Sunday, September 6, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: The Whole Package

Isn’t it great when someone good-looking also has a great sense of humor about themselves?

When you head out to see Legally Blonde: The Musical (and you better – it’s so gay, it’s like catnip for gay people), keep an eye out for Ven Daniel – not that you’re likely to miss him.

The handsome Channing Tatum look-alike is making manicurists all over America swoon, as the hunkiest of UPS men. He also gets to play two other roles that proves that while he may look like Tatum, Daniel can act.

In the gorgeous posters for 2007’s Broadway Bares, Daniel looks like a Maxfield Parrish print come to life as a dreamy Cupid, a show which was also helmed by Blonde’s fabulous director Jerry Mitchell. What’s a pleasant surprise is how funny and personable Daniel is in his interview, on his blog and other postings.

In case you never saw Reese Witherspoon’s original, Legally Blonde tells the story of gorgeous but unchallenged Malibu sorority queen Elle Woods, who follows her no-good boyfriend to Harvard to win him back, only to win her self-respect back instead. Along the way, her relentlessly positive attitude overcomes hostility, snobbery and sexual harassment, and even helps others find true love.

Songs like “Ohmigod You Guys”, “Bend and Snap” and “Legally Blonde” are representative of the show’s and the heroine’s bubbly enthusiasm. I spoke to Daniel, who was back in New York taking care of an injury he had sustained on stage. The personal trainer was clearly eager to get back to his cast mates and the tour.

NC: Why were you away from the tour?
VD: This was because I had knee surgery about four weeks ago. I sustained an injury during one of the shows and continued to do a couple of shows on it, so I took a leave of absence to have the surgery and heal. It just worked out that I’ll be able to join the tour in Costa Mesa, California.

NC: I have to say, you really rock a brown uniform!
VD: (Laughing) You know, I try and make the costume look as good as possible. It helps me out too.

NC: How do you get into playing everybody’s dream UPS man?
VD: How do I get into it? I just start walking around a certain way to get into character, the little strut.

NC: It’s all about the walk?
VD: (Laughing) It’s all about the walk.

NC: I know that you’re a certified personal trainer. Do you base it on guys you see at the gym who are testosterone junkies?
VD: No, it’s all about proportion. If they’re going to put you in short shorts and a tight top, everything’s got to be working cohesively. I sort of pictured him as a guy in a movie, so I had the opportunity to tour in Saturday Night Fever and play Tony. It just added something to the character, so I allowed myself to be influenced by that energy, and it seems to be working.

NC: You were also the face (and body) of Broadway Bares in 2007. How was that production to perform in?
VD: That was exhilarating. It’s just a great celebration of life and the community comes together to raise money to help people out. And then also to be on the poster and the face of it that year was just so gratifying. If that image could help bring people together and bring attention to the event, I’m more than happy to be a part of it. The photo shoot was just fantastic; the photographer was so great to work with. Everyone who was involved was supportive and positive. I’m so happy, I felt blessed to be part of that and to have been able to meet and work with Jerry Mitchell then and on this show.

I mentioned to Daniel that I had just seen Mitchell’s work on Catch Me If You Can and loved it, and he was happy to hear it. “He’s just so nice,” he said, adding that Mitchell had been very supportive of him during his knee injury and helped him find one of the best doctors in New York for the surgery.

I asked him how he likes life on tour.

“It’s its own entity, but I enjoy it because it allows me the opportunity to work closely with some really talented people, and because you’re traveling somewhere new every week or every couple of weeks. These people become your family, and the relationships you make last a long time.

“It allows you to forge friendships, because you’re living with people and working with them. It’s a lifestyle that I enjoy because you get to see the greatest places and meet some pretty cool people along the way,” Daniel said.

And he spoke of some of the funny tour stories he has put on his blog. Speaking about an unwanted gift he got while staying in Florida, he said, “That was pretty interesting and funny as well. There was a used catheter on the floor of my bathroom in the hotel room. They came and picked it up and they didn’t even mop the floor. Disgusting,” he said, laughing.

A YouTube video of him also prompted a response: “In the show I play a character, Dewey, and just to make him as gross as possible, I included a giant belch. Since I was younger, I’ve had the strange skill of being able to burp really loud. And then I got hurt during a show and I was out for a couple of days and I was so bored, so I took my camera and tried to videotape myself burping and see how long I could go and if I could make 'em funny."

"So that’s what I have broadcast to the world, the YouTube world,” he laughed.

Daniel admitted he’s always wanted to be an actor, and that he was influenced by his father, an accountant who also performs onstage a lot in Florida.

“I remember seeing him in a production of Fiddler on the Roof and thinking, ‘Wow, I want to do that. If my dad can do it, I want to do it, too.’ One of my dreams is to share the stage with my father. I don’t know if the show’s been written yet or if it would be a regional production, but yeah, my dad, he’s the greatest creative guy in the world.”

Daniel said he looks forward to the future.

“I always enjoy thinking about the future, because if you don’t have a plan or don’t have an idea of where you’re going or what you want, you don’t really have any idea of what action to take. I know that eventually, I would like to go into television and film and continue to work in New York in the Broadway community.”

When I told him about his resemblance to Channing Tatum, he said, “I get that a lot, which is okay, except that he has my career. He’s a good-looking man, so I’m okay with that.”

I joked that he could accidentally push Tatum down some stairs and take his place, and he responded: “It’s like that movie, Showgirls. I’ll just rip off the pearl necklace and he can slip on the pearls.”

For now, Daniel is enjoying Legally Blonde and meeting the fans, even the large gay audience.

“I’m okay with that. To have the gay community following is so fun, especially when there’s a huge tour group of guys that come in and have a great time. The energy in the audience picks up and it makes the show even more fun to do.”

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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