Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie Remembers 9/11 in WTC View

Michael Urie may be best-known as Betty Suarez’ gay best friend Marc St. James on the hit series Ugly Betty; he was slightly-over-the-top with a great sense of humour, unforgettable.

But Urie’s actor’s palette contains many more colours than that. Urie was a Julliard student in New York when the 9/11 attacks occurred.

A few years later he starred in Brian Sloane’s WTC View, a stage play about the devastating ripple effects of the bombings on New Yorkers.

A man places an ad for a roommate in a paper and the results of that act help bring him to his senses in the days following.

WTC View was filmed and released in 2005, and is now being re-released on its tenth anniversary, March 3rd on iTunes, when it seems especially appropriate. I spoke with Urie from New York.

You’re re-releasing the film at a time when there is increased terrorist threat. Do you see it as a political statement?

It’s interesting now it’s a period piece, ten years later it captures the time in NYC after the attacks when everybody had the same thing on their minds, every conversation.

If you go around NY any day, you hear dozens of conversations. In the weeks after 9/11, it was the same conversation. I spoke to more strangers than ever imagine in New York.

Everybody co-habits and works together but as everyone knows, it’s not the friendliest place, you’re not smiling at strangers. At that time they really did and it was an amazing experience.

We were heartbroken and terrified; we looked to each other for safety and comfort.

It’s so long ago now, and people will remember from outside NYC too and have their own feelings about terrorism outside NYC has their own feelings about 9/11 and terrorists, and now that Isis is such a huge faction and such an enormous evil, it speaks to us and reminds us how we can take care of each other.

We stay together no matter what kind of evil. Right now, Isis is told to us, we’re not experiencing it firsthand. But we did for 9/11. It’s scarier.

There are a lot of details in the script about events that happened that day. Your friend mistaking pregnancy for shock, kids being pulled out of school, the roommate’s death, hotels as safe haven then laying off for lack of business. Are they based on real stories?

The stories yes, not necessarily entirely a true story. Brian Sloane the playwright did put an ad in the Village Voice on 9/10 for a roommate mention a World Trade Centre view.

And then 9/11 happened and he had to leave. When he came back he found that people had answered his ad. After that few days recuperating life went on. People who needed a place to live were still looking.

That is true, he did see potential roommates, he did have those conversations of inevitability but I don’t know how true the stories are for the characters that checked in.

The details were based on stories we all heard. Between the play and the movie nothing much has changed. There were always those authentic details and the way the characters interacted and the types of characters he created.

Your character develops paranoia saying “they wanted to scare me into leaving here”. Did that happen to people? To you?

I remember after 9/11 I didn’t want to be anywhere but New York because it was home. I’d only lived there two years but I was one of those people who once there was afoot in the city.

I knew I belonged there and didn’t want to leave. My feelings didn’t change after the attack. It’s interesting, the idea that the terrorists hit us in these small ways, killing on camera, threats against malls, we are so far away from it but so susceptible to it.

The idea we can escape it … should we be running, should we not go to malls? We shouldn’t negotiate but stand up to it and neutralise the threat rather than avoiding it.

How did you get over it or did you?

When you think about it, I’m not over it, I don’t think you do get over, but it didn’t completely shut my life down. I was here I had to get home the first day and get back every other day after that.

The city did shut down for a couple of days; I was in the second day of my third year acting at Julliard. But Friday we were back to school. We talked and in a lot of ways it was extremely therapeutic for me to be part of the school.

Not just going back but using what was happening in our work. We were all experiencing loss. The world mourned.

In some ways New York belongs to the world, it’s the most famous city in the world, and 9/11 was a world tragedy. There has been nothing remotely like that, something carried out with such precision since.

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