and why?

Weir: I'm going to stay with the Disney family and say Ursula. She's the 'other great villain' I'd love to play. There would probably be hundreds of women that would stab me if I got the role.

Andrews-Katz: Gender-bending roles are happening more every day. I wouldn't rule it out; you could get your chance.

Weir: True. It could happen. Ursula is such a delicious character and a landmark role as well. The great thing with Disney is that there usually is a good balance. I'd also like to play King Lear, and that is something so NOT Disney.

Jonathan Weir continues in his role as Jafar in Disney's Aladdin. Aladdin will play at Seattle's Paramount Theatre October 12-29.

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