Randy Harrison is winning a new generation of fans thanks to Netflix, which is streaming all five seasons of Queer As Folk, a television series that ran on Showtime from 2000 to 2005, in which Harrison co-starred as Justin Taylor. By the end of the series (spoiler alert, I guess), Justin is leaving for New York City to make a career in the arts, and that’s what Randy Harrison has done.
His latest role is in “Atomic,” which is running on Theater Row June 26 to August 16, a musical about the making of the atom bomb. The show focuses on the little known physicist Leo Szilard (portrayed by Broadway veteran Jeremy Kushnier) who was nevertheless central to the story of the bomb.
Harrison plays two characters – Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, which dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, and Edward Teller, who is known as the father of the hydrogen bomb. “I love playing such completely different characters.”
The show itself is illuminating of the Manhattan Project (the name given to the team of scientists that first produced the atom bomb) and the issues that are still with us. “It’s hard to come away with a black or white opinion about it all. So many scientists working on the bomb were Jewish scientists who wanted to stop the Nazis. And then (after the Nazis were defeated) many of them tried to stop the bomb.”
When Scott Lowell, who played Ted in “Queer As Folk,” makes his Broadway debut in the fall in a revival of The Elephant Man, he will be only the second cast member from the TV series to appear on the Great White Way. The first was Harrison, who debuted on Broadway ten years ago as Boq in Wicked, and has worked steadily in theater since. (He was in Silence the Musical and Harbor, among other Off-Broadway shows.)
Asked how the TV series made a difference in his and his colleagues’ careers one way or another, Harrison says, “I don’t think it hurt any our careers. It didn’t help as much as I thought it would. But I’m grateful for the job. If it happened now, it would be different. Gay subject matter is much more common now. People didn’t know what to do with me.”
It’s interesting to compare Harrison with Charlie Hunnam, who played the same character (albeit with a different name) in the UK (original) version of Queer as Folk; Hunnam has had an active screen career that included the starring role in the TV series “Sons of Anarchy.”
That’s not what Harrison ever wanted. “It was sort of a fluke that I was in television. I didn’t pursue a career in the movies. I wanted to do theater.”