Meet Paul Willis Jr. who is performing in Dracula

Lyric Arts had a chance to interview Paul Willis Jr., who is performing as Jonathan Harker in Dracula. Read on to hear what he has to say about his experience thus far.

LA: Where are you originally from?

PWJ: I was born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia where I lived until I was seven years old, at which point I moved to Mounds View, where I have lived ever since.

LA:  Why did this particular play interest you?

PWJ: The idea of Dracula (especially Bram Stoker’s Dracula) has always intrigued me, especially with this recent popularity of vampires in pop culture. I think Stoker had a much more enticing and difficult vampire compared to the sexualized and romanticized vampires of today. I like the contrived weaknesses Dracula has, and the absolutely fascinating lust he produces in his victims and enemies; even Van Helsing is plagued by the desire for Dracula.

LA:  For those that are unfamiliar with Dracula can you tell us about the show?

PWJ: Know that this is a reworking of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that is very closely written to the original novel. Dracula is a very different beast than he is often imagined to be; he is desirable and pitiable. This is something often lost in vampires today.

LA: Talk about the character that you play in Dracula.  How have you developed this character?

PWJ: Jonathan Harker is a good man. He is an honest lawyer who is haplessly swallowed up into involvement with Dracula through an assignment for his work. It took a lot of work to develop Harker. I could go into detail, but simply, he is a strong man with values that he betrays against his will and it wrecks him for the remainder of the story. It always comes up within him. Mostly, Harker is similar to myself in a lot of ways, and his adoration of Mina is something not far away in my own life.

LA: Talk about your fellow cast. How do you see their characters developing? Any that you are particularly amazed at?

PWJ: I am very impressed with the other actors in Dracula. Everyone has been working incredibly hard developing an internal understanding of each experience their characters have with both one another, and the world over the course of the show. The tiny hints of backstory and subtext really flesh out the believability of this play.

LA: What are some of the most impressive elements of Dracula?

PWJ: I am most impressed by the writing of the show (and the set design…) that Steven Dietz worked obviously quite tirelessly on. He throws in impressive one-liners like “Men, like galaxies, end in dust.” I think Dietz outdid himself on descriptions of the action of this show; allowing himself to become completely immersed in the drama and spectacle of Stoker’s Dracula, which he tirelessly transcribed into this remarkable piece of theater.

LA: Why should people come and take a chance and see this version of Draucla?

PWJ: I think this performance of Dracula is not only special for its set design and fabulous cast, but also for its rather novel direction. Mark Hauck has been taking us in a very personal, raw, and realistic realization of the usually melodramatic script, which is refreshing, and original. I am pleased with the cast, and designers; and I think it would really be a loss to miss this performance. It should be very enjoyable (and scary) overall.

LA: Being that you are performing Dracula in the Halloween Capital of the World, what is your favorite thing about Halloween?

PWJ: My favorite thing about Halloween is the theatricality of it all. People dress up like the Greeks used to in the Festival of Dionysus (yes, it’s that old…), and parade around town in costumes they would never wear regularly. I think sometimes Halloween provides people an opportunity to be what they’ve always wanted to be—an astronaut, superhero, movie star—but may have never had the means or place to become. I also love really well-thought-out costumes; some people are just awesome at coming up with stuff.

LA: Who is your favorite Halloween character (e.g. Frankenstein, Dracula, Werewolf) and why?

PWJ: My favorite Halloween character would have to be Dr. Jekyll. I may be biased because of my love for the Wildhorn musical, but there is something really fantastic about Dr. Jekyll’s struggle with Mr. Hyde—a struggle we all share. However, I am also a big fan of Dorian Gray, Van Helsing, and Camilla (the first literary vampire).

LA: Please tell us a little bit about yourself?

PWJ: Well, I am fully devoted to theater. My life ahead of me will be more than washed in the lights of the stage: I plan to write plays and musicals, direct shows, act, sing, perhaps…own my own theater? Who knows? Right now, my life is about school. I am a full-time student at Anoka Ramsey Community College, studying theater and I will be receiving my AFA in Theater from ARCC this spring. Come January 2013, I will be auditioning at the Unified Auditions in Chicago, given the world doesn’t end before then. Currently, I am working on over fifteen scripts, three musicals, and numerous design concepts for famous shows I love dearly. I work as a valet in Minneapolis, and I am the president of the theater club at Anoka Ramsey. Hopefully this time next year, I’ll be in Boston or Seattle or somewhere else I’ve never been going to school full-time and living out my dreams. Time will tell.