Reeve Carney on life, music, Art and Spider-Man
The actor on playing Dorian Gray and Jeff Buckley, and that nightmarish Broadway show
Reeve Carney: ‘I never thought about doing anything else, even though my parents would whisper into my ears, “Doctor, lawyer, doctor, lawyer”.’ Photograph: Eric Luke
Reeve Carney’s great-uncle Art Carney in Harry and Tonto (1974)
Here’s some advice for you: don’t attempt to touch Reeve Carney’s face – his cheekbones are so sharp your fingers might bleed. The man who is currently in Dublin filming Showtime’s Penny Dreadful (portraying Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray) is also lined up to play Jeff Buckley in the officially sanctioned biopic Mystery White Boy . To say that you need a good-looking guy for these projects is an understatement, but 30-year-old Carney definitely doesn’t allow his face to get in the way of good work.
The truth is, he’s something of an entertainment brat, with showbiz blood flowing through his veins. His great-uncle was Irish-American actor Art Carney: he may be best known for his recurring role in the US comedy show The Honeymooners , but he also nabbed an Academy Award (best actor in 1974 for Harry and Tonto , beating the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino), was nominated for a Tony Award (in 1969, for his Broadway performance in Brian Friel’s Lovers ), and won six Emmy Awards (for The Honeymooners ). He is surely the only actor – alive or dead, garlanded or not – who was once granted an Honorary Life Membership of the Florida Water and Sewage Works Operators Association in recognition for his regular amusing reminders throughout The Honeymooners that sewage systems not only exist but work. His great-nephew is suitably impressed.
“It was a bit like growing up in a family of carpenters or electricians,” says Reeve. “It just kind of made sense, and I never really thought about doing anything else, even though my parents were occasionally whispering into my ears when I was asleep, ‘Doctor, lawyer, doctor, lawyer’.
“Art passed away when I was 20 so we saw him quite a bit when we were kids. He lived in Connecticut, and we lived there when I was younger. The main thing was watching The Honeymooners – I grew up watching that, but I wasn’t aware of his theatre background at all until I started on Broadway myself.”
On the road with mom
This brings the topic of conversation around to Reeve’s own achievements. His early love of graphic art morphed into a headstrong, precociously talented love of blues music. At the age of 12 he was dabbling on piano but deeper into guitar. An unusually understanding and clever mother managed to bridge the gap between youthful obsession and diligent schooling. So Reeve was playing music venues at the age of 14, but there, right at the side of the stage, was his mother.
“Yes, I know, 14 is really young to be in these clubs – and I was really short, so I looked even younger. At that time, though, I didn’t have too much self-consciousness, either, so I wasn’t really nervous. The reason why my mother took me to these venues was twofold: firstly, my parents got divorced and so it was around the time when she was struggling to raise three kids; secondly, there wasn’t a lot of money for guitar lessons, and because she knew it was what I really wanted to do, she’d take me to these blues clubs, where I learned and played for free.”
Reeve and his chaperone would arrive at the clubs around 9pm and leave after midnight. “Then I’d go home, sleep for several hours and get up for school at around 6am. And before anyone says anything, I’d be made to do my homework before we went out to the venues.”
Caught in a web
After music and a stint in a semi-successful band (Carney, now on ice, once opened for U2 on the latter’s 360-Degrees Tour), Reeve then heard of a Broadway musical that was auditioning for roles. Before he could say something along the speech-bubbled lines of “whaam”, “splaatt” or “kapowww”, he had landed the much coveted role of Peter Parker in Spider-Man : Turn Off the Dark .
As we now know, that show, featuring music and lyrics by The Edge and Bono, clocked up records that no Broadway production wants or needs: it is, to date, the most expensive production in Broadway history (€55 million), and it ended up having the longest preview period in Broadway history (182 performances). The show was a nightmare – its investors, lost in the region of €44 million.
Reeve, who left the show last year in order to work on Penny Dreadful , other screen projects and his debut solo album, isn’t too fussed about the past. The show was, he says, “a wonderful opportunity”. That noted, he emphasises that he had never before appeared on a Broadway stage, and therefore he had no reference points.
“To me all the things happening didn’t seem that strange. I thought being on Broadway was always like a nightmare. It was tough, but then anything of any value is generally hard work. I don’t think I had any prima donna moments during it, and I’m fairly sure that if I had previous experience of Broadway then I would have known that something was going on.”
His friends, apparently, kept him clued in. “All I kept hearing from them was along the lines of, ‘just so you know, this is a very unique experience you’re having right now’.”
Reeve Carney plays Dublin’s Workman’s Club on Saturday. Penny Dreadful is scheduled to run on Sky Atlantic/Showtime from May