UBC grad Ryan Beil returns to his old stomping grounds for the stage adaptation of German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, Oct. 17 to 20 at the Frederic Wood. Since leaving the hallowed halls of post-secondary education, Beil has become the golden boy of Vancouver’s theatre scene, whether it’s Bard on the Beach, comedy with improv troupe The Sunday Service, hardscrabble Mamet plays for gritty Main Street Theatre or one-man tours de force such as Billy Bishop Goes to War, for which he snagged a Jessie Award. And then there are his A&W commercials. Beil took time from his busy schedule to discuss his fast food gig, his upcoming role in David Sedaris’s Santaland Diaries and strange encounters with fans.
1. I’m going to get all the A&W-related questions out of the way right off the bat. Think of it as an appetizer. How many A&W commercials have you made and do you receive any free A&W food?
Seven or eight [commercials]. I think eight technically, but only seven have aired. No free food. Except for craft services on set. Which is routinely delicious.
2. Do ever set foot in A&W or do you try to avoid it?
I find my way into one every now and then. Mostly on road trips. In small town B.C. A&W’s rule the roost. Every time I think: “Here we go. I’m gonna get mobbed...” and every time no one recognizes me. Go figure.
3. Do you get recognized more for your A&W work than your theatre work?
You know it’s funny. For every couple of people who talk to me about A&W there’s one who brings up Bard on the Beach or Main Street Theatre. Or maybe the ratio is more like 5:1. Of course more people know me as “The A&W Guy” than “The Guy Who Played Touchstone,” but I’m totally OK with that. I’m grateful for it all.
4. What’s your strangest encounter with someone who’s recognized you
for your A&W ads?
One time somebody wanted to take my picture but they only had their camcorder so they asked if they could take a short video of me. I just stood there quietly and they filmed me. I sort of realized in the moment how strange it was. I mean... what are they gonna do with a five-second video of me standing silently in the airport?
5. What’s it like returning to UBC?
I love UBC. I’ve been back as a professional to the ol’ Alma Mater before and it’s always great. I feel fortunate that even though I was such an obnoxious theatre student they don’t seem to mind having me back.
6. In as brief and sexy a way possible, what can you tell readers about The Sorrows of Young Werther and your role in it?
It’s an adaptation of the Goethe novel of the same name. I play Werther, the title and only character in the piece. He’s a young man who moves to the country, falls hopelessly in love with someone he can’t be with and then descends into a deep and relentless (yet sexy) depression.
7. There is a lot of variety in your acting roles—comedy, improv, drama, Shakespeare. Do you find one more difficult or requires more focus?
Nah. I approach them all with the same energy. Variety is what I love best about my career. I’ve never had the longest attention span.
8. What role are you most proud of your performance?
I’d have to say when I played “Teach” in Mamet’s American Buffalo a few years back. That character personifies evil. It’s not a part people would immediately peg me for. It was cool to stretch.
9. Does Vancouver fulfill all your acting needs or do you anticipate a time when you’ll move somewhere else with more acting opportunities?
Nah. I love Vancouver. I wear it as a badge of honour that I was born and raised and now work here. I want to keep Vancouver as my base. There may be times when I have to travel to work, but I think I’ll always come back here. It’s important to me.
10. What’s next for you?
I’m doing [David Sedaris’s] The Santaland Diaries at the Arts Club. It’s another one-man show but one based a little more in the comedy realm. I play a grown man playing an elf.
For more information on The Sorrows of Young Werther, go to theatre.ubc.ca.