The hit Disney musical, Frozen, welcomed Ryan McCartan to the show on February 18, 2020, as he took over the role from Joe Carroll. McCarten, who plays Prince Hans, the charming yet power-hungry love interest, is no stranger to the stage.
He made his Broadway debut playing Fiyero in Wicked, in September of 2018, where he remained until May of 2019. Ryan was kind enough to take time out of his day to chat with The Knockturnal about what it’s like to be a part of Frozen the Musical and to offer advice for how to gain success as an artist.
The Knockturnal: Can you tell me the story of how you got into acting?
Ryan McCartan: So, my father is an educator and my mother works in retail. My sister came out of the womb singing and dancing and, to make a very long story short, I wanted to play sports but I got diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. A lot of diabetics can make it work, but for some reason, my body was just not having it. And so my parents were like, ‘Ok, we hear you, but you have to do something with your time.’ And I was like, ‘playing video games in my room doesn’t count!?’ I looked over at what my sister was doing– she was into theater and dancing and singing– and I thought that looked cool. And there was one day when she was singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ in the car and I started singing too, and my parents were like, ‘Oh he can sing too, oh my god we got two of ‘em!’
The Knockturnal: Do your parents have good voices?
Ryan McCartan: My dad did theater in high school, and I think he sang in choir for a little in college, but my mom will not sing. I was born and raised in an Irish-Catholic household. We’d go to church and she wouldn’t even sing there. She would say, ‘God knows that I’m reading the words and that is enough!’ So anyway, my sister is the reason that I do everything I do and she’s been a massive source of inspiration to me my whole life. She actually lives in New York now where she’s one of my best friends. She’s one of the most important presences in my life, for sure.
The Knockturnal: What drew you to the role of Hans in Frozen?
Ryan McCartan: I think that I’m a nice person. I don’t think that I’m evil, but maybe I am, because I get cast in this type of role all the time. I call it the bait-and-switch bad guy. I’ve done it on TV, I’ve done it in movies, I’ve done it in theater, where I’m always the good guy at the beginning and then at the end…
The Knockturnal: You were so convincing last night in the show. My sister and I were trying to remember if your character was actually bad or not and we couldn’t remember.
Ryan McCartan: That’s so funny. Maybe it’s because it’s on stage. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but Michael Grandage, the director has talked with me about this idea that even if the audience has seen the movie a million times, they forget that Hans is ultimately a villain. And Michael was like, ‘I want you to convince the audience that we’ve changed the ending.’ And so yeah, I don’t know why I’m good at it, but I’m good at it I guess.
The Knockturnal: That’s a nice niche skill to have.
Ryan McCartan: I suppose. I go out to the signing line and the kids don’t trust me, and I’m like, ‘I’m nice in real life, I promise!’ It’s weird but it’s a really fun thing to get to do. I was saying before, I get to check two things off my list. I get to be a Disney prince and a Disney villain on the same night, which is pretty amazing. I’m enjoying that.
The Knockturnal: What’s been the most difficult part for you about playing the role of Hans?
Ryan McCartan: Rob Ashford, our choreographer, put together this splendid dance break in the song, ‘Love is an Open Door,’ to spruce it up and make it more alive on stage. And I can move, but I’m not a dancer, dancer. I mean, we have some of the best dancers on Broadway in our ensemble, and what they do with their bodies is unbelievable, and I’m not that. So you’ve seen the number: It’s all of these complicated turns and lifts, behind the back, over the shoulder, up in the air, fireman’s carry, all of these different things. And the dress that Anna wears is thirty pounds, and it’s huge. It’s very voluminous and so you know, you’re batting it out of your face and, at the same time, you’re trying to figure out, ‘where are her legs?!’ and ‘where are her knees?’ You have to find these contact points in order to hoist her up in the air safely. I mean this is the star of our show! I’m not going to be responsible for Anna falling on her face. So you have to be very meticulous and very strong. It was a lot of strengthening and practice, and that was definitely the hardest part for me.
The Knockturnal: In your experience, is the choreography usually the hardest part of preparing for a show?
Ryan McCartan: It’s different for every show. With Frozen, it was that number. Because for me, as a performer in theater, what I’m thinking about is that everything needs to be repeatable. I need to do a scene and know in my mind that I can do this 8 times a week. Whether something goes terribly wrong or whether I’m nailing it that night, I have to be able to do it no matter what. And for a very long time, ‘Love is an Open Door’ did not feel repeatable. I was hoisting Anna up, thinking ‘I have no idea how I got her up there.’ Sometimes I could barely lift her off the ground. And, like I said, we have some of the best leadership, from Rob Ashford all the way down through the associates and the dance captains. We have so many people on our side. So I don’t want to paint the picture that I was stranded out there by any means, but it was just about the practice and getting the reps in.
The Knockturnal: Are you and your cast-mates all close in real life? How did those relationships form?
Ryan McCartan: Well it was really cool. So Mackenzie who plays Anna, and I, and Andrew Pirozzi, who plays Sven the reindeer, went to the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta as representatives of Frozen and we just bonded instantly. It was like summer camp, just one of those magical weekends. Mackenzie and I stayed up really late just talking one night, and Andrew and I were just walking around, chatting and getting to know each other, knowing we’d all be close when the weekend was over. And then Cierra, who plays Elsa, came in and she’s so sweet and talented and smart, and so it really felt too good to be true. I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop!
The Knockturnal: Does that not usually happen?
Ryan McCartan: You know, it’s a lot of people in the same space, for a long time. And so people often tend to mind their own business. And with this show, it just feels like everyone is with you, every single person. It’s an extremely unique experience. And I think you can really feel that in the audience and we can feel it onstage.
The Knockturnal: Do you have any words of advice for those wanting to pursue a career in acting?
Ryan McCartan: I think that it’s such a competitive industry, and a lot of people are vying for these spots. And I think that’s good, but what often happens in an industry that is competitive is that you begin to look at your competition and size them up, and go, ‘Okay this person is doing x, y, and z and they’re booking a lot of jobs so I should copy them.’ I believe that is the death of artistry. I think the most important thing that you can do, especially because of how broad the spectrum of your competition is, is to dive into what makes you most unique. A mentor once told me, ‘Everyone can do everything that you can’t do, but no one can do everything that you can do. So you have to fixate on what you can do. Never apologize for it and go boldly in that direction.’ I think people who do that stand out the most, in any artist medium. I mean you think about the Billie Eilish’s of the world. She never apologizes for exactly what she is and she is so unique. And if that works in music, that’s gonna work in movies and onstage as well.
The Knockturnal: What do you prefer, acting on stage or on-screen?
Ryan McCartan: The two are such different experiences because when you’re onstage you turn and you look out and see 2,000 people watching you.
The Knockturnal: How does that feel when you’re up there?
Ryan McCartan: Oh my god, I mean it hits me every time. My character first enters the stage when the gates of Arendelle open, so in my first entrance, I go through these huge doors and I walk straight down-stage towards the audience. My direction it to be looking at Arendelle and the castle, but what I’m actually looking at is all the people. And the St. James Theater is tall, so you’re looking up and into balconies filled with people and it’s a wonder unlike anything that you could ever experience. With film, the camera is right in your face, there’s a sound guy right next to you, and so it’s the polar opposite. In theater, you’re filling up this grand room with all of these people, and in film it’s completely contained and there’s something really exhilarating about that too. In one you are shouting into the expanse, and in one it’s like you’re dueling with the barrel of the gun. And there’s an intensity to both of those things, so I can’t really pick one because they feel like such opposites.
The Knockturnal: Do you still get nervous before shows?
Ryan McCartan: Oh absolutely. I mean the thing that I try to think about though, is that the physiological symptoms of feeling nervous are the exact same as the physiological symptoms of feeling excited. Butterflies in your stomach, that frenetic energy, it’s all the same. So I try to tell myself, ‘No, you’re not nervous, you’re just really excited! And you care!’ If you’re nervous, that means you care. And you know, I don’t ever want to get rid of that feeling. I don’t ever want to be at the point where acting in one of the best theaters in the world just feels blasé because that would be sad.