Will Harrison

Sweater by Erdem

Live from New York: Will Harrison

The question What if hovers over The Coast Starlight, Keith Bunin's new play now finishing its run at Lincoln Center Theater. "I remember early in the process, we had a version of the play that was nine pages long and was everything that actually happens, which is really not much," laughs Will Harrison, who plays the lead role of TJ, a combat medic mulling a fateful decision while riding the eponymous Amtrak up the Pacific Coast. The play is performed instead in the conditional tense, unraveling the missed connections, lost opportunities, and thwarted potential between six strangers who, by remaining strangers, fail to uncover the wondrous realm of possibilities between them. "It's been such a crazy experience to go home from that show every day and ride the subway, looking at every single person on those trains and imagining the whole life swirling around them," Harrison adds. "I hope that's what people are taking away from the show as they go out into the world, that they're realizing just how much everyone's going through."

A 2019 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, Harrison is making his New York stage debut with The Coast Starlight, leading a tight ensemble using little in the way of stagecraft besides six moveable chairs. Having spent most of the last few years focused on his role in the sprawling Amazon Prime Video miniseries Daisy Jones & The Six, he says he relished the opportunity to revisit live performance in such an intimate setting. "There are times when you're addressing the audience, there are times when you're in your own world, but it is a very raw show, which for me was a great way to return to it," he explains. "The theater affords you this opportunity to really be affected and changed by a story. Within the first two weeks, my brain was working in a different way and that is something that I don't think I've gotten from anything else. I keep coming back to doing theater because I feel really changed by it in a positive way."

Harrison recently relocated back to New York from Los Angeles, having moved out west in early 2020 to prepare for Daisy Jones, an immersive dive into the Seventies Laurel Canyon scene focused on a Fleetwood Mac-like band full of larger-than-life characters and interpersonal drama. His Graham, the lead guitarist and one of the ensemble's founders, finds himself overshadowed by his brother Billy, played by Sam Claflin, and Riley Keough's titular singer-songwriter. Just before filming was originally set to begin, production shut down because of the pandemic, giving the team an extra year to bring the characters to life. Harrison focused on practicing guitar and, when things picked up again, he says he was ready to fully inhabit a role to which he had grown quite attached. "I had done a couple auditions for other characters and when those sides finally came across the desk, it was very clear to me that this was the one that I should be going for," he recalls. "I really identified with his sensitivity and his sense of romance."

With these impressive debuts now under his belt, the 26-year-old is looking ahead to whatever may come his way. "There's nothing that I discount off the bat, it is all on the table for me right now," he says. Harrison will next be seen in the highly anticipated Apple TV+ series Manhunt, about the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination, as David Herold, an accomplice of John Wilkes Booth's, but he says the stage will always draw him back. "It's like going to the gym for acting, it really is," he laughs. "I'm sure it's been said before, but it just feels really good and I don't want to lose that muscle."

The Coast Starlight continues through Sunday at Lincoln Center Theater, New York. Daisy Jones & The Six is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Read this story and many more in print by ordering our sixth issue here.

As a nonprofit arts and culture publication dedicated to educating, inspiring, and uplifting creatives, Cero Magazine depends on your donations to create stories like these. Please support our work here.

Sweater by Erdem

Sweater by Erdem

Hair by Rebekah Calo. Makeup by Andrew Colvin at Saint Luke Artists. Photographer's assistants: Daniel van der Deen and Mae Stark. Stylist's assistant: Jane Bickford. Makeup artist's assistant: Zac Hart.

As a nonprofit arts and culture publication dedicated to educating, inspiring, and uplifting creatives, Cero Magazine depends on your donations to create stories like these. Please support our work here.