As Alex Sharp stood on the winner’s podium in New York, Tony theatre award in hand, he must have been tempted to blow a raspberry at Britain’s biggest drama schools.
The London-born actor was named best actor in a leading role in a play at the theatrical equivalent of the Oscars on Sunday night, following performers such as Mark Rylance and Denzel Washington in securing one of the highest accolades in US theatre.
Yet he could have remained an unknown, he revealed, because before his career took off in America he had been rejected by “all of the good drama schools” in the UK.
Sharp, who was eventually accepted by the Juilliard School in New York, won the Tony for his first professional role – the lead in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which won a further four awards on the night.
But instead of settling scores at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, Sharp adopted a grateful and reflective tone in his acceptance speech. “This time last year I picked up my diploma graduating from Juilliard, so to be holding this is insane,” he said. “Thank you so, so much for this incredible honour.”
In pictures: Tony Awards 2015
In pictures: Tony Awards 2015
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Helen Mirren, winner of the award for Best Lead Actress in a Play for 'The Audience'
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Richard McCabe, winner of the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play for 'The Audience'
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Michael Cerveris, winner of the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for 'Fun Home,' and Kelli O'Hara, winner of the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for 'The King and I'
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6/30 Tony Awards 2015
Corey Mitchell with the Excellence in Theater Education award
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8/30 Tony Awards 2015
Alex Sharp with his award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'
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10/30 Tony Awards 2015
(L-R): Chris Harpa, author Simon Stephens, producers Stewart Thompson, Rufus Norris and Tim Levi of 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' with the award for Best Play
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The cast of 'Fun Home,' winner of the award for Best Musical
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13/30 Tony Awards 2015
Laura Kepley (L) and Kevin Moore of Cleveland Play House, winner of the Regional Theatre Tony Award
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Catherine Zuber with her award for Best Costume Design of a Musical 'The King and I'
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16/30 Tony Awards 2015
Ruthie Ann Miles with her award for the best featured actress in a musical for her performance in 'The King and I'
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Marianne Elliott with her award for the best Direction of a Play on the 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'
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Neil Patrick Harris
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Christie and Finn Ross with their award for Best Scenic Design of a Play for 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'
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Annaleigh Ashford with her award for Best Performance By An Actress In A Featured Role In A Play for 'You Can't Take It with You'
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Lisa Kron (L) and Jeanine Tesori, winners of the award for Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre for 'Fun Home'
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Christopher Oram, winner of the award for Best Costume Design of a Play for 'Wolf Hall Parts One & Two'
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25/30 Tony Awards 2015
John Cameron Mitchell with his Special Tony Award backstage
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27/30 Tony Awards 2015
Christopher Austin (L) and Bill Elliott (R), winners for Best Orchestrations for 'An American in Paris'
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Sam Gold with his award for Best Direction Of A Musical for 'Fun Home'
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Christian Borle with his award for Best Performance By An Actor In A Featured Role In A Musical for 'Something Rotten!'
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The actor, who took an extraordinary path to becoming the toast of Broadway – including travelling Europe and the US in a caravan and working as a handyman – beat Hollywood star Bradley Cooper and fellow Brits Bill Nighy and Ben Miles to the prize.
“This play is about a young person who is different and who is misunderstood,” he concluded in his speech. “I just want to dedicate this to any young person out there who feels misunderstood or feels different and answer that question at the end of the play for you: ‘Does that mean I can do anything?’ Yes it does.”
Marianne Elliott, who won the best director Tony for Curious Incident, told The Independent: “Alex has that quality you can’t teach, where people empathise with him and like him. He has all the skills and is really open to learning more.”
Sharp, 25, was playing Christopher, a 15-year-old mathematician on the autism spectrum. The play was adapted from Mark Haddon’s 2003 best-selling novel for the National Theatre in London before transferring to the West End. When it arrived in Broadway last year, the creative team used US-based actors rather than transferring the original British cast.
“Alex came in so open when we first met him,” Ms Elliott said. “He also had a beautifully fresh quality that was very alive and vulnerable. We found there was a side to him that meant you wanted to spend more time with the character and get to know him.”
Sharp, who has both British and American passports, spent the first seven years of his life on the road in Europe and the US in a caravan with his parents, who were “just obsessed with travelling”.
His first stage appearance was as Piglet in Winnie the Pooh at his Devon primary school. As a teenager, he acted in venues such as the Octagon Theatre in Yeovil, but when, aged 18, he applied to British drama schools, he was rejected.
So he set off travelling and worked as a handyman. While in America he applied to Juilliard and was accepted on a full scholarship. But even studying at the acclaimed institution left him fearing he would be “unemployed for a decade”. As a struggling actor he made coffee tables to sell online before landing his life-changing role in his first audition.
Richard Feldman, associate dean of Juilliard’s drama division, who taught Sharp, said he had “arrived with a political and social conscience” and his award-winning performance was “extraordinary, beyond what I had imagined”.Reuse content