From Broadway to Prime Time

by Brooks Clark October 14, 2016

Fans of the Clarence Brown Theatre may recall that Conrad Ricamora (’12) was cast as “Ninoy” Acquino in David Byrne’s Off-Broadway musical about Imelda Marcos, Here Lies Love, even before he had finished his run in the CBT’s 2012 production of Kiss Me, Kate and received his Master of Fine Arts in acting.

During a hiatus from Here Lies Love, Ricamora’s career got another boost when he was cast by producer-director Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) for the pilot of the hit TV show How to Get Away with Murder, in which Viola Davis plays a criminal defense attorney and professor who becomes entangled in a murder plot with her students.

When How to Get Away launched, Ricamora was signed to play recurring character Oliver Hampton, an IT specialist romantically involved with one of the five law students embroiled in the murder plot. In the months that How to Get Away with Murder was being taped, Ricamora did double duty—in New York on stage and Los Angeles on camera. Between July and February, he flew out once a week to LA and missed half the week of shows in New York.

After Here Lies Love closed in early 2015, Ricamora won the role of Lun Tha, the lover of the King’s concubine Tuptim in the Broadway revival of The King and I. While continuing as Oliver Hampton on television, Ricamora did more than 500 performances as Lun Tha. “It was great on many fronts,” says Ricamora. “By the end of it I felt like a pro. It’s the longest run of any show that I’ve ever done. You have to think a lot about how you’re going to keep it fresh. After the first year, you have to figure it out all over again. The material becomes deeper in you. You get many connections in the industry, and I learned a lot. I was really proud that Ashley Park, who played Tuptim, and I were dedicated to keeping the interpretation of what we had done in rehearsals.”

On June 26, Ricamora did his last show as Lun Tha. On July 1, he moved to California to become a series regular for the third season of How to Get Away with Murder. Being a series regular has its advantages. “I get to develop stronger relationships with the cast and crew,” says Ricamora. “I get to work with the writers and other cast members and have some input about where we think the character should go.”

Ricamora does love LA. “There are so many great restaurants,” he says. “The pace is a lot more relaxed. I will say that there are so many different challenges in acting for television. In theater, you know the show is going to happen at a certain time. In TV, we have to wait for lighting, and setups, and other things, so that much of the time you’re in your trailer waiting. If you have to do a crazy, emotional scene, you have to carry it around with you all day. It takes a toll on your psyche.” Now that he is a recognizable TV actor, Ricamora is starting to wear a baseball cap around town. As it happens, it’s a vintage blue Tennessee cap with an orange power T on the front.

Along with his career success, Ricamora recently received the Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign, an organization advocating for LGBTQ equality, for his talent and for being outspoken on his identity in public life. He plays the only openly gay Asian-American character on prime-time television.

In a highlight video shown at the award ceremony, Ricamora said, “I want to tell any kid that is not living in a diverse community, that may be out in a small town somewhere, that feels ashamed of the shape of their eyes or the color of their skin or who they are attracted to naturally, that you are loved.” In his acceptance speech, he noted that he grew up in small-town America—Niceville, Florida, to be exact—the son of a Filipino father and German-Irish mother. “It’s a little ironic to be getting the Visibility Award, because so much of my growing up as a kid was spent trying to be invisible.”

As he continues to hone his craft, Ricamora does think back on what he took away from his MFA program. “A lot of what I learned from Jed [Diamond, associate professor of acting] is to come in with an open heart and an open mind to rehearsal and accept what is going on around you. Instead of having a preplanned idea, which comes off as stale, be completely open to what’s happening in the moment. That’s when things come alive.”

Photo courtesy of ABC/John Fleenor

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