Visit our social channels!
March 21, 2017
Interview: Getting to Know ‘All the Fine Boys’ Leading Man Joe Tippett

Credit: Monique Carboni

Despite what he’ll claim later in this interview, people know who Joe Tippett is. He’s the guy who’s been memorably stealing the scene by playing jocks-next-door, sensitive soldiers, and gentle creeps in shows like Airline Highway, Familiar and Indian Summer. He may not be as famous as some of his co-stars, but he’s certainly just as unforgettable. In Erica Schmidt’s All the Fine Boys, he takes on his darkest part yet as Joe, a churchgoer who sets his eye on fourteen-year-old Jenny (Abigail Breslin) who is desperate to “lose it” to someone who’s not one of the jerks at her school. After inviting her over for movies and pizza, things get real messy as Joe, despite his better judgment, has intercourse with the young girl setting up a disturbing, oft heartbreaking tale about consent, maturity and how a seemingly innocuous choice can lead to tragedy.

When I meet Tippett to talk about his work in the play he’s recovering from a cold and talks louder when his ears become clogged. Judging from the energy and focus of his performance just a few days prior, it’s unbelievable to think that he was able to go through the play while ill. Acting seems to come easy to Tippett, whose mug should appear next to the terms “laid back” and “easygoing”, when he’s not on stage he has the same down to earth charm that makes even his douchiest of characters impossible not to root for, and it comes off slightly shocking to hear him say he needs to get ready for “fight call” with Abigail Breslin. Despite his imposing physique, Tippett doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would hurt anyone, and yet, I had seen him a few days before unleash a beastly, terrifying side onstage, as Joe forces himself on Jenny.

Tippett’s sincerity makes him all the more surprising to watch onstage, because he can easily transform without recurring to extreme makeup, or physical changes. He’s the perfect combination of someone with leading man looks, and character actor skills. When his ear pops, he exclaims it feels “glorious”, and for a moment it feels as if he’s quoting a Noël Coward hero, but then he reminds himself he’s late for fight call and asks me to walk with him towards the part of the theater that’s off limits for most of us. If people don’t know who Joe Tippett is just yet, it won’t be long before they do.

There are moments in the shows you’ve done that seem quite surreal. In All the Fine Boys we have that fight scene between you and Abigail Breslin, in Familiar you use your body to warm up a character suffering from hypothermia…

You mean moments when I’m topless chest to chest with a beautiful young woman.

Haha, yes, but I mean surreal in terms of the images on stage.

(Laughs) I got to sing with John Mellencamp’s backup band at the Ryman and that was very surreal. That whole experience was insane. Do you know the play Ghost Brothers of Darkland County?

I don’t.

It’s a play that Stephen King wrote, John Mellencamp wrote music for it, T. Bone Burnett was the musical director, and they did a production of it at the Alliance and I was decimated by it. I auditioned for that but Justin Guarini beat me to it, I was the runner up to the runner up which was great for my ego. They reimagined the play as this sort of A Prairie Home Companion on drugs, it was a radioplay presentation. I had just finished Lucy Thurber’s The Hilltown Plays at the Rattlestick, got on a plane the next day to Bloomington, Indiana and was in John Mellencamp’s studio for a table read. The play is really convoluted so I hadn’t read it because every time I had tried I found myself going “what the fuck is this?” cause it bounces back and forth in time. We had six days to learn this thing, well, everybody else kinda knew it, I had six days to memorize it, and then we did it in front of 3500 people at the University of Indiana, and then we did this tour. So I got to sing at the Ryman, which has these gorgeous windows, and that was a pretty surreal moment...beyond fighting Abigail Breslin.

I saw a video of you playing the harmonica and a guitar, and now I know you can sing since you also were in Waitress at A.R.T. where it premiered.

Well, I always tell people I can sing, but I don’t know how to sing, I don’t read music. I can sing OK, I usd to be like gimme a bottle of whiskey and a campfire and I’ll sing, but I don’t drink no more so I probably can’t sing as well.

Joe Tippett en route to fight call for 'All the Fine Boys'. Credit: Jose Solis

Your character in All the Fine Boys is called Joe and assuming that you have nothing else in common with him…

I love Hall & Oates as well!

...besides that then, how do you approach playing a character whose moral center is so far from your own?

I think Joe is a nice guy, he’s an ostensibly decent human being, whose life hasn’t turned out the way he wanted to, and he needs something to break it all up and he starts to justify, so he makes little bad decisions. The treadmill starts to run faster and faster, and he can’t stop it. But I don’t think it’s serial behavior, this is probably the first time he’s done something like this. He even tells Jenny at one point that she doesn’t get it, and perhaps if he’d had that conversation with someone else the play wouldn’t happen. I talk to Erica about this a lot, how all people can be capable of good and bad. We look at life as if it’s all binary and only bad people make bad decisions, rather than starting from the bad decision and trace it back. Accountability is important obviously, but judgment about this stuff is where we all run aground, and where we see why our criminal justice punitive. I’m getting very tangential here, right?

No, this is interesting.

Other than the rape in the play, I think I’m doing an impersonation of my father. My dad is a refined guy, he’s a fire chief and he was at the Pentagon on 9/11, he’s helped deliver babies. He’s the kind of people one thanks God for existing, so people like me can dress up and fight Abigail Breslin onstage.

I love a scene in the play where the girls are talking about sex and they clearly have no idea what they’re talking about, one of them refers to cum as “cume”...

That was a change we made.

This play makes it so obvious that sexual education is so important and yet we see how little the educational system seems to care about it.

We all go through that, I agree we supress that education and everything happens word of mouth. Rather than having the agency to act upon these things, we are pushed by the structure of adolescence without the right tools. We’re setting kids back because their biology is beyond their maturity. Their body is telling them things they don’t understand. Erica has a really good ear and she captures them at this pocket where your body is a little bit beyond your brain, right at the cusp of getting to high school where you start getting a little bit more freedom. They’re at this limbo where they can’t play with toys anymore.

Credit: Monique Carboni

Given how insane the world is right now, are you more drawn to shows that contribute something or have a larger purpose than to entertain?

I wish that I had that agency. I’m at a place where I’ll take whatever job they’ll give me. No one really knows who the fuck I am, so I’ll take whatever job I can get when I get them. I’ve been fortunate to work on some great, timely plays, but you really don’t know how things will resonate. I wonder how people would react if Airline Highway got done now for instance, would it resonate more? It was about the same group of Americans who voted for Donald Trump for no other reason than to say “fuck you!”, even against their own interests. Between that and Familiar and All the Fine Boys I’ve lucked out, I’m glad these plays called for an affable douchebag.

Almost every play I’ve seen you in was written by a woman. Are there any other female playwrights whose work you’re dying to tackle?

Jen Silverman is a phenomenal playwright, we were at the O’Neill Festival together in a barn drinking bourbon and I played her some tunes on my guitar, and three days later she came back with 80 pages. I’m crazy about her! Rachel Bonds is great too, I was offered Sundown, Yellow Moon but I wanted to do something darker, it would have still had me opposite a younger girl (laughs)

There wasn’t a lot of material written about you, so let me ask you something very basic: why did you want to act?

I don’t know man, I used to play sports, I had an English teacher in high school who taught drama - I actually just shot a pilot about something similar - and she turned me onto it. I could’ve gone to college on an athletic scholarship, but I’d started dabbling in theatre and became interested in that. I came home once, flipped the TV on while drunk, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was on, right at the “bergin speech”, I watched that and decided that’s what I wanted to do. I auditioned for a scholarship to West Virginia University, I didn’t finish, I worked at Williamstown and I don’t know, I’m not great with my day to day stuff, things make more sense to me when you’re in the dark and someone’s telling you what to say.

So then if you were a better singer what musical would you like to do?

I don’t know much about musicals really, I don’t think I have a strong enough voice. I was in Bull Durham and Hack Arnold, the guy I was playing, used to have this full song, this traditional Broadway song and I was like “this motherfucker’s in Wicked and Legally Blonde, why am I singing this song?”, I was kinda terrible at it, so they rewrote the part so all the guys who knew how to sing would sing about me. I loved doing Waitress, I thought that was going to be a thing for a while, but who knows what happened there.

In All the Fine Boys the characters watch a lot of movies on VHS. What was the one movie you wore out on tape?

I had a huge, huge VHS collection, The Godfather, Taxi Driver you name it. That’s where I learned how to act, emulating those people.

Brando’s a good one to emulate.

Yeah man, On the Waterfront! All those tapes are probably at my mom’s house somewhere, I had Apocalypse’s kinda shitty that it’s all digital now, cause it’s nice to have a library of the thing. When I was in college I didn’t have cable, so I plowed through this gigantic VHS was great!

For more information and tickets to All the Fine Boys click here.

Share this post to Social Media
Written by: Jose Solis
More articles by this author:

Other Interesting Posts


Or instantly Log In with Facebook