Nine UCLA alumni joined the cast of “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion,” performing as Elsa, Olaf, Hans, Kristoff or the ensemble. The live adaptation of the 2013 Disney animated film “Frozen” currently plays three times a day at Disney California Adventure after opening in May. Each week, the Daily Bruin will share alumni’s experiences working at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Michael Starr is accustomed to playing the nice guy. But nice doesn’t cut it when portraying Arendelle’s villain prince – at least not for the entire show.
Starr, a UCLA theater alumnus, portrays Hans in Disney California Adventure’s “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion.” Starr is able to apply his experience playing kind-hearted roles in shows like “Footloose” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” to the Disney villain, who is deceptively likable for three quarters of the show.
The role of Hans initially appealed to Starr for its shifting moral character, he said. Unlike other Disney antagonists, like Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” and Jafar from “Aladdin” who boast their diabolical plans in evil monologues from the start, Hans first comes across as “Prince Charming” before revealing his murderous motives, he said.
“It makes it really worthwhile as far as acting goes because you get to really sink your teeth into it,” Starr said. “It’s not two-dimensional at all.”
Starr also appreciates Hans’ two-faced nature for its applicability to real-life scenarios, where personalities are generally not one-sided. Audience members can better identify with Anna and the innocent citizens of Arendelle because everyone can recall a scenario in which they have been misled by someone they trusted, he said.
“We all get nervous of meeting our own personal villain like that,” Starr said. “It’s exciting to play somebody that could be so real.”
Director of singing for UCLA’s Ray Bolger Musical Theater Program, Jeremy Mann, was Starr’s performance coach during his time at UCLA. Starr’s acting training from the UCLA’s theater program and participation in numerous acting, vocal technique and audition workshops prepared him to bring authenticity to a multidimensional character, Mann said.
“He understands the complexity of human behavior and how to create that onstage,” Mann said.
Though Hans is without question the darkest character in “Frozen – Live,” Starr said he believes he landed the role because he is a veteran protagonist. Before portraying Hans, Starr played Jacob’s 11th son Joseph in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and small-town boy Ren McCormack in “Footloose,” both the heroes of their respective productions.
Starr’s tendency to gravitate toward kinder characters worked in his favor when auditioning for Hans, who radiates charm when courting Anna, he said.
But “Frozen – Live” casting director Michael Donovan pegged Starr for Hans from the start. Donovan, a UCLA Theater, Film and Television lecturer, was certain Starr would also be able to rise to the villainous occasion, he said.
“You have to have an actor who can also play the dark side,” Donovan said. “I was confident Michael could do both.”
Starr’s boy-next-door personality is the perfect foil to Hans’ unexpected betrayal, Mann said.
Hans’ dual personality has given Starr a rare opportunity to play a villain, as many actors are typecast early on in their careers until they have built up a resume that allows them to pick and choose their roles, Mann said.
While Starr revels in his evil reveal during the climactic betrayal scene by the fireplace, he said he also has fun with the goofy “Love is An Open Door” – another perk of portraying a multidimensional character.
Starr is prepared to play the noble charmer side of Hans as soon as he slips on his knee-high boots and golden coronation attire, and ready to transform into the villain when he shrouds himself in a dark cloak in the second act.
“I have no other option than to be as true to that appearance as I possibly can,” Starr said.
Like Scar from “The Lion King,” Hans’ willingness to manipulate those close to him to get what he wants makes him a particularly juicy antagonist, Starr said. His initial sweetness while wooing the young princess and volunteering to keep watch over Arendelle adds an extra punch to the climax.
“The only reason we end up hating him at the end is because of how good of a dream he is at the beginning,” Starr said.