A line wound around the railing of the second floor of the Books-A-Million bookstore at 1201 Main Street to get stage and film actor and Broadway musical Rent superstar Anthony Rapp's signature for his book Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent, not to mention anything and everything with the word "Rent" on it. Fans went through the lines multiple times, totaling at 116 numbers taken to wait for his signature and a possible photo op.
Rapp took time, multi-tasking as he signed a pile of his memoirs, to answer a few questions from Hair Balls.
Hair Balls: What finally drove you to write this book?
Anthony Rapp: I've been writing stuff ever since I was a little kid, but I never tried to write a book...I don't know if you're familiar with the big beautiful Rent coffee table book with the black cover, that publisher...asked to meet with me. One of the things that he used to do...[was approach] celebrities or people who are famous a little bit that he thinks might have something to say. He starts to talk with them, meet them, to see if they have a book in them. So, he wanted to talk to me about that and I was very flattered ... In talking to him, his father had passed away when he was in his 20s, from cancer, and my mom was still alive when we first started talking, but quite ill, and it was very clear that it was not going to be much longer. He asked me if I would consider writing about that experience, and I said yes and I didn't really know how I was going to do it. I started working on it, and working on it, and working on it, and we came to a really good place where we both felt we knew what the book was. It was kind of a roundabout thing that wouldn't have happened if it weren't for him. And I was very, very grateful, but it was also the hardest thing I've ever done.
HB: How old were you when you started writing (the book)?
AR: Twenty-five, I guess.
HB: How old are you now, if you don't mind my asking?
AR: I'm 37. It came out three years ago. So, it took a looong time. There were times when I just couldn't get my head around it; it was too hard. And so I would go long stretches without writing anything at all, and then finally I finished it. Which I didn't even know why I finally finished it, but I did. I was lucky that I still had the opportunity to get it out into the world even though it took so long.
HB: What do you hope readers will take from it?
AR: I strove very carefully to tell as much of the whole truth as I could possibly manage to articulate of what this kind of experience is like. I think that in our culture difficulties, like loss and grief and all the complications involved, are, I don't know if taboo is really the word, but ...it's an issue or subject that's very hard for people to talk about or think about many times, and I think that we were hoping that the book could be something of an outlet, or mirror, or catharsis for people who have gone through difficult experiences too. Having the opportunity to have something said that expresses the truth that lets them possibly move through it. And the feedback has been that that has happened for many people and that's very gratifying.
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HB: What are your thoughts on swine flu?
AR: Whenever anything like this happens, I always think back to the early days of the AIDS epidemic and how little government response there was and how little media response there was. That happened for years in the early days of the epidemic when people were dying and many people were affected, but because it was mostly affecting a community that was on the fringes in the corner, it wasn't headline news in the way that it could and should have been. And so I always think of that; that yes, it's terrible, obviously, people are being affected by this, but it still is such a tiny number of people relative to the larger population and relative again to the AIDS epidemic...
HB: Any other projects outside of acting work?
AR: I'm on the board of Friends In Deed, which is the organization that Jonathan [Larson] based the life-support group on, and I talk about Friends In Deed quite extensively in the book, too. So, I try to help find different ways to raise funds for them and awareness, get the word out, about the kind of work that they do. I do have another possible book idea, but there's a book that came out last year or the year before that sounded similar, so I want to read that to see if I'm barking up the wrong tree.