His Texas roots and career beginnings as a broke thespian in New York have molded Michael Urie, the deliciously devious assistant Marc St. James on Ugly Betty (Thursdays, 8 pm/ET on ABC), into a down-to-earth guy off stage. TV Guide caught up with the actor as he adjusts to fame and fortune — by modestly, and finally, upgrading his pullout couch.
TV Guide: What do you and your character, Marc St. James, have in common?
Michael Urie: I love my job and he loves his job. But I'm not fashionable or mean. Marc and Amanda are pretty much Michael and Becki [Newton] — we're goofy like that.
TV Guide: In real life, you two are inseparable BFFs, right?
Michael: [Nods] We were meant to be friends, and we were kind of on the same career level when we started this show — we'd done some TV and commercials, but neither of us had ever walked down a red carpet. We hang out at each other's houses. For a charity event in August we dressed up as Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand and sang "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." We're funnier together than apart.
TV Guide: Marc will sort of be mentoring Justin, Betty's theater-loving nephew, this season. Were you anything like him as a kid?
Michael: I have an older sister who was very athletic. It was funny: The girl was really athletic and the boy [Urie] was into drama and music. My parents never pushed me in any direction. Like Justin, they sort of let me do whatever I wanted. So in the way that the Suarez family supports Justin's taste — you know, it's not Queens taste — my parents supported my "not Plano, Texas" taste.
TV Guide: What does a star of a big TV hit watch?
Michael: I'm totally a TV fanatic! I love Mad Men, Weeds, 30 Rock, 24. My parents and I would watch Seinfeld every night during dinner. And when I was a kid, I was a huge Who's the Boss? fan, and now Judith Light is on our show.
TV Guide: You're a classically trained Juilliard thespian. If Marc were a Shakespeare character, which one would he be?
Michael: He's a combination of Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night. Puck is mischievous and kind of fancy, and Aguecheek is scared of his own shadow.
TV Guide: Marc gets a love interest this season. Do you have time for a significant other?
Michael: I'm single and I have lots of friends, but I'm sort of married to the work. But I'm moving into a bigger apartment, so there might be room for a significant other at some point. Right now I'm in a tiny studio.
TV Guide: Whoa! You're a big TV star, but you've been living in one room?!
Michael: I live in a teeny, tiny studio with a pullout couch. Now I'm moving into a two-bedroom. I'm going to be Becki's neighbor!
TV Guide: And now that you're making a few bucks, what do you splurge on?
Michael: I just started to discover the wonderful restaurants of L.A. I never went out to eat — ever — because I didn't have money. When I lived in New York, I survived on $1,000 a month: My rent was $400, $60 for the subway and the rest for food. It's good that I never had money, because now I don't really spend it.
TV Guide: Did you ever dream about being famous?
Michael: I never thought I could be an actor, because I wasn't good-looking enough or talented enough or interesting enough. I wasn't going to go off and try to direct on Broadway or break into film. My goals were things that I knew were attainable: Stay in Texas and direct, or be a drama teacher.
TV Guide: What changed?
Michael: Teachers encouraged me. I competed in forensics, it's like speech and debate. Texas is insanely competitive — it's not just football that's Friday Night Lights, everything is Friday Night Lights. There's some way of winning everything in Texas. But I didn't care about winning. It was about getting to act all the time.
TV Guide: Is it freaky that people recognize you?
Michael: It's crazy! Last night at the grocery store was the first time anybody ever called my name: "Michael Urie!" People have said, "Hey Marc," or "Aren't you…?" but nobody has ever known my first and last name. Luckily I don't feel like when I get recognized people think, "Yuck, there's that guy." They like the show and are really nice about it.
See Michael Urie in our Online Video Guide's Ugly Betty clips.
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