Over Thanksgiving weekend, I caught up with “How to Get Away With Murder” ’s Ann Arbor-born and Huron High-educated actor Jack Falahee. Shonda Rhimes’s most recent series drew 14.3 million viewers when it premiered in 2014, outperforming both “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” ’s pilot episodes and launching it to the No. 1 most popular show last fall. The legal drama on ABC just wrapped its sophomore mid-season finale and will resume this February.
As Connor Walsh, a gay, sharp-tongued and fiercely competitive member of the “Keating Five,” Falahee found his breakthrough role working alongside the likes of Viola Davis (“The Help”), Alfie Enoch (the “Harry Potter” series) and Matt McGorry (“Orange is the New Black”).
Just two years ago, Falahee was catering parties in New York. A year and a half ago, he led life in L.A. as a Lyft driver. Now 26 and home for the holidays, Falahee gets approached for a photo while browsing at Bivouac, and he and his family are still slightly in awe of the recognition that follows him. He has noted before how his big Italian family has a tradition of hand-rolling gnocchi, and this year is no different.
“I come from a really supportive family. But my grandma still jokes with me like, ‘When are you going to get a real job?’ ” he laughed.
With a whole week home, Falahee ate his way through his favorite local spots, remedying his flu with an Arbor Brewing Company draft. Despite being sick, he played football in the rain with old friends and cheered on Michigan against Ohio State in The Big House. He caught up on his reading list, which included Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me,” Patti Smith’s “M Train” and Elon Musk’s biography. In multiple Instagrams, he documented his obsession with the Settlers of Catan board game, of which he raved, “I mean, have you played? It’s incredible!”
Well-read and proudly nerdy, Falahee is the third child of four in a very academic family. His younger brother, Michael, whom he enjoys playing the guitar with, graduated pre-med from the University last May. His older sister, a lawyer, saved him and his “Murder” castmates from relying on “Legally Blonde” to learn courtroom jargon.
In his senior year of high school, Falahee dual-enrolled at Pioneer High School to join their Theatre Guild (PTG), which School of Music, Theatre & Dance students help instruct. When one of his student teachers pulled him aside and asked if he’d consider doing theatre at a collegiate level, Falahee decided to seriously audition around the country.
While he may not have been accepted to the University’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance, he graduated from New York University’s prestigious Tisch drama program in 2011.
“I went from being this guy who played sports in high school to taking a ballet class in New York City,” he said.
However, Falahee reflected on the value of pursuing acting through higher education.
“I think there was definitely a lot I learned in college, I got a lot of experience I wouldn’t have,” Falahee said. “But especially since we invest so much in academia now, the amount we pay to go to NYU … I don’t know.” Nevertheless, he justified that it was less the university experience and more being in “the center of the world,” surrounded by theaters in New York City, that influenced him most as a performer.
In fact, while at NYU, he saw Viola Davis and Denzel Washington co-star in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s play “Fences.” Little did he know, he’d one day find a maternal figure in Davis, and Washington would one day listen in on his table read.
Now, it’s no secret (unless just an elaborate social media cover-up) that the entire “Murder” cast has become a close family. Falahee told me about a continuous prank on set.
“I know, I get to watch Viola Davis act in front of me, but when it’s the same two pages for 14 hours, it’s exhausting,” he said. “So Matt (McGorry) and I have this thing where we try to make each other laugh during the serious court room scenes … Alfie (Enoch) and I are holding it in, biting our lips to the point of self-harm. Aja (Naomi King) is over there falling asleep. It’s hilarious.”
Then, when asked about his “bromance” with “Murder” co-star McGorry, Falahee was quick to respond: “Oh yeah, it’s a real romance.”
Their playful friendship and teasing on social media translates to real life as well.
“Matt’s just so funny. We’ll get together sometimes and just read Shakespeare to exercise different muscles,” he said. “He’ll send me these emails that are written entirely in iambic pentameter.”
Along with admiring his co-stars, Falahee’s acting inspirations constantly change as he matures as an actor. Most recently, he has been fascinated with Tom Hardy (“Mad Max: Fury Road”).
“I go through these phases where I have an obsession with one actor,” he explained. “I’ll just watch everything they’ve ever been in.”
In addition to “Murder,” Falahee plays Frank Stringfellow in “Mercy Street,” a new PBS original series about the American Civil War to premiere on Jan. 17 — a show Falahee detailed extremely passionately. His own fascination with the Civil War started when his father took him and his two brothers to visit Gettysburg when they were younger.
“I never thought I’d be spending half my year in Richmond (Virginia)” he said. “But (the show is) so relevant to everything that’s been happening in the world right now … race relations between African Americans and whites.”
In thinking about future projects, Falahee noted how he would love to eventually return to musical theater, which he started with in the PTG. He recently saw “Hamilton” on Broadway and “Elf the Musical” while back home, but he laments his crazy filming schedule for having little time to see more shows. A lover of animation and the “Toy Story” series, Falahee’s other dream role would be a cartoon character.
Though he has become very well-adjusted in the Hollywood spotlight, Falahee has one piece of advice for up-and-coming actors — a note taken from Matt Damon: “Don’t do it.”
“I know it sounds funny, but I’m being serious,” he said. “I realize how privileged I am to be where I am, but you have to be a little crazy and insane to pursue it.”
To be successful, to be on a show titled “How to Get Away with Murder,” I guess you have to be at least a little mad.