Michael Urie, who is best known for his starring role on Ugly Betty, had a breakout performance in WTC View, a new film about life in New York City after 9/11 that still resonates with film fans today.

Michael Urie On ‘WTC View’

Urie originated the role of Eric in WTC View on the theater stage before bringing it to the big screen with writer/director Brian Sloan. For Urie, the most difficult part of the process of moviemaking was acting for the camera instead of the audience at New York’s Bottle Factory Theater, which was just feet away.

“An audience member may be 50 feet away… so they can’t look into your eyes, they can’t really see what’s happening in your face or your soul. You have to turn all the emotions and feelings into behavior, and in the movie, that behavior looks weird,” Urie explained to uInterview exclusively. “When you turn something into behavior like that in a movie, it’s too much. All you really need to do is think it and feel it and the camera will catch it because that’s what a camera does. A camera can look you in the eye, so it was a bit of a learning curve.”

When Urie was approached to star in the stage production of WTC View, he’d just graduated from Juilliard in New York City. The subject matter was very personal and relatable to him, as he’d been living in the city on 9/11 and had experienced the phenomenon in which strangers, who’d typically ignore one other, came together.

“The movie is really a microcosm of what it was like to be in New York in the weeks following 9/11,” said Urie, who saw the hit Twin Towers while waiting for his subway. “Something happened here in late September of 2001 that I never experienced before and I’ve never experienced since. It was sort of this familiarity among New Yorkers.”

“Everyone had the same thing on their minds and we shared a common experience, a common tragedy. We helped each other, we comforted each other, we protected each other,” Urie added. “It eventually did go away, but it was this kind of phenomenon. New York was a different place for a few weeks and the play really accurately depicts what it was like.”

Last year, Urie returned to Broadway in Buyer in Cellar, in which he plays a confidant of Barbra Streisand, who works as the curator in the “shopping mall” basement of her Malibu home. He’s taking the show to London, where it will run for two months at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

WTC View is now available on iTunes.

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Q: What was it like to take this role from the stage to the screen? -

It was very interesting having done the play, having spent so much time with the play and then recreating it for the screen, because you know when you do a movie – I would later learn – that you don’t get rehearsal and you don’t get very much time with the material, certainly not with the other actors. And, we’d all had basically seven weeks together because we rehearsed the play for a good month, and then we run the play for 3 weeks and then New York Fringe Festival. They kept the entire cast from the play, which is so rare, but worked out very well for us. So, we all knew it quite well, which ended up being very helpful because it was a very short shoot. I believe it was a twelve-day shoot, something like that. Like six and six, with a day off, something crazy like that. What was interesting though, what was different to me and what I learned from doing the play and then the film, was that in the play, even though we were in a very small theater, the Bottle Factory Theater, which is right around here, we still had to play to the entire room. An audience member may be 50 feet away, even in a little theater, so they can’t look into your eyes, they can’t really see what’s happening in your face or your soul. So, you have to turn all the emotions and feelings into behavior, and in the movie, that behavior looks weird. You know, when you turn something into behavior like that in a movie, it’s too much. All you really need to do is think it and feel it and the camera will catch it because that’s what a camera does. A camera can look you in the eye, so it was a bit of a learning curve, but Brian Sloan, who wrote the play, was there for the entire production of the play. He directed the film, so he had a very keen eye for that kind of stuff. We had a great DP, and of course later, the editor chose the best stuff. And, we pulled it off. I think we pulled it off.

Q: What initially drew you to the play? -

I had just graduated from drama school and I went to Juilliard, where we deal with the classics, so I did a lot of Shakespeare and a lot of Chekov. I just got out of the school and Andy Volkoff, who directed the play, knew me. We’d done another play together and he sent me the script and I immediately responded to it. One, because it was people talking like people, and that was exciting to get to do that again after four years of ‘v’s and ‘bow’s”. But, also I could totally relate to the guy. I had been in New York on 9/11. I didn’t have his experience; my experience was very different. But, I was around, I did know that feeling, I understood that isolation, that fear, that paranoia to an extent – not quite as much as his – and I had looked for roommates. So I knew that whole thing; I knew what that felt like. That kind of conversation with a stranger, I knew very well. I really related to the guy and I really liked the writing and I loved Andy Volkoff. I was excited to work with him again. I grew to love Brian Sloan and I really loved the work, the play.

Q: Does this story convey the experience of living in New York after 9/11? -

Yea, the movie is really a microcosm of what it was like to be in New York in the weeks following 9/11. Something happened here in late September of 2001 that I never experienced before and I’ve never experienced since. It was sort of this familiarity among New Yorkers. A lot of people will say that New Yorkers are rude; I would say that that’s not true. They are perhaps... curt [laughs]. They aren’t friendly, but they will be there for you if you need them, and if you need to talk to them. You know, New Yorkers will do what they have to do, if that means help you, they will. But in those weeks, following 9/11, strangers talked to each other. Everyone had the same thing on their minds and we shared a common experience, a common tragedy. We helped each other, we comforted each other, we protected each other. It eventually did go away, but it was this kind of phenomenon. New York was a different place for a few weeks and the play really accurately depicts what it was like to deal with strangers in those weeks after. And Bryan brilliantly puts strangers together in a very interesting way in a home that happened to have or had a view of the World Trade Center.

Q: What was your experience in New York on 9/11? -

I think it my second day in my third year at Juilliard was 9/11. I was living in Queens actually. My subway, the subway, you know, out in Queens is above ground. I was leaving the house and I happened to look at the TV and see that one building had been hit by a plane and it was so strange and confusing. I didn’t really think anything of it. I thought, “That’s a terrible thing. Oh my God, how weird.” Then I left. Between my walk, between me and the house and me arriving at the subway station the other plane had hit. And I got to the subway station in Astoria and you can see, you could see the World Trade Center. I could see, it looked like both buildings were burning and I remember thinking, “God, how did the fire move from one.” But that’s how naive I was. The idea that it was an intentional act wasn’t even in my consciousness until a stranger turned to me and said, “They got the other one.” So, we all watched it from the platform and we watched it the entire ride in. I went to school, and we were ushered away from class into an office in the drama division to watch TV. We watched the entire thing unfold together in a classroom, in an office. And I spent the rest of the day with my classmates at school and then nearby at a classmate's home and then made my way home.