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You’re a classically trained young stage actor. You’ve worked consistently with modern playwrights like Neil LaBute, Kenneth Lonergan and Craig Lucas. But the Shakespearean and Chekhovian fare you cut your teeth on in school has escaped you. So Sam Mendes offers you a coveted spot in his Bridge Project production of “As You Like It,” and what do you do?
“I actually turned it down,” says Thomas Sadoski, who stars in the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s installment of Mendes’ traveling Anglo-American theater endeavor. “Sam called me up and said, ‘What in the world are you thinking?’ and I said, ‘Sam, I can’t spend six months away from my wife.’ And he said, ‘I completely get that, and we’ll find a way to work it out.’”
It seems they did. Sadoski is treading the floorboards of BAM’s Harvey Theater as Touchstone, the romantically cynical clown who finds love in “As You Like It.” And when the production travels to cities like Hong Kong, Athens and Paris, his wife, Kim, a casting director for “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” will come along for part of the ride.
“I rarely protest if someone turns me down,” says Mendes, reflecting on his persistence. “But on this occasion, I just felt he was making a mistake. And by that time, I couldn’t imagine anyone else as Touchstone — as far as I was concerned, he was it. He still is.”
Indeed, Sadoski’s approach to the comical work goes further than mere entertainment. In “As You Like It,” Rosalind (Juliet Rylance) grapples with her father’s banishment by his brother to the Forest of Arden and falls in love with the disinherited Orlando (Christian Camargo). When she, too, is exiled by her uncle she runs away to the forest, posing in drag with her cousin Celia (Michelle Beck) and Touchstone keeping her company. And as Touchstone, Sadoski infuses the quintessential Shakespearean “fool” with depths of pathos and heartache.
“Spending nine months running around, jingling a bell and trying to make everyone laugh just seems exceedingly boring to me and Sam said, ‘I don’t want that either,’” explains Sadoski, leaning forward in his seat at the Thomas Beisl cafe, a few blocks from the theater. “I don’t have an interest in coming out and playing everybody’s Jiminy Cricket. I’m interested in bringing a real human being out there who’s dealing with real struggles and loss. And I think that there is the sardonic wit of Touchstone, but there’s some hurt in there, too.”
Despite Sadoski’s easy-going demeanor offstage, it seems such moodiness was not wholly unnatural to him, at least according to his director.
“He has a dark side that he keeps well hidden,” says Mendes of the actor.
“I’m pretty bull-headed,” says Sadoski, 33. “If I don’t want to do something, it’s pretty much impossible to get me to do it.”
Born in New Haven, but raised in College Station, Tex., the only child of two working parents (Mom did everything from insurance sales to running a health club; Dad is a professor), Sadoski decided in high school he wanted to pursue acting. He gave college a shot for three months — “Things didn’t really work out for me, and it didn’t really work out for them, so we had a mutual parting of ways” — then headed to New York, where he studied at the Circle in the Square Theatre School.
Over the years, he has kept busy with predominantly new works like “Becky Shaw,” “Jump/Cut” and, most recently, last year’s “reasons to be pretty,” for which he received a leading actor Tony nomination. After “As You Like It,” he will tackle the role of Stefano in the Bridge Project’s second play, “The Tempest,” opening at BAM Feb. 25.
“For most of my career, I’ve held on really tightly trying to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do next and controlling everything,” says Sadoski. “I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I think that my job is to just follow the path that gets laid out in front of me.”