Broadway star Norbert Leo Butz enters the sci-fi genre for the first time in NBC’s “Debris.”
Butz is best known for his work onstage, where he’s appeared in a host of plays including “Rent” and “Wicked.” He’s won two Tonys — for “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” in 2003 and “Catch me if You Can” in 2011. He’s also appeared on shows such as “Trust,” “Madam Secretary” and “Fosse/ Verdon.”
His latest project is NBC’s “Debris” (Mondays at 10 p.m.), which follows agents Bryan Beneventi (Jonathan Tucker) and Finola Jones (Riann Steele) as they investigate wreckage from a mysterious alien spacecraft that landed on Earth. Butz plays Craig Maddox, a CIA operative and Bryan’s handler.
Butz, 54, answered some questions for The Post.
Where do you keep your Tonys?
They are in my office in my home in New Jersey, but for a long time I didn’t know where they were. When I moved a couple years ago, the box with the Tonys went missing for over a year. It was like this terrible secret. What do you do when you lose your Tony awards? Do you call them back and say ‘Hey, can I get a trade-in’ like an iPhone? But they turned up under one of my kids’ beds.
What attracted you to this role in “Debris?”
I was looking to do some television agan. I had done a long run of “My Fair Lady” at Lincoln Center and I like to ping back and forth [between the stage and screen]. This was one of the first things that came up. I was really impressed with [creator J.H. Wyman’s] mind. I loved his humanity and it was unlike anything I had ever done. I had never worked in sci-fi before and had never been that attracted to the genre. And Jonathan Tucker was a big draw, I had been a fan of his for a long time. I remember when he was really a kid and was doing a series called “The Black Donnellys,” and then I was blown away by “Kingdom.”
Did you do anything in particular to prepare for the role?
To learn more about this special ops world, I read a book called “Surprise, Kill, Vanish” and then another book called “Coming of Age in the CIA.” The thing that sticks out when you read about these players is that to work in intelligence – whether it’s the science or military or tech side – is to be able to modulate yourself in extremely dangerous circumstances and compartmentalize your mind. I read about training for spies and soldiers and intelligence officers. They literally learn how to monitor their heart rates, that was interesting to me. The other part is the isolation and loneliness of it. That comes up over and over again – that difficult line they have to tow with concealing evidence from people closest to them. Relationships are tricky; intimacy is tricky. These characters are astrophysicists and molecular biologists, the science is beyond my ability to comprehend, so I focus on the more human elements.
Could you relate to any of that, as an actor?
Yes, there is that adrenaline of live performance. And ironically we have been shooting a series in a time of COVID, so our set is really isolated. We all live apart and there’s a loneliness in the shooting of it. All of us are away from our families and kids, it very much feels like what their lives must feel like — these spies that go on missions.
What can you share about what’s coming up in “Debris?”
Not too much, and I can say that without being coy – I might be rare in this aspect. A lot of actors really are dying for scripts, everyone is trying to get a handle on where they’re going. But I really like not knowing. In my mind, Maddox has strategies but he doesn’t know where he’s going, so I like staying dumb in that area.