Alex Sharp is truly living the Juilliard dream. Not long before graduating last May, he got the starring role in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on Broadway—the tale of a teenager on the autisum spectrum. It opened in September and, somewhat improbably, given the subject matter, has become a hit — and so has he.
Is Sharp lucky? Yes. Grateful? Definitely. Crazed? You have no idea.
Last spring, Sharp was crazed in a Juilliard way—he was in the throes of the student-led production of A Clockwork Orange he spearheaded, when he got the call that would change his life. “I was on a 10-minute break while rehearsing Clockwork and I got a call from the casting director—I didn’t have an agent or a manager, so he called me directly and told me I’d gotten the part,” Sharp told The Journal recently by phone. He walked back in to the rehearsal and “had to tell them because it was impossible to continue as normal,” he said. “Everyone screamed and it was amazing—and then we got back to rehearsal. It was certainly a day I’ll remember.”
Sharp is an outside-the-box Brit who grew up traveling the world with his family and was mostly home-schooled. An avid reader, he’d “devoured” the book on which Curious Incident is based when he was 15, the same age as the main character, Christopher. “It was very unusual, but I thought it was quite beautiful and really liked it,” Sharp said. Because the book is told in first-person, the reader starts to be able to see how difficult the most mundane of everyday interactions are for Christopher. “He’s an interesting and unique character, but for the first third of the book, you’re sort of reading about this alien other—this very different character—and then his first-person narrative voice becomes your voice and you start to empathize with him,” he added. “The book does an amazing job at leveling the ground between a neurotypical person and someone on the spectrum.”
In taking on the role, Sharp said he’d “felt quite a lot of responsibility. There’s no other representation like this, which is also makes it quite special.” Over the summer, he worked with students and staff at QSAC (Quality Services for the Autism Community), a New York City-based support organization. “I’ve found parallels between myself and the character to bring to life through me,” he said. And while Sharp clearly has no problem being empathetic or being with people—two big challenges for his character—when he’s walking through Times Square, for instance, he can definitely understand feeling overwhelmed and not wanting people to touch him. “It’s certainly made me more empathetic and understanding of that community,” he said. In fact, he’s found that when people talk to him after performances—he generally spends 30 to 90 minutes at the stage door talking with audience members after each show—“they always remark on how they empathize with Christopher’s feelings of being overwhelmed.”
Sharp’s involvement in the project in the first place goes back to a serendipitous moment on his very first day at Juilliard. Prior to coming here, he’d spent a few years traveling and financing himself by rehabbing distressed properties in the post-housing- bubble U.S. and flipping them. Along the way, he decided to pursue acting and applied to Juilliard. Mark Junek (Group 40) happened to be the room monitor at his audition, and his pep talk about the school and the importance of staying calm “really helped me get in to the school,” Sharp said. Junek gave him his tour when Sharp was admitted and they became friends during the year they overlapped. They hadn’t been in touch for a while, though, when Junek, who’d been a reader in the room for Curious Incident contacted Sharp and told him he thought he’d be perfect for the role of Christopher.
Preparing for the show is “massively challenging—physically, vocally, and emotionally,” Sharp said. “The journey my character goes on is so traumatic, it’s left an imprint on my life for all that it’s a great honor to be doing it. I’m dripping with sweat from 15 minutes in. I scream through basically the whole second half. That’s my job everyday—I focus my entire existence around those three hours.” He’s stopped smoking and drinking and now has a very specific regimen of eating high-protein, high-carb meals. “I’ve had to change how I sleep and have vocal rests whenever I can, and I don’t socialize much.”
For Sharp, Juilliard’s rigorous structure was both exactly “what Sharp most feared and most needed,” as The Los Angeles Times noted. “It’s boot camp, really. It’s very intense and when you focus on yourself for that long, it’s not very healthy.” And of course he couldn’t be more grateful to the school for helping him get this job of a lifetime.