KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — He's about to play the lead in one of Off-Broadway's most beloved musicals, but Conrad Ricamora isn't forgetting all of the people who helped him get there -- including his instructors and peers at the University of Tennessee.
Ricamora is rehearsing right now in Manhattan to take on the role of Seymour Krelborn in an ongoing revival of "Little Shop of Horrors".
Ricamora, 42, will be at the Westside Theatre from mid-January until mid-May.
As he prepared for rehearsals, he spoke by Zoom to WBIR -- while wearing his UT hat.
"The MFA program at UT in acting was the absolute best thing that has happened to my career," he said. "I had been working as an actor before going to grad school and was stuck, and the program allowed me to access this whole other level of depth and my work and specificity in my work."
Ricamora, who grew up mostly in Florida, earned his MFA in 2012.
"UT has given so much and I love giving back in any way that I can," he said.
One way he's done that already is by giving the May 2020 commencement address to UT's College of Arts and Sciences. Because of the times -- with COVID-19 raging across the globe -- he gave it virtually.
His biggest message, amidst the pandemic: Control the things you can control and let go of the rest. It's advice that remains relevant 19 months later -- for all of us.
He looks forward to the next time he can visit campus. In the meantime, he welcomes seeing Vols in New York as he becomes Seymour in "Little Shop".
He's enjoyed getting to know the character, which dates to the original, black and white, 1960 Roger Corman horror-comedy.
"I like to think of him as going from somebody who's pitiful to powerful, through this relationship with this strange flesh-eating plant," Ricamora said.
Many may already have seen him on TV. He spent six years playing the role of Oliver Hampton in "How to Get Away With Murder" on ABC.
It gave him a chance to work with award-winning actor Viola Davis, who he considers one of the finest actors of all time.
"Getting to work with her every day and seeing how present she is in every moment and how real she is in every moment encouraged me to get rid of some of the artifice and show up fully every day and be brave with my choices," he recalled.
It's great working in front of the camera, but for Ricamora, there remains a great thrill with performing in front of a live audience. With multiple performances during the week, you always have the chance to go back out and hone your part and your interpretation of it, he said.
Plus, you're interacting with human beings at the moment.
"With theater, I love that aspect of being able to get another shot at it every single day," he said.
Ricamora remains interested in TV, however. He said he and two friends sold a show pitch to Hulu in early 2021. It's about their experiences as gay Asian men in New York.
They created it all themselves. The script is due in February, and it still will have to be cleared for production.
"We've got some really exciting people attached to it," he said, trailing off with the confession that he's not yet allowed to say who they are.
He said he's also finished a movie that's coming out on Hulu next year called "Fire Island" that includes Bowen Yang and Margaret Cho. It's billed as a romantic comedy about two friends who go on a weeklong vacation to Fire Island.
"So look out for that. And yeah, come up and see 'Little Shop' and say hi," Ricamora said.