Some celebrities are near-exclusively known for one role or another in a movie, show or band that the majority of audiences can most readily recall. “Remember that guy who played _____ in that TV show, or that singer in that one band?” we might ask. These are the one-hit wonders of celebrities.
But Reeve Carney, who seems to have a knack for picking up odd celebrity jobs, is quickly making a name for himself as a veritable Renaissance man of modern performance. In the past few years, the 33-year-old has played Dorian Grey on the nineteenth century horror-potpourri Showtime drama Penny Dreadful; he's performed as Spiderman in the Broadway musical SpiderMan: Turn Off the Dark; he was the “trouble” lover in Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” music video; and he portrays Riff Raff in the upcoming Fox remake of Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Oh yeah, and he’s a musician too, who’ll be stopping in St. Louis on November 4 to play at the Ready Room.
Carney began his wide-ranging career growing up in New York City, where he took classes as a visual arts student. But from an early age, he fostered a unique relationship with music.
“Instead of paying for $50 guitar lessons, or whatever they cost at that time, “ Reeve says, “my mom would take me to blues clubs at night after I’d do my homework, from 8 o’clock to 1 a.m.” Carney later went to college for jazz guitar, but these experiences in Manhattan’s blues hotspots, he says, were “how I learned how to really play the guitar.” By age fifteen, he was performing professionally at B.B. King's Los Angeles nightclub.
But Carney didn’t stop there. He got into acting at a young age as well, following the example of his great-uncle Art Carney (of Honeymooners fame), He really began to embrace the craft when he snagged the Spiderman role.
Performing the same play night after night can potentially become monotonous, Carney says, but playing Dorian Grey on Penny Dreadful was comparatively freeing. “In television, you don’t know what lines are coming the following week, whereas with theater, you know what you’ll say those two and a half hours that night," he explains.
Yet Carney’s jazz and blues roots imbued in him a sort of improvisational spirit, he says, which he can employ in any form of acting, including theater.
“You always do have lines, just as a jazz or blues musician’s got a chart and chord changes, but it’s extremely free-form in those confines,” he says. “I try to be free enough and open enough to the audience to experience everything in as natural and as organic a way as possible on stage.”
With Fox’s new Rocky Horror movie, which aired on October 20, Carney brought his expressive acting approach to the role of Riff Raff, originally portrayed by Richard O'Brien.
“I was trying to honor his performance and bring in something of the truth of who I am,” Carney says. “It makes it more visceral for the audience if it feels like it’s coming from the performance.”
Despite some updates, the goal is to celebrate the cult classic. “My hope is that people will love what we’ve done," he says, "but will go back and watch the original.”
Now, a quick explanation of the Taylor Swift video, since we can’t not address it: Swift’s people actually contacted Carney’s manager while he was playing Spiderman on Broadway, Carney explains. Taking a few days off and flying out to Los Angeles, Carney met up with Swift, who told him that she loved his band (simply called “Carney”), and that she’d especially loved his music video for “Love Me, Chase Me” (at which Carney thinks Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” video might hint).
Carney performed his own stunts required in Swift's music video for "I Knew You Were Trouble" (which, you may recall, involve his character being beaten in a bar). Upon returning to Spiderman, Carney says his stage manager was astounded he got up to so much in his two days off. “They were happy that I was OK and didn’t get actually hurt from doing the stunts,” he laughs.
Despite all this acting, though, Carney has returned to music. He hopes to continue both acting and playing music in the future, such that he doesn’t have to doggedly produce songs or star in sub-par roles.
“It’s kind of like sleeping and eating, dreaming and waking reality,” he says. “You could exist with either one alone, but each one enriches the other. I feel like acting and music go hand in hand in that way for me.”
Carney played every instrument on his new album Youth Is Wasted, which was released in mid-October, and he’ll also be performing alone in St. Louis, having converted many of his songs to work with simply a guitar or piano. He says with Carney, his first band, he played “a little bit more straight rock, with a psychedelic leaning.” Now, with this new album, Carney says “I’m trying to embrace the kaleidoscopic qualities of what I enjoy and the musical explorations that I like to pursue.”
Carney’s resume certainly presents itself as kaleidoscopic, and these solo performances allow him an opportunity to connect with the audience on his own terms.
“It’s sort of like at that point where the audience and performer become one body, so it’s like you’re breathing back and forth with one another,” he says. With a band, you have a conversation with the other musicians and then the audience, “but it’s kind of nice to have that direct communication with the audience.”
Reeve Carney’s been really busy, taking on roles in larger works with many moving parts. But in these upcoming solo performances, the audience might get to see a more intimate, individual Carney.
“In some of these shows, it feels like I’m in the larger version of my living room," he jokes. "Like a living room in a mansion.”
7 p.m. Friday, November 4. Fubar, 3108 Locust Street. $12 to $15. 314-289-9050.
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