4. Dog Parks Anybody who knows me knows I’m completely obsessed with dogs. What’s pathetic is when I was shooting in Toronto and couldn’t bring the dogs, I found myself going to the dog park. This very sweet Canadian woman who I saw there every day came over to me and said, “Which one’s yours?” And I said: “Oh, I don’t have one. I just miss my dog. I’m away from home.” And she stepped away from me, like I was a pederast at an elementary school.
There are roles I’ve played that are combinations of dogs at a dog park. When I had to play Hubert Humphrey [in HBO’s “All the Way”], I realized he was a cross between a corgi and a boxer. I just find a fascinating display of characters at a dog park. It’s like walking into some four-legged mask class.
5. “Aretha’s Gold” My father’s mother was legally blind. She had a record player that came from the Library for the Blind, and I would borrow it. Before every high school performance I would put on “Aretha’s Gold” and lock myself in my room or the basement and turn it all the way up and jump around and sing. And that became a sort of a good-luck warm-up. So when I’m nervous, even to this day, I blast “Aretha’s Gold.”
6. ’92 Theater at Wesleyan University When I was at Wesleyan, it was the place where all the student-initiated productions happened, and it’s where I fell in love with acting. It was this joyous venue that had been a church. I just shot “Tick, Tick … Boom!” with Lin-Manuel Miranda, who felt the same. That’s where he started writing “In the Heights.” It’s just this magical place. When I saw “Hamilton” for the first time, I had no idea the kind of emotional response I was going to have, and I remember after the show I was crying. And I said to Lin, “You turn the theater into a church.” There’s something about the ’92 Theater and the freedom in that place — and how audacious you could be before you were trying to do this professionally — that is creatively nourishing.
7. Yo-Yo Ma His relationship with the Bach Prelude [of Cello Suite No. 1 in G major] is incredible to me. People always say of “The West Wing,” “Are there any moments that stick out?” And for many of us, it was the day Yo-Yo Ma came, and he was playing that piece, and he was the most generous, unpretentious human being. He came out into a room full of probably a hundred background artists, with his extraordinary cello, and he said: “Does anyone want to play this? Does anyone want to hold it?” He’s all about breaking down the lines of hierarchy and pretension in his classical music world.
That day, he was playing that piece and I’m supposed to be having this emotional breakdown. You’re shooting him first, and you have a recording of it, and then at some point you turn around and get to me. He technically doesn’t even need to be there, let alone play it. And take after take after take, he is playing it with his whole heart. It was just astonishing.