Back in 2007, I was lucky enough to be George Salazar's waltzing partner in a production of La Traviata at the University of Florida. He a musical theater student, I a voice performance major—it felt like we were from two different worlds. Acting and movement were still very new to me. I hadn't quite grasped at the time the importance of levity and flow in performing; I was a rigid, park-and-bark opera singer still learning to own my body, and I certainly wasn't a dancer.
But George—well, his levity and bigger-than-life personality entered a room before he did. While I was taking myself far too seriously trying to get my "one-two-three, one-two-three" down pat, he was busy concocting random strings of profanities to whisper in my ear, with the sole intention of making me laugh. It worked. My two left feet quickly found their rhythm and my furrowed brow quickly succumbed to pain in my side. Apparently laughter helps me dance.
As a child George wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but he'd grow up to operate on people's brains in other ways, getting inside characters' heads and penetrating the minds of a captivated audience. He considers himself a class clown, but I also wonder if he could tell I needed to lighten up, aimed to get into my head and rewire things. It would be a while before I learned to truly own my body while performing, but I consider those rehearsals with George (and many other of his talented musical theater counterparts) as the impetus for it.
A couple years ago, I glanced up from folding laundry to see George performing in Godspell on David Letterman. I pulled a "I know that guy!" before thinking to myself, "Of course." How could I be surprised?
George's career as a New York City-based professional actor, singer, and musician is quite impressive. In reverse chronological order: He originated the role of Michael Mell in Be More Chill (Two River Theater; dir. Stephen Brackett). His performance in off-Broadway's The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical (dir. Stephen Brackett) got him a Drama Desk nomination. He performed off-Broadway in Keen Company's Drama Desk-nominated revival of tick, tick... BOOM! (dir. Jonathan Silverstein) and in David Byrne and Fatboy Slim's hit Off-Broadway immersive musical, Here Lies Love (Public Theater; dir. Alex Timbers).
I tried listing all of his credits in this intro, but it was too overwhelming. You can visit his website for more. It's safe to say, he's been wildly successful portraying a host of roles and telling their stories. Here is his.
Name: George Salazar
Hometown: Kissimmee, Florida
Current city: New York, New York
Daydream: To travel the world doing what I love to do.
Reality: Actor based primarily out of NYC | thegeorgesalazar.com
Go-to coffee order:
Venti iced coffee; black
Famous person you'd have coffee with:
The world is ending. Your last meal is:
Buckets of Ramen
Currently on your playlist:
Chance the Rapper
Favorite fictional character:
Frank Reynolds from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Who you look up to:
Favorite brands/artists/Instagram accounts to follow (spur-of-the-moment and random, go!):
Supreme, Nike, Adidas, Instagram accounts of tattoo artists
How you spend your free time:
Watching Netflix with friends
I would love to do movies!
What you wanted to be when you grew up:
A neurosurgeon! My mother is a nurse, my older sister is a dentist, and my younger sister is an occupational therapist. The extended family is full of doctors and nurses; growing up around people who love helping strangers was incredibly inspiring. I was so taken by the complexity of the human brain and thought that the line of work for a neurosurgeon was the right amount of challenge and reward for me.
Have you ever considered yourself a daydreamer?
Yes. I’m a Pisces!
Worst bullying or insult, in child- or adulthood:
Many times being called a faggot by other classmates.
When did you first realize you had a dream of becoming an actor?
It was definitely my junior year of high school when I was pressured by some friends to audition for Little Shop of Horrors. I had never done theatre or performed at all, outside of making friends laugh and being a class clown. They cast me as Seymour, and I’ll never forget that first performance in front of an audience. I was weirdly not-at-all nervous and loved the thrill of being on stage. That’s definitely when it was clear that this was something I could get used to.
Most painful limiting belief:
That someone who looked like me would never be successful in this business.
Moment you realized you couldn’t bear ignoring the dream any longer:
About two years into living in New York, I decided I couldn’t let my fear of never succeeding get in my way. I am the master of my own fate. I just had to be ready to put the gloves on and fight.
What made you decide to pursue it professionally?
No one else was going to do it for me. I had to take ownership of my own career. I did a lot of soul-searching. I worked on my confidence, I made myself get out of my apartment and meet new people, I did nice things for my friends. So much of that philosophy revolved around being a reliable and good person. There are thousands of talented people in the city and I decided that I didn’t want to rely on my talent alone. I wanted people to know who I am—as a friend, as a collaborator, as a human.
What obstacles arose on your path?
Constant rejection as an actor, and constantly feeling like the odd guy out. I think the toughest experience of my life was six months into living in NYC after graduating college. I was auditioning a ton and getting callbacks, but nothing was sticking. I felt lost, confused, stressed, and impatient, and I was ready to move back home to Florida where the pace was less demanding.
Who’s helped you along the way?
Artists who enjoyed collaborating with me and who lifted me up and reminded me of my worth. (In reference to that rough six months, above:) A friend overheard me talking about wanting to throw the towel in and gave me a reality check I’ll always be grateful for. He just kept telling me that I was special and that eventually things would start happening for me. I’m so glad he did because if he hadn’t, I might’ve left this city and self-sabotaged.
What do you love about being an actor?
Everything, but primarily knowing that I’m helping someone escape a bad day even for just two and a half hours.
Favorite audition piece and/or monologue:
I love singing pop songs for auditions! My go to is Jason Mraz's A Beautiful Mess. It’s charming, it’s high, and it lets me show who I am.
What's been your favorite role to play, and why?
My favorite role is Michael Mell in Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz’s Be More Chill. It was the first time I was trusted by a creative team to play a pivotal and dynamic role. I had done several shows prior to that where I stuck to strictly comedic work, and with Michael, I got to do comedy but also do some dark and dramatic work. It made me a better artist because it pushed me outside my comfort zone and taught me how to be vulnerable on stage.
I enjoy working on new musicals—developing ideas from a stack of pages to a full love story on stage—so in that regard, I think my bucket list roles haven’t really been written yet. It’s nice to move forward blindly. It’s also a little terrifying, but mostly thrilling and incredibly rewarding.
Other performers you aspire to be like?
My holy trinity are Raul Julia, Norbert Leo Butz, and Danny DeVito. Those three have done work so dynamic and so varied. I want to look back at my career and see a million shades and colors.
Advice for others with a similar dream:
Never give up, and make yourself the priority. If there’s anything that you’re good at or love to do, you should just continue doing it. This business is impossible at times and you really have to be ready to commit to being an actor. You have to make financial sacrifices all the time, you have to make sacrifices in personal relationships—it’s really a terrifying world. But if you're sure this is what you want and there’s nothing else in the world you want to do, you should take as many classes as possible, watch as many shows as possible and learn from them, and be ready to commit. As an artist, you are always a student, learning from every experience. It’s not just a job; it really is a way of life.
What daydream is on deck?
Owning homes. And putting my family in those homes.