In God Looked Away, Miles Gaston Villanueva, known best to daytime audiences for his role as bad boy Luca Santori on The Young and the Restless, delivers a poignant, and magnetic performance opposite the legendary Al Pacino in the Pasadena Playhouse PlayWorks Development Production that ends its run this coming Sunday, March 19th. If you haven’t caught Miles, Mr. Pacino, and daytime icon Judith Light (Ex-Karen, OLTL, now Shelly, Tranparent) together on stage don’t miss out on the opportunity. (Tix available here).
Villanueva takes on the role of “Baby”, the lover of Tennessee Williams played by Pacino, based on playwright Dotson Rader’s real life account of his life with the troubled iconic scribe. Throughout God Looked Away it’s “Baby’s” flaws, and all that is the moral center of the piece. In story, Williams opens his final play in Chicago while his hotel room becomes the backdrop of a battle between creation and addiction; love and sex, immediate satisfaction and eternal legacy. The themes throughout this complex drama, and the characters portrayed are as relevant today as they are in this time capsule of the latter years of Williams life.
On-Air On-Soaps sat down with Miles backstage after taking in the show, and immediately following his performance. This interview is a follow-up to our original chat last summer when Villanueva was in the first workshop production of God Looked Away. You can only imagine the joy, and the hard work this talented young actor has put in working alongside two titans of the acting genre, and knowing the weight, and the importance of the story that he has been telling night after night. Here’s what Miles expressed on being part of this unforgettable and one-of-a-kind experience.
First of all, I had no idea you were so front and center in God Looked Away! You are really the co-lead of the play! Love it.
MILES: Michael Fairman is saying, “I underplayed it, and is so surprised I had such a big role in this damn show.” (Laughs) I know we did an interview over last summer when we were in the worship production of this, but all I recall was that I was out of my mind excited to work with Al Pacino and Judith Light, and I told you that. I know how much you love Judith. Now I have come to know her, and love her, and her work, but I have a big role opposite Al, and Al and I share the stage in every scene in the play! Judith comes into the play later, but it’s incredible to be such a big part in this play at this level. Having Al and Judith in it, as you can imagine, how incredible that is! I know people are expecting it to be the “Al and Judith Show”, and she is amazing, but I am in there much of the time.
Your character “Baby” is really the through line of the play, wouldn’t you say?
MILES: I am the through line. I narrate the play, and I play Dotson, the playwright of God Looked Away. He is amazing, and is a doll.
I was so moved by God Looked Away, and being reminded of all those young men in NYC who were hustlers, and those lost souls which Garret Clayton, and your character in a sense, played so realistically.
MILES: I am so glad you were moved, and you are getting choked up telling me now. But Tennessee Williams was a lost soul, as well. The greatest thing about this is seeing these fallible people, these lost souls trying to make life work, and trying to love each other. There is so much going on in this play.
“Baby” is the caretaker for Tennessee Williams in this. He tries to keep him together, because he cares and loves him, but it becomes more than just a daunting responsibility.
MILES: He is everything to him. “Baby” is trying to get Tennessee out of this world of alcohol and drugs. But it is hard, because we all have struggles, and see ugly flaws in our loved ones. We try and try to be there for them, but sometimes it’s got to be about: ‘What is best for me? What do I have to do to get out and take care of my life, and be healthy?’ I have had some personal experience with this very recently. But Michael, I want to ask you a question. Do you feel “Baby” was justified in his decision whether to stay, or leave Tennessee?
It’s so complicated, and there is no easy answer to this. Estelle has a very important line in the play, and once she says that, it seems to be a big signal for “Baby” as to what path he should chose.
MILES: Usually when she says that line, I look at Al as Tennessee, and I am like, “Who are you anymore?”
And then came your speech at the end of the play that just broke me up. Amazing!
MILES: Everyone talks about that speech at the end. That means the play is pulling you in. If the play was not pulling you in I don’t think the final epilogue would pull you in. It is such an interesting format to have this narrator character do the prologue, and epilogue.
Is it exhausting to do this part, and show each night, especially because it is an evolving piece?
MILES: It’s incredibly exhausting. It’s weird, because stuff manifests itself physically. My character is stressed. So I feel it on-stage more than I ever think I had in any other project. Al gets so immersed, and everyone else gets so immersed in this stuff. I obviously have to as I am driving the play, and trying to get stuff moving, and he is obviously doing his dance, and moving around, and pushing, and pulling. It’s very tiring, and it’s not a short show! We have cut some stuff. Some nights Al is getting cuts, or I am, and it can be really frustrating, because you want to just run the show, and get into a rhythm. I know when he gets it, because it happens to me, and all of us – because we then have to go out there, and do this in front of a live audience – it can be sometimes daunting, as we are thinking, “OK, wait. What is my cut?” So, it can be very hard to get the rhythm, and flow of everything. As Al said, “We are here to work. I don’t know about you guys, but I am here to work.” We are trying create this play, and develop it, and make it concise, and trying to make it powerful.
From working with Al Pacino, have you gleaned anything you can take away from his years of experience moving forward in your career?
MILES: I can’t even begin to describe how Al Pacino has helped me, and it’s more about just the way he works, and the process day to day. From the workshop, and since I have met him, and interacted with him as a person, it’s all beautiful, and connected, and it’s all moment to moment. We had Frances Fisher come to see the play, and she was so overwhelmed by it. She posted it about it, and said, “If you want to see a master class in moment-to-moment acting, this is what Al has invited by his work.” He is just so in the character, in the world, and in the story … nothing is by rote. He does something different every day, and we have to react to that so the response is new the way it comes out, the energy, and the flow of things. It’s just nuts having that experience, and he is such a live-wire.
What can you also say about your experience working with Judith Light on-stage? Your two character’s definitely have an adversarial relationship with each other.
MILES: She is so dynamic, and she doesn’t miss a beat. When we have scenes together, I feel it my heart, and in my gut. She is unbelievable in real life, and an unbelievable talent … beautiful human and actress she is, and she is so consistent. Every night she has the power, the vulnerability, and the emotion, and that is something I would like to be able to do someday; to have that sort of consistency to my performance. She is a damn star, and a goddess! She has been rocking it since Karen Wolek on the stand on One Life to Live. You told me about that clip, and I looked it up. I thought, “Look at her work! She is so in the moment.” Judith was so lost in the moment with her character, and in the stakes of what was happening, and that is what she also does here in God Looked Away.
Judith, as you know, is one of the biggest advocates in the LGBTQ community, and I saw that you also recently posted a video on your Instagram about the current political struggles facing the transgender community.
MILES: I had to, and especially now being in this play, and with our political times and what are “leaders” are doing. It’s so important that we are doing this play during this time with “you know who” in office. Just seeing these men on stage, and Tennessee’s struggle as a playwright in the 60’s brings this all full circle. There’s a section in the play about how the press attacked him for being gay, and it’s such an amazing insight into this man, and you understand that not only did he have immense pressure of being a playwright, but being discriminated against, because he was a gay man, and not being able to be his true self and come out. We are better these days, but, I swear, doing this play right now, it’s important, and to talk about this with you, and to be able to put this important message out and to share this man’s story. As far as my posts on social media, we all should be active. I saw that article rolling back the policy that gave those in the transgender community some hope, and I was infuriated, and I texted my girlfriend. I know, “Who am I to be putting out this message?” But any human who can help and say, “We’ve got your back. We are going to fight for you.” People need to know and hear that. We have to be warriors for them, and so that is why I posted that.
So, where does this play go from here? What is the endgame?
MILES: It’s about where we want to go, where Al wants to go, and schedule and timing. Obviously, this is an experimental run to get the show tighter on stage, and to see the reactions out in the audience, but it’s to get our main man warmed up for some other place. Al loves doing this and working with this company. I do believe he loves working with me. On several occasions he has said to me: “Oh, I love doing this with you, baby.” Inside I just explode with joy, but I am like trying to be cool. I will then just say back to him, “Thanks, Al.” He also wrote me this note that I will share with the fans someday. We do have this chemistry and connection on-stage. We play a couple that has been together for a long time, and it doesn’t have to be over touchy, as it sort of just lives.
Did your family come and see you in the play? I would love to know their reactions to seeing their son delivering this performance alongside Al Pacino!
MILES: Yes, they saw it. Oh, God. My mom was in tears at the end of the play. My dad came up and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I cannot believe how much everyone has grown from the workshop.” My brother Mike, and his girlfriend were here, too, and it meant a lot. I know they were so proud seeing me up there with Al Pacino tossing lines back and forth. People have said to me “You are up there holding your own with Al Pacino.” I trust him, and he trusts me, and some days we improv a little bit, but he invites that trust. Michael, you have seen my work on The Young and the Restless, but the fact that you got to come and see me in this story about this man and icon, and to be moved by it, it means a lot to me. You see a lot of stuff! And, I would just like to say to everyone … come see the play in its final few days, and thank you for supporting me.
What did you think of the sentiments shared by Miles in our heartfelt conversation on the opportunity to work with Al Pacino and Judith Light and portray such a vital character? Have you seen God Looked Away? If so, what did you think of it? Comment below!