'Rent' Star Jordan Fisher Talks His Dreams Coming True With Fox's Live Musical

Jim Halterman
Q&A Fox

Ready for the "Seasons of Love" when Fox's live performance of Rent airs on January 27?

Jordan Fisher, best known for his turn in Broadway's Hamilton, Fox's 2016 live performance of Grease Live! and winning Dancing With the Stars in 2017, certainly is feeling ready and, on this early January day on the set on the Fox lot, he talks about what Rent means to him.

"I was probably younger than I should have been when I saw it for the first time, but it hit me," he says. "It struck a chord in a lot of ways."

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Fisher is playing the role of aspiring documentary filmmaker Mark Cohen in the production, based on the acclaimed and beloved Jonathan Larson musical, and in the following Q&A, he talks more about what the show means to him, the challenges of the huge stage and what he'll feel like the night of the live performance.

What was your experience with Rent before all this came about?

Jordan Fisher: It was the show that really was the genesis of my wanting to pursue this professionally. I got bit by the theater bug as a kid. A bunch of my friends who were older than me were all obsessed with this show, and I heard “Seasons of Love.” I was like, "Okay, I’ve got to see this show.”

[My character] Mark Cohen, this guy that is so community-oriented and family-oriented where his chosen family is concerned ... I relate to him in a lot of ways. I think that he's the father of all of his friends and the glue that holds everybody together but, is also very equally tortured by the fact that he is the only one that came from privilege.

He was born into that upstanding, good Jewish family that he could have had a very easy life and gotten a nice job after he graduated from NYU. To think he chose the life of a starving artist that wanted to do more and search for something even though he doesn't really know exactly what that is. It's definitely very evident that his community was what he wanted.

(l-r) Valentina, Brandon Victor Dixon and Jordan Fisher during rehearsals for Rent.

So the show has been with you a long time, right?

Fourteen years ago, I was at a dinner with a mentor of mine, and he said, "What is a very specific dream that you have in your life? A very specific pipe dream?" I said, "I want to be the first ethnic Mark Cohen on Broadway." And here we are. I've never done the show, but I've known it for forever.

How do you connect with Mark? He’s such a touchstone for the audience in the show.

Yeah, I would say throughout. There are a lot of moments in the show where you recognize that you have his POV and that is as an outsider looking in. It's exactly how he feels, like even in the midst of the thing.

Mark doesn't struggle with this disease that is at its peak right now. Basically if you had a friend that was gay, it was a grapeshot that they would be diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. To feel so as alone as he feels at times, he came from privilege and he doesn't have this illness. He's more tortured than what we have seen in different takes of Mark in the past, which is why I was so excited to take this role on.

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The set is huge and impressive, and you and your cast mates will be all over it.

Sometimes twice in one song. There is a lot, but it needs to be that way. I think that the Rentheads that are going to be in the pits and the people that are going to be sitting underneath and in the stands, they're going to be completely and entirely immersed in the culture of the show and the music and the story and be inches away from actors from time to time. That will help ignite the electricity that hopefully people will feel at home as well.

There are so many songs in the show. What was it like the first time you rehearsed “Seasons of Love?”

It was amazing. We're all fans of the show and we've all loved it for a very long time. A couple of people have done it before. Vanessa did it at the Hollywood Bowl. Brandon Victor Dixon did it off-Broadway. But again, we've all been massive fans of it for a very long time. But there was a cornucopia of feelings as you can imagine. We're doing this on a very big stage for the world to see.

How do you think the show and the story is relevant today?

I'd say that really good art always has windows and really good art that is calculated and means something will mean something every year to most people. There are so many points to be made especially in a show like this right now, especially. We need community. We need people. We need each other. We need to lean on each other and be together through whatever adversaries we're facing in sickness and in health. I think that this show does a great job of reminding people of that.

So let’s say it's the night of the show. Are you somebody who's incredibly nervous, or is the focus just there and you're just like, "Let's go!”

Excitement, really. That's the only word. I think I've only ever truly been nervous to perform one time in my life, and it was the night I went on Hamilton for the very first time. My mindset has always been there's really nothing to be nervous about if you're prepared, and we will be prepared because that's just always what happens regardless of the stress and the time that you put into it and the hours of rehearsal and having to change things the last minute.

It always works out. You have to relinquish all of your controlling type A things that most performers and creatives have. We have to just give that up and recognize that you're in the moment that you are for a reason and you're there because you're supposed to be and you're prepared. There's nothing to worry about. It's just a matter of doing it.

(Pamela Littky/Fox)

Rent, Sunday, January 27, 8/7c Live (tape-delayed PT), Fox