Tony nominee Rory O'Malley, 35, thought he had achieved his career pinnacle when he was cast as Elder McKinley in The Book of Mormon, but then he was cast in a starring role in the once in a generation musical smash Hamilton, this time in the role of King George III, in the show that is now the biggest Tony winner in Broadway history.
It's not bad going for a red headed working class Irish American kid from Ohio who grew up in a small apartment overlooking a used car lot. Raised by a single mother who was part of a big Irish family in Ohio, they were blue collar hard working folk descended from shanty Irish folks who were in turn descended from the Famine Irish, O'Malley says.
“West Park is a very Catholic Irish community and my first play was in second grade playing St. Joseph at Our Lady of Angels,” O'Malley tells the Irish Voice. “My aunt Peggy Ann Gibbons was the director so it was total nepotism from the start. It's always who you know in this business.”
O'Malley is being modest. Megawatt talent has something to do with his success too. “I was eight when I played St. Joseph and I told my mom from that moment on I wanted to be an actor,” he says.
Soon after he joined the community theater and then participated in every play, musical and singing group he could be a part of in the wider Cleveland community.
“Irish music in the local pubs was my first exposure to musical expression, and I feel like Irish music is very close to musical theater because it is always telling a story,” he says.
Despite starring on Broadway now, O'Malley insists he’s still the most quiet person in his family.
“You put me in the room with my family and everyone I grew up with and I'd be the last person that you'd say is the performer.”
Considering his very loving but obviously sheltered background, was he nervous about following his dream and making the move to New York to try out as an actor? It's not as if it's a common career move in that part of Ohio.
“I was terrified. I think that's the sane emotion to have when you decide to be an actor,” he says.
“It's a very scary thing and if you're not scared then you just don't realize what you're getting yourself into. I went to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and I moved to Los Angeles first. There I worked with Garry Marshall (producer, director and writer of classic shows including Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy and The Odd Couple).
An Irish red head, Marshall quickly cast O'Malley as Richie in the successful musical version of Happy Days and his career started taking off in earnest.
It was a good start and made all better by the job he got waiting tables in the afternoons at Timmy Nolan's pub down the block from the theater.
After a few years O’Malley moved to New York and got cast in a musical called The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It was a monster hit critically and commercially and he was off to the races on his first try out.
“That was my first Broadway show and I remember when I got the part the first place I went to was St. Patrick's Cathedral to light a candle,” he said.
Why did he do it? “Well it's hard not to think about the duplex I grew up in on West 160th Street next to a used car lot. To have gotten an opportunity like this was just crazy to me. It was a very big deal.”
As for Hamilton, O'Malley saw it in its original run at the Public Theatre starring fellow Irish American Brian D'Arcy James and thought it brilliant. When he eventually got the offer to step into the pivotal role of George III he didn't hesitate.
“It's been a whirlwind,” he says of the coveted role. “I was cast just before the Tonys and I was already a super fan of the show. It felt like stepping on a rollercoaster or being dropped right in the middle of this wonderful amazing circus.”
Onstage he's the very picture of privileged British royalty, but offstage he's an Irish man who has found success – and love – on his own terms. Remember his name, you'll be seeing more of it.