Chris Diamantopoulos is the rare sort of actor who 10 people would probably recognize from 10 different roles. On Silicon Valley, he has portrayed the recurring ex-billionaire Russ Hanneman. On the U.S. version of Episodes, he was the TV network boss Castor Sotto. On the Amazon Original series Good Girls Revolt he played Evan Phinnaeus “Finn” Woodhouse. And that’s without discussing turns on The Office, Up All Night, Arrested Development or 24.
Prior to finding success within the film and TV worlds, Chris was a regular in the theater world. Chris made his return to Broadway on Mar. 31 by taking on the role of Dr. Pomatter in the hit Waitress. Beyond its wonderful cast — which also includes Tony Award nominee Will Swenson — Waitress is the first Broadway musical in history to have four women in its four top creative team spots, featuring a book by Jessie Nelson, a score by six-time Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, choreography by Lorin Latarro and direction by Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus.
Downtown had the pleasure of speaking with Chris via phone about Waitress, his long-standing history with New York and why he keeps coming back to our city. Chris can be followed on Twitter via @ClassicChrisD. More on Waitress can be found at www.waitressthemusical.com.
Wikipedia says that you met your wife [Becki Newton] in a New York City subway station. Is that true?
Chris Diamantopoulos: Yeah, we actually met in Times Square. It was in the middle of rush hour, she was walking from the tunnel connecting the A/C/E to the 1/9 and I was walking in that direction. We walked by each other and smiled at each other and I — for some reason that day —had the wherewithal actually do something about that. You know there have been so many times walking through New York, you sort of pass strangers by or something, I never had the balls to do anything about it. But she was just so beautiful, and so, she just seemed so approachable…The worst that can happen is she could scream and run away, but she didn’t, and we’ve been together ever since.
That’s a wonderful New York story, there’s not a lot of those out there. But in terms of projects you’ve worked on, you have done a lot of film work, a lot of TV, you’ve done voiceovers, and you’ve done a lot of theater. How much of your time is usually spent in New York?
CD: Well, you know it’s funny because I moved to New York when I was 20 years old and I was working 100 percent in the theater at the time. I had started having some national tours, Webber’s Music Of The Night and Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, then I landed in New York with Les Miserables…I did a ton of readings and workshops for new musicals. But I’d always sort of had my sort of set my sights on trying my hand at the small and big screen, and I wanted to head out to Los Angeles, so it was very shortly after meeting my wife where I’d expressed to her a little bit of starting to get a little stir crazy in New York. She suggested that we go to L.A. and try it out, so I gave my notice…and we went out to L.A.
It was a tough go for me because my entire life and career were New York-based, all the voiceover work and the theater work could only really happen while I was in New York. So when I went to L.A., the first two years, I let go of all employment and couldn’t get an agent, couldn’t get hired because…musical theater wasn’t what TV and film agents and casting directors wanted to see on a resume…Some offers were coming in for some theater work, but I really wanted to give L.A. a go, and letting all that go and I really thought I’d made a terrible mistake. It wasn’t until the third year that things sort of started to pick up. It was, just so you know, small small little bits…As soon as that happened, New York kind of stopped being a place for me to work for a good decade, and I worked you know exclusively on the West Coast and then you know in Canada or wherever else things were shooting.
But I sort of stepped away from New York for a while, which is why I’m so grateful for this opportunity to come back, because I just love working in New York. I love living in New York. I’m a New Yorker, I still have a New York phone number. When we went out to L.A., even though we built a house there, it was always just like “okay, we’re just here on location, we’re just here temporarily”…We got a little sidetracked with children and whatnot, but we’re still trying to claw our way back to the city.
Had you worked with anyone in the Waitress camp before?
CD: Well, you know I was in L.A., I was working on Silicon Valley, the HBO show that I was doing…My theatrical agent called me and said, “Hey I know you haven’t done theater” — and then at that point it had been 12, 13 years — “so I know it’s been a long time.” Oh, that’s not true, I had done a City Center production of Girl Crazy at the urging of my wife…But other than that, it had been a very long time and he said, “You know there’s this workshop of a new show Diane Paulus is directing,” I’ve been a big fan of her work, and Sara Bareilles wrote the music, and I’ve always been a huge fan of hers, and the musical director, Nadia [DiGiallonardo] is someone that my wife knows. He said it’s just 10 days in New York, any interest in doing it?…My daughter was an infant at the time, so we brought my son and my daughter and we went for 10 days and we had a ball. I did the 10-day workshop, it was very very low pressure, I had a great time, I love the role…It seemed like it was a really great way to come back, to come back again, and then unfortunately my schedule just forbade me from doing the Broadway production…Diane was quite generous…
Then of course another show came up, and it was just too hard to pass up with two kids…I took the other TV gig and it broke my heart because this was really the one that got away and I said, “Oh well, it’s not going to happen.” So when I found out that Sara was going into the company and they started sort of reaching out saying, “Hey, you know we don’t want to reach out if we know what the answer is going to be and if the answer is ‘no.’ We’re just sort of checking to see.” I wasn’t working on a TV show and I ran it by my wife and she was chomping at the bit to come back…So we jumped at the opportunity and I’m really glad I did.
A little bit ago you mentioned Silicon Valley. I think your character Russ Hanneman is a lot of people’s favorite character on the show, but you seem to be the opposite of that guy. Do you often get confused for Russ?
CD: The writers on Silicon Valley, Alec Berg and Mike Judge, are really generous with regard to how they give material to actors…I think one of the reasons is because most of the actors that they work with are stand-up comics. I’m not a stand-up comic, I’ve never been in stand-up comedy, it terrifies me. But I think that what was fortuitous about that for me was that they had a lot of trust with regard to giving me material, or even giving me just some skeletal material and letting me kind of put the flesh on the bones. So I had a lot of fun playing with that character ,and again in television it’s rare to have an opportunity to play a really broad character. It is something I actually seek out because I didn’t get in the business to play myself, I see myself every day, I’d rather be somebody completely diametrically-opposed to who I am.
So I think that it’s a confluence of me having fun with great material, working under great directors and great writers, with great actors on the show that people like…I think more than any role that I’ve done, that seems to be the catcall that I’ll get when I’m walking around the airport with my kids. It’s a really strange thing when my six-year old says, “What did he say?” and “No, no, no, he didn’t say anything.” But it’s really funny too, I had a priest come up to me and say, “Oh I love Russ Hanneman.” You know it’s just such an odd thing, but there’s something about him just being so undeniably and unabashedly-reprehensible. (laughs) He represents…how we are all wishing to be, I guess…
So do you have a favorite restaurant in New York City?
CD: I have a ton, and I’ve got a lot of nice little hole-in-the-wall places, or places you’d never find, but the one that I’m going to tell you about is in such an obvious area, and I almost don’t want to tell people about it because it’s so fucking good. It’s called La Masseria, it’s an Italian place on 48th…The chef there has created basically this prototypical authentic Italian experience, and I’m sure you can find that in hundreds of restaurants in New York. Well I haven’t been able to find, and it’s not often on the menu, they have this dish called Bottarga Spaghetti. Basically it’s the simplest thing — you know what bottarga is?
I don’t. I’ve been there, but what is it?
CD: You’ve got to ask them for it. So bottarga is a block of sun-dried fish roe. It looks kind of like an orange block of parmesan, but it’s actually dried fish. They bring the spaghetti, with a little bit of parsley and a little bit of cracked black pepper and a little bit of olive oil, a little bit garlic and they grate this bottarga onto the spaghetti and it melts in the spaghetti. The idea is you want to pair it with an amazing bottle of a nice big red wine, and you want to take a nice little fork full of that and you want to swish around the wine after you’ve had that bite. It’s incredible, but I love the place…They make me feel like I’m family and I’ve been going there for 12, 13 years since it’s been open.
Aside from all the work, because it seems like you’re always working now, what do you like to do when you’re not working? Do you have any main hobbies?
CD: I’m pretty boring, I mean I’m a homebody. I love cooking, that’s something that I do and my family does, my wife does and my kids are into it now. Cooking kind of calms my mind. I’m also just, again, boringly a big walker, which is why I want to back to New York, because in L.A. there’s not a whole lot of walking unless you’re hiking, which I do. But I just like going wherever the road leads, even though I’d walk the streets thousands of times, finding a street I’ve never seen before…just seeing where the adventure leads. Other than that, I enjoy exercise here and there and, but I’m a relatively-boring guy.
So, finally Chris, any last words for the kids?
CD: For the kids? I would say the best advice I ever got was, “Follow the spark.” Because there’s a spark of curiosity, spark of intrigue. It will lead to something huge, it will take you somewhere. Find you’re curious about something, follow it and look into it — it’s the only way you’ll grow.