Brian Cross ’12 will make his Broadway debut alongside Mary-Louise Parker in “The Snow Geese” Oct. 24, but only a few years ago, Cross was deeply entrenched in the theater community on campus and taking a range of roles — once even playing a pig for course credit.
“While directing and acting in ‘Pig Farm,’ Brian got down on his hands and knees. He was wearing something, maybe a diaper,” said Professor of Theater Arts and Performance Studies Lowry Marshall.
Talented and lovable as Marshall may have found him, substantive roles in the Big Apple are hard to come by. Since graduation, Cross has been pursuing theater in New York City while working at Squishable, a stuffed-animal company. He has landed small parts — including a line on the TV show “Unforgettable” — but nothing substantial enough to cover rent and ramen.
“It’s easy to get discouraged by the random nature of the profession,” Cross said. “You can go to one hundred auditions and not land a single role. I thought it was a reflection on me, but most things are totally out of your control. You could have an awesome audition, but you’re too short or don’t have black hair.”
After six weeks of auditions, he received the phone call he had been waiting for, he said, when he learned he would soon earn a living wage doing what he loves most, while brushing shoulders with Tony Award-winning director Daniel Sullivan and actress Mary-Louise Parker, who received an Emmy as the star of the hit TV show “Weeds.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with, especially off stage,” Cross said. “They are all very sweet, supportive and fun to watch.”
Cross is the youngest cast member, but he said this has not discouraged him. Instead, he has become as avid an observer as a performer. “I’m always watching what people are doing — it’s like a master class,” Cross said.
The play’s excellent script also drew Cross to the project, he said. “The Snow Geese,” a family drama, takes place in upstate New York during World War I. Cross plays Mary-Louise Parker’s 18-year-old son. He said he does not want to reveal too much about the character, but said “he’s young, very competent and much of a realist after the death of his father.”
Cross added that he bears some similarities to his character. “We’re both kind of stubborn and a bit of a bother,” Cross said. “The more you’re with a character, the more you realize you’re similar.”
Cross said he is excited to see the 622-seat Samuel J. Friedman Theater come alive on opening night, adding that the audience will be the largest he has ever acted in front of.
“An audience gives you feedback,” Cross said. “They laugh and cry, leave and cough, or their cell phones go off, and that adds a completely new element to everything.”
Cross’ success comes as no surprise to those who know him, according to those interviewed. During his time at the University, Cross sang in the Jabberwocks and acted in many productions, including “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,” which he worked on with Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies Kym Moore.
But Cross did not always plan to be a professional actor. An economics concentrator, “I assumed I would do something else. I did acting on the side with my friends,” he said. During his junior year, Cross was inspired by Moore’s introductory theater course to change his trajectory. “She taught me how to do something deeper,” Cross said.
“Brian has multilayered intelligence: intellectual, emotional and physical,” Moore wrote in an email to The Herald. “This makes him a force to be reckoned with on stage because it makes him almost omnipresent.”
Cross gave one of his limited complimentary opening night seats to Moore. He also thanks her in the program, Moore wrote.
“I’m moved nearly to tears and couldn’t be happier or prouder to have been his ‘teacher,’” she also wrote.