‘Graceland’s’ Daniel Sunjata On His Gay Athlete Role On Broadway: “I miss ‘Take Me Out’”

by | April 11, 2014 at 7:47 AM | Black Entertainment, Graceland, Law Order SVU, LGBT, Sex and the City

Daniel Sunjata in 'Take Me Out'

The world is changing as we’re now seeing more and more athletes coming out of the closet where they’ve been for so long.

But, as with changes both big and subtle, you can look back and see that someone saw this day coming and such is the case of the 2002 play “Take Me Out.” Written by playwright Richard Greenberg, the play looked at what would happen if a baseball player came out as gay and received critical acclaim and even won the Tony Award in 2003 for Best Play, a Best Performance by a Featured Actor In A Play to Denis O’Hare and Best Direction to Joe Mantello. Also nominated in the Featured Actor category was the star of the play, Daniel Sunjata.

Along with the play’s success, Sunjata was already making a name for himself in television and film with notable roles on “Sex And The Cityand “Law & Order: SVU” as well as the long-running series “Rescue Me” and films like “The Devil Wears Prada” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Currently, the actor is starring as Paul Briggs on the hit USA crime drama, “Graceland,” the series about a group of FBI agents who regularly go undercover and follows how the intense job affects their professional and professional lives while also living under one roof. The series also stars Aaron Tveit, who is also known for his work on Broadway in musicals like “Next To Normal” and “Catch Me If You Can.”

I was on the “Graceland” set in Florida yesterday and asked Sunjata about his “Take Me Out” days and how that show helped build the career he has today.

“Richard Greenberg’s a genius,” Sunjata said. “He had his finger on the pulse ten years ago and ten years later it starts to actually happen!” But just as gay athletes are cautiously coming out, as an actor how was it for him to take on a gay role when they weren’t as plentiful as they are today? “I guess, if anything, the only trepidation I had about it is not wanting to then every single time somebody calls my agent or manager they’d want me to play a gay character. As an actor you want to be able to stay as widely castable and in as many diverse ways as possible so that was one tiny concern but beyond that I was kinda scared of it.”

One of the recollections of the play is that there is male nudity in the show since some of the action takes place in a men’s locker room. “I was like ‘Wow! Naked on stage, blah blah…’ I read the script and it wasn’t gratuitous nudity for anyone who saw the play. It was nudity that was totally justified by what the play was about and what the thematic underpinnings were and it wasn’t the kind of situation like in a Greek tragedy where all the murder and violence and mayhem and chaos happens off stage. You had to show it.” He added, “You had to show how the sudden introduction of a homoerotic presence changes the vibration of a locker room where before it was not on the radar. Out of a two hour and forty minute play there’s probably 10 minutes of nudity so I thought people made a much bigger deal of it probably because you don’t see full frontal male nudity in theater but you see women’s breasts and behinds all the time so in that respect I think it was good, too.”

Aaron Tveit and Sunjata in USA's 'Graceland'

Sunjata has nothing but fond memories of the time in the show, which he did both on the West End and on Broadway. “To this day, it’s probably the single most impactful artistic experience of my professional career still thus far. The play, Richard Greenberg came within a hair’s breathe of winning the Pulitzer that year for Take Me Out so it was a play where every night you had to be like, ‘can I get myself and my skills up to the task of delivering in the telling of this story’ as opposed to ‘can I take this shitty script and make it sound at all like real life, you know what I mean?’ That’s much better to be on that end of it.”

While he admitted that he didn’t know if he’d want to do a play for two years again, he stated, “I don’t know that I’ll ever see a play as good as ‘Take Me Out’…a lot of actors don’t get many opportunities to do that in their career so I still value that very much. but it wasn’t just ‘Take Me Out’ it was ‘Take Me Out,’ it was the fact that I booked a single episode of ‘Sex and the City’ around that same time and then I had already been recurring on ‘Law & Order,’ which re-airs and re-airs and so the casting community and the fans and people in the business all of a sudden they feel like, ‘Oh, I’m seeing this guy everywhere’ and it kind of builds heat which you then use to get more jobs. That was awesome. I miss ‘Take Me Out.’”

“Graceland” returns for its second season this June on the USA Network. 

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.