Of the Profession
Actors Finn and Dylan Wittrock got their acting chops at Shakespeare & Company
Photos by Megan Haley
Finn Wittrock is living an actor’s life. The boy from Lenox made love to Lady Gaga before devouring victims on the series “American Horror Story.” He partied with Brad and Angelina in an Australian desert after wrapping Unbroken. His character died of AIDS in The Normal Heart, and he had a huge payday as an optimistic young investor in last year’s hit The Big Short. This year, Wittrock will be seen in La La Land with Ryan Gosling, onstage in Othello with Daniel Craig, and on Broadway opposite Sally Field in The Glass Menagerie. (He made his debut in 2012 in Death of a Salesman opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman.)
It’s been quite a ride for the 31-year-old Berkshire native, but it’s not all glitz and glamour.
“Even if it looks glamorous, it is work,” says Wittrock, who returned to the Berkshires in August to see his brother, Dylan, make his professional debut performing in repertory at Shakespeare & Company. The two will be back again October 8 for a benefit reading of Hamlet.
Just like his brother, Dylan is walking in his father’s footsteps. Peter Wittrock studied vocal training with Shakespeare & Company’s co-founder Kristin Linklater and became a company member. “My dad was 27 when he started working here, and I’m about to turn 27,” notes Dylan, sitting across from Finn at Lenox Coffee one morning before a performance. “Everyone’s calling him Peter,” Finn says, adding that it is surreal to see people who knew them from their childhood. Both are Hollywood handsome with strong jawlines and intense eyes. More pronounced is how intelligent, thoughtful, and grounded they are, for which they credit their family—and those Shakespeare & Company roots.
At five years old, Finn literally jumped into his first role during a performance of The Tempest at Edith Wharton’s estate. “The shipwreck was on The Mount’s balcony,” Finn recalls vividly. “I was in the parlor watching, and my dad, who was playing Ferdinand, was like, ‘Come on,’ and he dragged me up onstage. Everyone was in silhouette, and he told me to pretend we’re on a sea and in a storm, and go this way and go that way, and then fall—and I did!”
The Wittrock family moved away when Finn was six and Dylan was two, but the Berkshires, or more accurately, Shakespeare & Company, remained their summer home. It’s where their father performed and their mother worked in the office. “It was like everyone was our mom,” says Finn. The boys lived, breathed, and played theater, even forming a company of their own with the other children of company members called, The Very Young Company. They focused on acting, directing, and designing Shakespearean scenes. “It became this thing,” remembers Finn. “People would stay after the show and watch us.”
The boys weren’t just playing, they were developing a craft. “I was always the messenger boy, and I would be like, ‘Here, my lord, the letter for you,’ but then I would sit backstage or sit in the back of the audience and watch the whole show every night and watch how actors were immersed in that nonstop, overwhelmingly busy schedule,” says Finn. “That’s how I feel I learned most of what I know.” His takeaway was “a very holistic experience of acting. It’s the nitty-gritty of doing it.”
Today, both Wittrocks are doing the nitty-gritty. Finn trained at Juilliard’s prestigious acting program before landing a recurring role on “All My Children.” He performed Off Broadway and on television, but everything changed when Mike Nichols saw him perform at the Signature Theatre.
“He was so kind and nice and that was good enough,” says Finn. A month later, Nichols asked him to audition for Happy in Death of a Salesman.
“I auditioned, and then Mike said, ‘Can you come back in a few hours to read for Scott Rudin?’ And I was like, ‘Okay!’ I remember walking out shaking.” He was cast that day and, like that, he says, “My life was different.” Not only did he get to play opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman, the role opened doors that led to Unbroken, The Big Short, and “American Horror Story,” plus an Emmy nomination, red carpets, award shows, and all the trappings of being one of Hollywood’s rising stars.
Dylan’s path was more circuitous. “I wanted to see for myself what I wanted to do,” Dylan recalls. He worked at an early intervention clinic with his mom, an occupational therapist. He studied Spanish and photography at the University of San Francisco, and then he travelled. “I went where the wind took me, and eventually it took me to New York,” he says. He enrolled in the acting program at Atlantic Theatre Company, and nine months later, he performed on Shakespeare & Company’s stages. “I’ve been doing it my whole life, but I’m starting over,” he says.
Finn and Dylan live in Los Angeles today, Finn with his wife, a dancer he met at Juilliard, and Dylan with his fiancé, who is also a dancer. “It grounds you to have a family,” says Dylan. Their days are spent reading scripts, writing, exercising, and trying to stay creative while waiting for the next role.
Even with his success, Finn says 90 percent of acting is still rejection. “It’s your sensitivity that makes you a good actor, but it also makes you vulnerable and makes it all hurt,” he says. “You are open to being crushed at all times, so you have to build a kind of scab.”
At the upcoming October 8 benefit reading of Hamlet at Shakespeare & Company, Finn will read Hamlet, Dylan will play Rosencrantz, and his cohort, Guildenstern, will be read by Rory Hammond, one of the co-founders of their childhood theater company. Ariel Bock, company member and one of the Wittrocks’ “other moms,” says, “It’s great to have them both back acting at their artistic home!”