Andy Karl: 'Groundhog Day' Seven Days A Week

May 12, 2017
Originally published on August 11, 2017 10:31 am

Two-time Tony nominee Andy Karl is no stranger to the movie-turned-Broadway musical. His very first Broadway performance was in Saturday Night Fever, where he met his wife Orfeh; they both performed in Legally Blonde: The Musical (for which she received a Tony nomination); and he was nominated for his first Tony for playing Rocky Balboa in Rocky the Musical. So when he heard about the plans to adapt Groundhog Day, the classic comedy about grumpy weatherman Phil Connors who is stuck in Punxsutawney, Philadelphia, living the same day over and over for years and years, what was his first thought? "Run for the hills," he joked to host Ophira Eisenberg. "It's good if you do it right," he continued in all honesty. According to Karl, to create a successful adaptation "you have to deconstruct the movie in order to put it back together again as a musical. Groundhog Day does that in spades. It's an amazing work of art." The quality and care with which the show was crafted drew him to get involved. "Once I read the script, and how they were gonna do that, that's when I was like, 'I have to do this show!' and I auditioned my butt off."

So how does he approach playing these well-known roles? For Rocky, he ended up playing a caricature of Sylvester Stallone's singular performance. "Because, yo, if you don't do it like this, and you don't roll your shoulders," he told Eisenberg in a consumate impression, "it's synonymous with the movie and that type of character needs to be portrayed." But to play the iconic Phil Connors, a role originated by Bill Murray, he had to find a way to make the role more of his own. He asked himself, "What's the jerk inside of me...I've gotta find out how I can be really sardonic and crappy to people in the beginning of the show, all with, like, this weatherman smile. And then how do you evolve into the sort of found person at the end of the show? And so it became really personal."

In honor of his role, we quizzed Karl on celebrities who got their start as weather forecasters.


Andy Karl on the lessons in Groundhog Day

[Rita] says, looking at the day differently, 'you're actually the lucky one. You get to relive the same day and you get to do whatever you want with it.' And that's what's so profound about this show...[Phil] begins to understand that life goes really profound ideas that still give me chills still now when I think about it.

Andy Karl on tearing his ACL 72 hours before opening night

I was doing something I do a million times in the show. I run from stage right to stage left full speed, leapfrog over somebody, catch a girl in my arms, and save a cat falling from the sky. Simple stuff, right? So the leapfrog took me down. My ACL tore completely.

Heard on Andy Karl: 'Groundhog Day' Seven Days A Week

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CECIL BALDWIN: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm puzzle guru Cecil Baldwin with guest musician Julian Velard. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Cecil. Before the break, our contestant Jen won her way to the final round at the end of the show. We'll find out a little later who she will face off against. But first, it's time to welcome our special guest. He stars as weatherman Phil Connors in the Broadway musical adaptation of "Groundhog Day." Please welcome Andy Karl.


ANDY KARL: Hello. It's so nice to be here. Thank you for having me here.


KARL: Of course. Thank you.

EISENBERG: Now, I understand that you sort of owe your Broadway career to your mother.

KARL: Oh, who doesn't?


EISENBERG: But you were kind of a bad kid, huh?

KARL: Well, yeah. Oh, God. My mother always had - she would - she played music for her - for the church. She had - she was an organ player...

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah?

KARL: ...Which is a really intricate instrument. So I got to give credit to my mother for, like, being an incredible musician that way. But we did have a piano in the house, "Jesus Christ Superstar" album in the house, "Tommy." It was always lingering in my head, all these musical theater moments. But it wasn't until I was in high school and I got caught smoking in the boy's room...


KARL: ...By the assistant principal.


KARL: Which was, like, the scariest, awful thing.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

KARL: Even if you're trying to be cool. And it was, like, one of those times where it's the first time someone just handed me a cigarette. I was, like, one puff, didn't even get, like, a good drag. Boom - assistant principal comes in, and I get suspended for, like, a week.


KARL: No mother wants to hear this. Her idea was to put me in a musical theater show, have me audition for the local dinner theater.

EISENBERG: Yeah, 'cause other actors will be good influences.

KARL: Yeah.


KARL: At the time, they were.

EISENBERG: They were.

KARL: I mean, when you're 16 and you're in musical theater, you're just, like, the bright, starry world of performing.

EISENBERG: It was dinner theater - yeah?

KARL: And it was dinner theater. Yeah, so you get a meal after. So that was always a plus.

EISENBERG: So you fall in love with musical theater. You cut your teeth doing dinner theater, regional theater. And then you land your first Broadway show.

KARL: Yeah.

EISENBERG: "Saturday Night Fever."

KARL: "Saturday Night Fever." Oh, my gosh. Yeah.

EISENBERG: What was your role?

KARL: I came in as Joey, one of the friends of Tony Manero. But I also played Tony Manero on the matinees as well. So it was like - I always go - yo, would you watch the hair? You know, I work a long time on the hair, and you hit it - Mr. Carter.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).


KARL: So that was my introduction into movies being transported into musicals.

EISENBERG: Well, yeah, because...

KARL: So it started there, and it's ending there.

EISENBERG: Right because let's see. You have done - you starred in "Rocky The Musical," which you also received a Tony nomination for.

KARL: (Imitating Rocky) Yeah, that was really a great show. We had a good time.

EISENBERG: "Legally Blonde" - you were in "Legally Blonde."

KARL: "Legally Blonde" - with my wife.

EISENBERG: So when you hear "Groundhog Day" - the musical - what is the first thought that goes through your mind?

KARL: Run for the hills. Do not do this.


KARL: Do not do this.


KARL: No. It's - what's interesting is that there are so many movies that are made into musicals, and that seems to be the status quo these days. And it's good if you do it right - because basically, you have to deconstruct the movie in order to put it back together again as a musical. "Groundhog Day" does that in spades. It's an amazing work of art. And so once I read the script and how they were going to do that, that's when I was like, I have to do this show. And I auditioned my butt off to get it.

EISENBERG: Did you bring the dark sensibility of Phil Connors specifically, or was that the script that you were given? Because it is sort of - there's a darkness to it.

KARL: Yes. Second act goes a little dark, but - which is wonderful.


KARL: Because you kind of have - like, if you're living the same day over and over and over and over and over again for, like, years - 40 years - I mean, during that time, you just want to - you want to end it all. You can't take it anymore because you're not looking at it the way you should be looking at it.

So the option is to, like, just take yourself out of it. And when you can't and you keep waking up the next day, how do you handle that? So yes, it is a dark concept that seems like it should go there. And we do. And - but it's still damn funny the whole time.

EISENBERG: So funny. Now Phil Connors in "Groundhog Day" uses the fact that he has this repetitive life to eventually do good. And he masters the piano, for example. Have you thought of if you had the opportunity to relive the day over and over again what you would master?

KARL: That sounds like a really good idea.


KARL: Learning the piano. It's a good choice. But that's only because he gets the idea from Rita. And really, that's, like - that was one of the things she says looking at the day differently. You're actually the lucky one. You get to relive the same day, and you can do whatever you want with it. And that's what's so profound about this show is that, you know, in part of it, he does.

He learns the piano. He tries to actually revive somebody to live every day. He tries to save people. Through that, Phil begins to understand that, you know, life moves on, and death is a part of life and to be happy about it - so really profound ideas that give me chills still now thinking about it because it's just - I love what they've done with the show. And it's an honor to perform it.

EISENBERG: "Groundhog Day" - it's a top movie for me. But I have friends - this is their No. 1 favorite movie. And Bill Murray, obviously an iconic comedic actor.

KARL: Yeah.

EISENBERG: When you are preparing for this role, do you go, I am not revisiting that movie, or are you gaining little bits, paying homage to it in any sort of way to that character?

KARL: It all kind of depends on the project. Something with - like, Rocky was so iconic in how he spoke and how he carried himself that I sort of took on the caricature of Stallone's character (imitating Sylvester Stallone's Rocky) because if you don't like - yo, how you doing? - if you don't do this and you don't roll your shoulders and, you know, and, you know, box - this is how I work, you know? I got to be - I got be Stallone. I got to be Rocky, you know.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

KARL: It was one of those...


KARL: ...Still got it. It was one of those things where it's synonymous with the movie. And that type of character needs to be portrayed. But I felt like this was - there was a little - the parameters were a little bit bigger. I had to find out like, what's that jerk inside of me that's - you know, I've got to find, you know, how I can be really sardonic and crappy to people in the beginning of the show all with, like, this weatherman smile. And then, how do you evolve into the sort of found person at the end of the show? And so it became really personal.

EISENBERG: I made a joke that living the Broadway dream is performing the same show over and over and over again, night after night after night. But you suffered an injury.

KARL: I did. I suffered an injury 72 hours before our opening night, which really sucked. I was doing something that I had to do a million times in the show. I'd run from stage right to stage left full speed, leapfrog over somebody, catch a girl in my arms and then save a cat falling from the sky.


KARL: Simple stuff, right?


KARL: So the leapfrog took me down. My ACL tore completely.


KARL: Boom, I hit the floor. And 72 hours later, I was in the hospital feeling completely sad for myself, realizing that it was all over. I couldn't do it. Then my wife, Orfeh - she's like, you're doing opening night. Are you going to sit there on the couch and watch your opening night pass you by? And I was like, no, not on my time.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

KARL: All right, physical therapy - physical therapy, you go to the doctor, see what he can do. Well, I don't know how we got walking in 72 hours. But I was onstage. And there was such love from the audience on that night. I have never felt anything more powerful in my life, in theater especially, for a group of people to be in the same place pushing you forward. And I acted my face off...


KARL: ...Because I didn't want them looking at my leg.


EISENBERG: Andy Karl, are you ready for your ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?

KARL: Sure.




EISENBERG: Come on. These questions are all about famous people who, at some point in their lives, worked as weather forecasters on television or radio. Just tell me which celebrities I'm talking about. And if you get enough right, our listener Simone Story (ph) from New Zealand will win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube if we can afford the stamps.


EISENBERG: Let's go to your first question. This retired late-night talk-show host got his start as a weatherman in Indianapolis, where he would occasionally give weather reports for cities that didn't exist. And he congratulated a tropical storm for getting upgraded to a hurricane.

KARL: I'm going to say - I'm guessing - David Letterman.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's right.



EISENBERG: Yeah, he was a weatherman.

KARL: Somehow, in the back of my mind, I knew that.


EISENBERG: Born Jo-Raquel Tejada, this 1960s actress and legendary sex symbol had an early job as a weather forecaster.

KARL: Raquel Welch.


KARL: I heard Raquel.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's correct. That's right.

KARL: Raquel Welch, yes?

EISENBERG: Yeah. That's right.

KARL: I heard Raquel.

EISENBERG: That's right. Yeah, clap it up for that. You're right.


KARL: Raquel - Raquel Welch.

EISENBERG: Raquel Welch - she was at KFMB in San Diego doing the weather.

KARL: Way to go, you know?

EISENBERG: Yeah, she's...

KARL: There's a future for all of us.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) This is a fun one. After this director became famous for "Mulholland Drive" and "Twin Peaks," he filed daily weather reports for an indie radio station in Los Angeles. Let's take a listen.


DAVID LYNCH: Good morning. It's March 12, 2009, and it's a Thursday. Here in LA, mostly blues skies, some white clouds floating by, muted golden sunshine, very still, 52 degrees Fahrenheit, 11 Celsius.


KARL: I'm still thinking.


EISENBERG: "Twin Peaks."

KARL: Is it David Lynch?

EISENBERG: That's David Lynch.


KARL: Oh, my God. I don't know where - I don't know where that came from.

EISENBERG: This comedian was the weathergirl for her college radio station in Ann Arbor, Mich., before she dropped out to follow her boyfriend to Canada. She later joined The Second City comedy troupe and became one of the original cast members of "Saturday Night Live."

KARL: Original, oh...

EISENBERG: Do you want a hint?

KARL: Yes.

BALDWIN: And she was most famous for her character Roseanne Roseannadanna.

KARL: That's - of course, the names are - it's there on the tip of my tongue. Please, just say it. I lose.


KARL: Gilda Radner.


JULIAN VELARD: There you go, yeah.


KARL: See how the brain works?

EISENBERG: I knew it was right.

KARL: If I just, you know, keep talking, the (unintelligible) eventually happen.

EISENBERG: OK, here's your last clue. In 2014, this "Today Show" anchor, who still reports the weather, set a Guinness World Record for the longest uninterrupted live television weather report when he gave the weather for 34 straight hours?

KARL: What idiot would do that?


KARL: Is it Al Roker?




KARL: That's the only, like, famous one I thought.

EISENBERG: Yeah. He's into records because he also did a weather report in all 50 states in a little over seven days. Like he's...

KARL: That's some accomplishments, yeah. It's like - I mean, look, if you're going to be a meteorologist, you know, make a stake, make a claim.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Exactly. Puzzle guru Cecil Baldwin, how did Andy Karl do?

BALDWIN: Congratulations, Andy. You and Simone Story from New Zealand both win ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes.


EISENBERG: Congratulations, Andy. Andy Karl stars as Phil Connors...

KARL: Thank you.

EISENBERG: ...In the musical "Groundhog Day." One more time for Andy Karl Carl everybody.


SONNY AND CHER: (Singing) Babe, I got you, babe. I got you, babe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.