By Mark Kennedy
NEW YORK (AP) — Conrad Ricamora’s acting career is on fire of late. He may want to thank his genes.
He’s on ABC’s hot new drama “How To Get Away with Murder” and he’s also singing on Broadway in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic musical “The King and I.” Not bad for a guy who took his first acting class on a whim in his junior year of college.
Then again, Ricamora recently found out that he’s related to a pretty famous person in acting circles — none other than William Shakespeare.
“Isn’t that crazy?” the Filipino-American actor said recently over coffee before taking the stage in “The King and I” as the doomed lover Lun Tha.
Ricamora and his boyfriend were consulting the genealogy website Ancestry.com when he discovered his ninth great grandfather on his mother’s side married Judith Shakespeare, the Bard’s youngest daughter.
The news comes four years after Ricamora visited Shakespeare’s birth place of Stratford-upon-Avon. “Now I want to go back and be like, `This is mine. This is mine,”’ he said, laughing.
Ricamora, the son of a U.S. Air Force member, moved all the time growing up — California, Colorado, Iceland and Florida were some stops. He attended Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina, on a tennis scholarship and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
When he took his first acting class, he read a monologue from Lanford Wilson’s play “Lemon Sky” about meeting his estranged father for the first time — and it made a strong impression.
“My mom left when I was an infant and I met her much later when I was 8 or 9. I just was like,
`I know exactly what this is like.’ It was immediately there. I didn’t feel like I had to do anything,” he recalled.
“The connection between an author telling a story to an audience was so electric that I kept wanting to find my way back there. It was life-changing.”
Ricamora was done with psychology — “It doesn’t fit my personality really well” — and got a master’s in acting at the University of Tennessee. His background in sports psychology helped with the painful life of an up-and-coming actor.
“You win a lot, you lose a lot, and your ego has to totally get out of the way in order to do what you’re there to do. I transferred that skill set over to auditioning.”
Ricamora earned parts in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and the off-Broadway musical “Here Lies Love” by David Byrne about Filipino ex-first lady Imelda Marcos.
The musical helped Ricamora, who played opposition leader Ninoy Aquino, get closer to his father, who saw the show 14 times and started to talk about the country he left when he was 11.
“Anyone that is a minority in this country can tell you what it means for them to have their story be told because you feel so left out growing up,” Ricamora said.
Bartlett Sher, who directs “The King and I” saw Ricamora in “Here Lies Love” and wanted the fire and political anger he brought to that part to transfer over to Lun Tha.
“He gets to be strong and sexy and a revolutionist. He gets to fight for the people. He gets to fight for the underdog. He’s fantastic,” said Ruthie Ann Miles, a co-star who earned a Tony nomination this month.
Ricamora is getting the most attention these days for his role as Oliver, the handsome but slightly nerdy I.T. guy, on “How To Get Away with Murder.” Ricamora will feature in season two.
Oliver wasn’t supposed to survive the pilot but kept returning because creator Pete Nowalk liked what the actor did and story lines opened with his on-screen conniving boyfriend.
The show has developed a strong following, in part because it depicts a mixed-race couple in love — and having steamy sex — without being coy or commenting on it.
“We’re just allowed to be two people,” Ricamora said. “I like that a lot. I like that it doesn’t feel like they’re asking us to be stereotypes in any way.”
Whether its stage or screen, Ricamora seems happy just being able to tell a story, the way he did that first time reading “Lemon Sky.”
“That same electricity that infused my first connection to acting, that’s why I’m here,” he said.
“That’s the biggest honor — to have that happen every night in front of people who are leaning in to be part of an experience.” (end)