Originally cast as "The Mute" in the Off-Broadway revival of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's The Fantasticks, adorable Nick Spangler has broken his silence to step into the role of Matt - the show's leading male ingenue. He also recently broke the bank on the popular CBS reality game show "The Amazing Race" when he and his sister Starr (yes... Starr Spangler) crossed the finish line and won the coveted million dollar prize. With all this breaking going on, I was thrilled that Nick was able to take a break and chat with me before a performance at the Snapple.
Randy Rainbow: Hey, congratulations on everything!
Nick Spangler: Thanks so much!
How did this "Amazing Race" business come about? I understand it was your sister's doing.
My family and I were big fans of the show from the first episode of the first season. Before TiVo was around, we'd all gather at the same time every week to watch it. And then after a few seasons we started to think "Hey, our family's pretty outgoing. We could totally produce a few good contestants for this show!" Unfortunately my sister and I were only fifteen and sixteen at the time and the age requirement for the show is twenty-one. Cut to a few years later, I was in Denver doing a production of La Cage and got a call from my sister saying "I bought a plane ticket and I'm gonna be in Denver on Friday because "Amazing Race" applications are due next week and we have to make a 3-minute video."
Did the experience bring you two closer together, or did you just wind up hating each other by the end?
It's funny, on the race there are rules that you're only allowed to be up to twenty feet away from your teammate at any time for the sake of the cameras, so it was a long time spent being shoulder-to-shoulder and locked in hotel rooms with her. But when it was all over, she flew back to Texas and I came back here to New York, and my first time alone in an airport I called her and said "It's so weird not going through security with you." I kind of felt a little empty inside.
What other adjustments were there, leaving reality TV and coming back to reality?
The first day back, leaving my apartment, I looked up and saw a cab coming and broke into a run to hail it. Then I had to remind myself: "I travel by subway now. I don't have Race money for cabs anymore."
How about food? I know it's impossible to find good sheep buttocks here in New York.
[Laughs] Exactly! On the Race, the food you want is never available. So since I've gotten back I've just been eating cereal and Taco Bell nonstop, just because I can! The other thing is sleeping. Starr and I never knew when we were gonna be able to get eight hours. We had to train ourselves to fall asleep whenever, wherever. Like in the last leg of the race, when we finished in Moscow, we only had two hours in the hotel before leaving for Portland. So when I got home, I wasn't able to sleep through the night. I kept waking up at 4AM. That was a big pain in the ass.
Having watched the finished product on TV with the rest of us, would you say it was an accurate portrayal of what went down?
For the most part, it was accurate. Occasionally, they'd blow things out of proportion for the sake of a storyline, but that's TV. I would say that final episode was the most accurate portrayal. It really was that exciting. It's funny - While running the race, I never really had it in my head that this was gonna be on television or that i had to present myself a certain way. I never censored myself. But at the same time I would always imagine the music and the editing in my head. Like in the first episode when we were climbing down that cargo net, we climbed over the edge and I literally started playing the theme song in my head!
You've had plenty of experience playing mute, but how hard was it to keep your win a secret when you got back?
You know, because we won, it wasn't really too bad. If we'd come in second or third place it would have been tough because once we got to the final three I would have wanted to tell everyone "don't get your hopes up." It was hardest to keep it from my parents. They would not stop asking. My girlfriend was really good about it. Our El Gallo here at The Fantasticks was giving me a hard time about it. He kept saying, "I know you won. You're in too good a mood."
The minute you came off "Amazing Race", you got the news that The Fantasticks was reopening.
Yes, it was awesome! I hadn't even gotten back to New York yet. When you start the race, they confiscate your cell phones, your wallet, your credit card, and you don't get anything back until you reach the finish line. The first phone call I made was to my agent to say, "Hey, I'm back now. Let's figure out what I'm gonna do." He told me the show was reopening, and would I like to be in it. I said "Yes! Please!" I was so nervous about what I would do for the next eight months, before my Race money came in.
What was the reaction to your new TV stardom from your Fantasticks castmates? Did they make fun of you a lot?
Oh yeah, all the time. To the point where they would ad-lib on stage about it during performances. But it's all in good fun.
Now that you've got this national exposure, any big plans for your next career move?
I'm just doing the same thing I'd been doing before I left. Still auditioning. This has just made me a bit more visible to casting people. It keeps me in the forefront a little, which has been nice.
Obvious question: What will you do with the money?
I actually haven't thought much about it. I mean, I haven't even gotten it yet.
I know, but I've only known about this interview a few days, and it's all I've been able to think about.
Well sure, I've fantasized about it. I'd love to put something down on an apartment. I think that's what it'll come down to. It would be amazing to own something, especially at this point in my life. I'd also really love Lasik eye surgery which is expensive. And my girlfriend is heading back to school to finish her degree. She's been talking about getting a loan or student aid, and I think I'll surprise her and tell her not to worry about it.
Catch Nick in The Fantasticks, now playing at the Jerry Orbach Theater in the Snapple Theater Center (50st Street and Broadway).
For more info on Nick Spangler, visit his OFFICIAL WEBSITE.