Ted Sod: Where were you born, and what made you decide to become an actor? Where did you get your training? Did you have any teachers who profoundly influenced you?
Alex Mickiewicz: I was born in Worcester, MA, but I’d say that I grew up in southern Pennsylvania. When I was about four years old, my family left Massachusetts and moved to Littlestown, PA, a town that definitely lived up to its name. After a few years, we moved to the neighboring town of Hanover, and I stayed there until I graduated high school. I can credit my parents for my introduction into the world of acting. As a young kid, I attempted to follow in my brother’s footsteps and try my hand at every sport imaginable, but unlike him, I was terrible at all of them. Trust me, the irony is not lost in the fact that I now find myself playing a professional athlete. Aside from my lack of athletic promise, one thing my parents noticed was my knack for entertaining my teammates at all costs. So, when I was about six years old, they asked me if I’d like to attend open auditions for the local production of The Nutcracker. In the most cliché fashion, the rest is history. I landed the role of “child” or something, and even though I barely remember much from the experience, I do remember that I instantly fell in love with being onstage and the chaos backstage and the costumes and the sets and the rush of performing in front of an audience. I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. All the way through High School I performed in school productions, community theatre, and even some dinner theatre when I was really young, sitting backstage garnishing cocktails made by one of the actors serving double duty as a bartender during intermission. After High School, I went to Boston University, where I earned my BFA in Acting. After spending some time struggling in NYC, I decided to study at the William Esper Studio with Barbara Marchant. Barbara has been an amazing influence on me. Not only did she teach me so much of the technique I now use and helped me to develop a strong sense of discipline in my work, but she also helped rebuild my confidence as an actor.
TS: Why did you choose to do the role of Sergei in Anna Ziegler’s play The Last Match? What do you think the play is about?
AM: Every once in a while, you read a play or come across a character and think, “I have to play this.” When I first read The Last Match, Sergei was the character I immediately related to. Having never even played tennis, I still felt like I understood what Sergei was grappling with. Anna Ziegler wrote such a beautifully vivid and complicated character that I felt like I just immediately had a clear picture of who he was in my mind, and I was drawn to that. I love his temper and his sense of humor and also his sensitivity and pain. I also love how universal tennis can be. It’s the perfect vehicle for tackling huge life questions. For me, the play is about so much. It asks what we are willing to risk and sacrifice in the pursuit of being the best and what happens if “the best,” or rather the outcome of that pursuit, is not enough. It’s about the ways in which we grapple with our own mortality and race to find meaning in our lives before time runs out.
TS: What kind of preparation or research do you have to do before rehearsals begin in order to play this role?
AM: I’ve been reading a lot about tennis. Anything I can get my hands on: essays by David Foster Wallace, The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey, and biographies of professional tennis players (Open by Andre Agassi is a must-read for anyone), just to name a few. I also watch a lot of tennis. Luckily, it’s played year-round, so I can almost always find a match either online or on TV. When working on the Russian dialect, I spend a lot of time listening to recordings of authentic Russian accents, absorbing the sounds and rhythms, and I’ll also spend time meticulously going through my lines and breaking down each syllable and phonetic sound. I’m reading about Russian culture and looking at images from the area of Russia where Sergei comes from. Since the staging of the play can be physical at times, I’ve also been trying to stay in shape so that I can not only look like a tennis player, but also have the endurance for the physical demands of the play. I’ve taken some tennis lessons as well, so I work on my form and technique.
TS: How is this character relevant to you? I realize the rehearsal process hasn’t begun yet, but can you share some of your initial thoughts about who your character is with us? What do you find most challenging/exciting about this role?
AM: As an actor, I relate to a lot of Sergei’s experience in this play. Like Sergei, I decided what I wanted to do with my life at a very early age, and that decision came with a lot of consequences and sacrifices. Also like Sergei, I am often faced with periods of extreme self-doubt and self-sabotage. I wonder if I’ll ever reach a place in my career where I’m truly content, and, if not, why even bother? At the same time, this is all I’ve really known my whole life. Sergei is a naturally competitive person. He’ll stop at nothing to make it to #1. He puts so much pressure on himself to get there so that he can justify all the sacrifices and hard work, but he’s crippled by the fear that being #1 might not provide the justification he’s after and that all the work and sacrifice was for nothing. The most challenging part about playing Sergei is probably also one of the most exciting parts, and that is the physicality. I guess the second best thing to actually being a professional athlete is playing one onstage. I’m really trying my hardest not to look like an actor attempting to be an athlete.
TS: At this early stage in your work, how do you understand Sergei’s relationship to his girlfriend, Galina, and his idol/nemesis Tim?
AM: I love Galina and Sergei’s relationship. Due to their common Russian roots and history, they have a deep understanding of one another. Sergei finds that he can open up to Galina in ways that he hasn’t been able to open up to anyone else. In one way, she is the maternal comfort that has been missing in his life since the death of his parents. Likewise, Galina can open up to Sergei. Simply put, they see each other for who they truly are. Sergei’s relationship to Tim is complicated. Growing up idolizing Tim, Sergei is now faced with the opportunity to beat his idol. In a way, Tim is so much a part of Sergei’s identity (he is everything Sergei wants to be) that Sergei feels that if he defeats Tim, he defeats a part of himself. By exposing Tim’s mortality, Sergei is faced with his own.
TS: What do you look for from a director when working on a play?
AM: I look for a director to be collaborative. I would hate to enter a rehearsal process with a director who claims to already have the answers to everything. I hope that the rehearsal room is a place for open dialogue and somewhere we can feel safe to disagree. Every play has its own set of rules by which the characters exist. When working on a new play, it’s such an exciting experience to get to explore and establish those rules for the first time. This means trying out a lot of things and then deciding what works and what doesn’t work. Having worked with GT Upchurch before, I know that she has a brilliant eye for what works and is open to exploring many different options.
TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?
AM: I try to go see theatre and watch movies and TV, seeking out performances that make me want to be a better actor. My family and friends are a huge source of inspiration for me. Watching those close to me work hard and achieve great things makes me want to do the same. My mom works harder than anyone I’ve ever known. I draw on her for inspiration all the time. I think it’s important to know that inspiration can be found anywhere. My source of inspiration changes all the time. One day I’m feeling inspired by an article I read in the paper, and another day I’m inspired by a new band I’ve discovered.
TS: Public school students reading this interview will want to know what it takes to be a successful actor. What advice can you give young people who say they want to act?
AM: Some advice I would give is to be patient. If you really want to be an actor, that (hopefully) means you want a career as an actor, and building a career takes time and a lot of hard work. Also, try not to compare your career to others. Everyone has their own path. Just worry about yours.
The Last Match begins performances at The Laura Pels Theatre on September 28, 2017. For tickets and information, please visit our website.
2017-2018 Season, A Conversation with, The Last Match