Actor Stephen Carlile plays Scar, the loathsome baddie in The Lion King. His opening line in the hit musical — “Life’s not fair” — is a phrase of our times. Stephen is making the most of the COVID-19 furlough in Hell’s Kitchen. Here’s his West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I arrived from the UK to play Scar in The Lion King on Broadway 4 years ago.
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
I was a New York City newbie looking for an apartment within easy reach of the theatre district. I thought I might stay in Hell’s Kitchen for a year and then move on. But I fell in love with it — so here I am, 4 years later, with no plan to leave.
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
COVID has made me realize how many creative, community-minded people and businesses we have here — and how important it is to protect them.
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
This is more a major injustice rather than a pet peeve, but we need more support and care for the homeless population in Hell’s Kitchen.
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time?
We stayed put. It was hard to be so far away from home, but the experience ended up making us fall even more in love with our Hell’s Kitchen community. The kindness and sense of connection with our neighbors is something we will never forget.
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
I was in The Lion King. I am in awe of the resilience of the Broadway community and the ingenuity which is helping my friends in theater survive this. It’s tough though, and we need support. Recently I have become an Online Air BnB experience. We learn songs, sing together and I share lots of Broadway and West End anecdotes.
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
How much I love being with my wife 24/7! We have spent so much of our relationship apart, as we both work in theater, and we thought that worked well for us. It turns out we love being trapped in a 1-bed apartment together, who’d have thought it?!
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
The fight for racial justice that we have seen during the pandemic gives me hope. I am hopeful that the pause forced on theatre by COVID has given us time and space to reflect on how to be better. I hope that when our Community goes back to work we can create a more equitable theatre industry — both on and off stage. I’d encourage everyone to check the incredible work done by Broadway Advocacy Coalition.
What’s the most serendipitous (random/obscure/ insane) experience that’s happened to you in Hell’s Kitchen?
Walking into the lobby of my building to find J-Lo on a break from shooting a movie, having a chat with our Doorman, Paul.
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
Meeting Harry Belafonte backstage at The Lion King. My Mom and I used to dance to his records when I was younger so it was absolutely thrilling and surreal to meet him. He was lovely.
What’s your superpower?
My wife says that sleeping is my superpower. She might be right. I usually fall asleep within seconds of my head hitting the pillow. I can also sleep pretty much anywhere. I once fell asleep in the Air and Space Museum in DC.
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
“Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” by Tom Lehrer.
Which people inspire you the most?
New York City’s Healthcare workers inspire me every day. I wish I had 10% of their bravery.
What’s your favorite quote or saying?
“If in doubt, walk it out.” It might not be the most poetic quote you’ve heard but it is practical, true and I employ it daily. Walking in New York City is the best, and I’m glad I’ve done so much of it in lockdown. I don’t think I’ve ever regretted going for a walk. It’s the best way to shift a bad mood or figure out a problem.
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
I know most New Yorkers detest Times Square. But even after 4 years, I’m still a total tourist at heart, and as an actor, it has always held real magic for me. Sure, I’ve moaned from time to time about it but when I get back to work I promise to never do that again. I can’t wait to be squeezing through the crowds of theatergoers as I make my way home after a show.
Eating at Tony’s Di Napoli’s pop up during Taste of Times Square Week in October was a highlight of 2020. It was surreal to be eating in the middle of Times Square but it was so good to see people enjoying a special night out there amongst the lights again.
Do you love Hudson Yards? Why, or why not?
They nailed their Christmas Lights this year.
If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
My wife and I used to love the restaurant Dianne and Elisabeth. We had so many great nights there. I still think about the cheese and honeycomb plates… We remain big fans of The Marshal though. Their pizzas have helped us get through lockdown.
Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
Come to my online Air BnB Singalong. It’s helping me survive, and it has been incredible to sing and connect with Broadway fans from all over the world.
Hell’s Kitchen Happy Places
Sullivan Street Bakery — W47th St between 10/11th Ave. We are very lucky to have this world-class bakery in our neighborhood. I crave their egg sandwich most days. And I’ve even tried making the no-knead bread recipe from Jim Lahey with some success.
Domus — W44th St between 9/10th Ave. Domus is my favorite store in Hell’s Kitchen, and probably my favorite store anywhere. It is beautifully curated and I always manage to find something perfectly unique. Luisa and Nicki make me feel like family every time I go in. They remember the name of my dog, Sugar, and she always gets a little treat. It’s a true gem.
Romeo & Juliet Colombian Coffee — W42nd St near 11th Ave. This is my go-to. It still gives me a thrill to have a spot in NYC that knows my coffee order. I also find it hard to resist the arepas…
The Little Pie Company — W43rd St between 9/10th Ave. I love the smell when you walk past, I love the Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie, and actually I love the window displays here — shout out to whoever does those.
Veritas Studio Wines — W45th St between 10/11th Ave. This small, independent store always has the best recommendations and unusual wines. I just really trust Jeremy, the owner, and the staff in there.