"My life is sort of dedicated to just being able to come into work and do it," Andrew Burnap says of The Inheritance

By Nigel Smith
December 18, 2019 10:45 AM

Andrew Burnap is leaving no stone unturned with his Broadway debut as Toby Darling in Matthew Lopez’s two-part drama, The Inheritance.

The Yale Drama grad is onstage for almost all of Lopez’s seven-hour opus, baring his soul (and his body) as a self-destructive yet endearing playwright with a troubling past he can’t let go.

Burnap, 28, originated the role in the original award-winning London production, which transposes E.M. Forster’s classic novel Howards End to 21st-century New York to tell the story of a group of gay men from various generations.

Below are excerpts from PEOPLE’s conversation with Burnap, where he discusses the arduous day-to-day of being a Broadway performer, and what’s most moved him about being in The Inheritance.

The Inheritance
| Credit: Marc Brenner

On the challenge of doing two plays, often back-to-back on the same day

I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten used to it, to tell you the truth. You certainly get trained in a way — you train your body to be able to do it, and your mind, and your soul, and your spirit, but each and every day is kind of a battle within myself to be able to do it.

I think because they require so much of you, so much of all of us, my life is sort of dedicated to just being able to come into work and do it, which is both really beautiful and also maddeningly frustrating because it feels a little bit like I can’t really live too much of a life outside of doing this play. But of course this play is one of the greatest gifts of my life, so I’m certainly not complaining.

The most difficult aspect of production

I would probably say the physical demands of it are the hardest part. Sometimes I’ll wake up on a two-show day and have a little bit of a panic attack knowing that I have to do the whole thing again. But I think that’s just my body sort of coming to terms, and my spirit coming to terms with the fact that, you know, I have to live a full life in one day again, or at least try to.

What he feels like at the end of a two-show day

You know how there’s a German word for everything? It feels like there’s not a word in the English language that exists that could possibly articulate fully what it feels like. But I imagine it feels a lot like when you finish a marathon. I’ve never run one, but I’ve played sports all my life, and sort of the physical exhaustion after a physical context is what it feels like. But also this sort of mental and spiritual exhaustion of putting yourself so vulnerably through something and trying your very best.

It’s both an exhaustion, but it’s also an elated feeling at the end. It feels like sort of this profound sense of I’ve lived life to the fullest today, which is, again, exhausting, but also exhilarating.

It’s a dream come true in every single way, and it’s also, on not so great days, it can branch off into a dream that turns into a nightmare in a way. But it always comes back to a profound sense of gratitude because you do it and you listen to the people who’ve come to see it and the effect that it had on them, and you say, “Well, screw any feelings that I had of exhaustion, I’m doing this for these people.”

The Inheritance
| Credit: Marc Brenner

How he cools down post-performance

I watch countless hours of The Office. Once I’m done doing that, I’ll light a candle, I will lay down in my bed. I’ll sort of put on maybe some Chet Baker stuff and just let my mind kind of relax a little bit, breathe. It’s a sort of meditation in a way, and eventually I’ll just doze off to sleep. If I can’t, a little CBD oil never hurts.

Most meaningful moments with audiences

The most incredible interactions I’ve had are with older gay men who lived through that time, and the stories that they tell me, tell us, the memories that they share with us… the messages of thanks for bringing someone back to them or bringing them back to a time. I mean, I get misty-eyed thinking about it. I’m consistently and constantly moved by people’s stories after the show and I hope that never ends.

The Inheritance is now playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. For tickets, visit the play’s website.