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South grad receives Tony Award nomination

Selection surprises a greatful Magnussen

POSTED: May 27, 2013 12:28 a.m.
For the Forsyth County News/

Billy Magnussen, a 2003 South Forsyth High School graduate, performs a scene in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” with co-star Sigourney Weaver. Magnussen has been nominated for a Tony Award for the role.

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A sports injury during his senior year of high school may have been one of the best things to happen to Billy Magnussen.

The 2003 South Forsyth High School graduate said the wrestling injury lead him to take part in the school’s drama program that year.

“I was a big jock and wrestled and stuff, and then I ripped my hamstring and I couldn’t take gym class so they threw me in an acting class,” Magnussen said.

“Renee Denney at that time was the teacher there. She directed a production of ‘Grease’ at the school and it was so much fun, I was like, ‘I want to try that.’

Magnussen went on to perform in several of the school’s shows including “Rumor,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” and “A Piece of My Heart.”

“That was all just my senior year,” he said.

His short stint with South’s drama program sparked a love of acting that continued through college at the North Carolina School of the Arts. It eventually led him to New York City.

He made his Broadway debut right out of college in “The Ritz” in 2007, and then spent three years on the soap opera “As the Word Turns” before it was cancelled in 2010.

Currently, Magnussen is portraying the role of Spike in the Broadway show “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”

He’s getting some pretty big props for the role — most notably, a Tony Award nomination for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a play.

“I didn’t see that coming at all,” he said of the nomination. “In the play, all I do is take off my clothes and play … so I was not expecting a Tony nomination for that.

“I’m just enjoying myself and having a great time and the fact that people have said, ‘You’re doing great work,’ it’s really humbling.”

Besides award nominations, he’s also getting to perform with some big names in the acting world.

Sigourney Weaver, of such hit movies as the “Alien” franchise and “Avatar,” plays Magnussen’s love interest, Masha, in the comedy, which is running at the Golden Theatre on Broadway after debuting at the Lincoln Center.

Spike is the much younger “boy toy” of Masha, a famous actress. In the play, the pair returns to Masha’s childhood home to visit her frumpy brother and sister, who remained at home to care for the sibling’s parents while Masha was traveling the world and gaining success.  

David Hyde Pierce, of the long-running sitcom “Frasier,” plays Masha’s brother, Vanya.

Magnussen said working with such veteran actors has been an amazing experience.

“They’re wonderful,” he said. “David Hyde Pierce is the nicest person in the business and Sigourney Weaver, she’s like an 18-year-old girl … she’s just so, so much fun.”

Magnussen’s mother, Daina Magnussen, learned of the nomination before her son, who was still asleep when the nominations were announced.

She said he son’s nomination came as a bit of surprise to her too.

“I heard the play was nominated and then I heard David [Hyde Pierce] and the director were nominated, and I kind of lost interest in listening,” she said. “… Then I hear ‘Billy Magnussen’ and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. What?’ I called him up and was like, ‘Billy, did you hear?’ and he was like, ‘Mom, I’m sleeping.”

Later, after he had a chance to wake up, the younger Magnussen realized what his mom was trying to tell him.

Daina will get a special treat when the Tony Awards ceremony takes place at 8 p.m. June 9.

“My son actually asked me to accompany him down the red carpet, so I’m thrilled,” she said, noting that her husband, Gregory, will also be attending.

“But he’ll sit up in the balcony and I’ll be down front.”

She said being asked to be her son’s “date” for the night wasn’t a huge surprise since he remains close to family despite living in New York while they remain in Forsyth County. “We speak to him about every day and he speaks to his [two younger] brothers almost every day.”

Billy Magnussen said he wouldn’t be where he is today without his family.

“I would really just like to thank my parents and my brothers, Dane and Jesse,” he said. “They’ve all just always been really supportive and helpful.”

He added that he is also “always so thankful to Cumming and South Forsyth High School.”

“[Being nominated for a Tony] is just so crazy and absurd because I’m just from good ol’ Cumming, Ga.,” he said.

 

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