No stranger to the Legacy Theatre, Justin Thompson last appeared there in its spring production of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. His portrayal of Leaf Coneybear landed him a nomination for the Atlanta Theater Fans Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Now he’s back at the Legacy Theatre enjoying a new take on the role of Smee in the season’s closer Peter Pan.
Thompson, a 23-year-old from Newnan, Ga., discusses his love for working at the Legacy Theatre, the respect he has for Artistic Director Mark Smith, and the new production of Peter Pan. Read the complete feature Q & A to find out what led him to acting and his goals for future projects.
Nominations for the Atlanta Theater Fan Awards were recently announced and you were on the list for your role in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Were you surprised?
I was extremely surprised by my nomination. There were so many great shows this year with incredible performances, and I feel humbled and honored by this nomination.
Had you acted at the Legacy Theatre prior to Spelling Bee? What can you tell us about your experiences there?
I have done quite a few shows at the Legacy, and I love working for the company. It’s such a professional group of people who truly love theatre and love bringing it to people on the south side of Atlanta.
Mark Smith’s direction of Spelling Bee was also nominated. What can you tell us about working with Mark?
I have a ridiculous amount of respect for Mark. He gives you the right amount of direction that still gives you the freedom to create unique, organic choices. He challenged me to try to do something different with the character that ended up changing and giving more depth to a character I already loved. And he has such a creative, original, unique spirit that he was able to do the same thing for every character in Spelling Bee. I would work under his direction anytime, any place.
You are currently back at the Legacy Theatre performing in Peter Pan. Why should audiences come see it and what can they expect?
This is an original retelling of Peter Pan that follows a lot closer to the book than the Cathy Rigby version. There are strong characters throughout the show. Not to mention the show reflects always keeping a part of your inner child, which is what theatre is all about.
You play Smee in the show. How is your interpretation different from what people normally think about the character?
I think Smee is a rare role in that it can be performed differently every time. My interpretation of Smee is a people pleaser. He knows the difference between right and wrong and has a great mix of respect and disdain for Captain Hook. He wants to be respected and likes the idea of having a legacy of his own.
What is your favorite musical or play?
Without sounding corny, my favorite musical for the past five years or so has been Spelling Bee, which is why Leaf was such a dream role, and why it was such an exciting and rewarding show to do.
What play or musical have you recently seen that either impressed or moved you?
I saw Ordinary Days recently at Serenbe Playhouse, and the show was so moving. Seeing a show outside in a found space and watching the incredibly talented cast perform their hearts out was so encouraging to see.
Do you prefer performing in musicals or plays?
I prefer musicals because many times it gives you the opportunity to play someone completely out there, like Leaf. Not to mention, how often do you wish you were singing how you were feeling instead of just thinking it?
When did you first decide that acting was something you wanted to pursue?
My dad took me to a high school production of Li’l Abner, and I saw an energy and connection I had never seen before. The entire theatre that night was electric to me, and I knew I wanted to be on that stage.
What actors inspire you?
I love Gary Beach. He is such a strong character actor and is outstandingly different in every role he plays. I would gladly accept his career as my own.
What are the biggest challenges you face as an actor in the Atlanta area? What type of project would you like to do next?
I would love to originate a role at some point soon, especially a character in an original musical. It’s a challenge because original work is still such an up-and-coming scene in Atlanta.
What would you consider to be your dream theatre role?
My dream role is Benji Stone in My Favorite Year. It’s a wonderful, underexposed musical with so much depth and so much comedy; it would be such an exciting role to do at some point.