Colin Gregory is using his index finger to hook an orange wedge out of the pink ice in his wine glass. He's at Shuga's downtown, explaining how he ended up acting in Colorado Springs after breaking up with his fiance and dropping out of dental school in Boston. That was before spending a decade in L.A., where he made a living casting other actors in movies like Ghost World and big plays like Wicked.
"When I left L.A.," says Gregory, "I was definitely strung out and crazed. And here, it's so laid back, which I love."
He lets out an audible "Ahhh," and sinks into his seat like it's a hot tub.
Grinning under his newsboy cap, Gregory doesn't look old enough to have lived three lives. At 31, he looks like he's still in his early 20s, perfect for infiltrating the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs theater scene, both the well-established Theatreworks and the young, hip, avant-garde Theatre 'd Art.
Gregory recently turned down a role in the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's production of The Full Monty so he could play the antagonist in Theatreworks' student production of the Broadway comedy Urinetown.
In the satirical musical, Gregory plays evil corporate honcho Caldwell B. Cladwell, head of Urine Good Company, a company that charges people for water and enforces public-toilet use. A person who can't afford to go to the bathroom is supposedly exiled to the penal colony from which the play draws its name.
Most musical theater Gregory's done has had him singing as prettily as possible. Contrarily and excitingly, Gregory says Urinetown songs aren't "about singing nice. It's about conniving, bringing a dark undertone to the songs."
Gregory, a Boston-born triplet, has been acting since infancy. Triplet babies are naturals for acting because of their interchangeability. (See: the Olsen twins in Full House.)
A few Pampers commercials satiated Gregory's brothers' thirst for fame. But Colin stayed in theater until his family dissuaded him from pursuing a full-blown acting career. He ditched his audition to get into New York University's esteemed acting program and enrolled as a biochemistry pre-dental student at Framingham State College in Massachusetts.
"I think about that every day: Where would I be now?" says Gregory. "But we make our decisions based on our own insignificances."
So Gregory focused on getting married and fixing people's teeth. He says his whole life was based on trying to be the perfect son, man, husband, brother.
"I failed miserably."
In March 1997, Gregory came out of the closet, broke up with his fiance, dropped out of school, and moved to L.A. to be an actor.
One of his first auditions was for Rent. He made it through 17 rounds and was flown to New York for the last audition.
"They told me I did great, and then never called me back," he says. "I thought, 'I'm this far from getting this amazing job,' and when it didn't happen, I felt like I sucked."
Gregory stopped auditioning, figuring he wasn't tough enough to handle rejection.
In one of the Rent auditions, he'd met a casting associate named Johnny. They dated and a year later, Gregory was working for the same casting company that turned him down. Suddenly, he was the one sitting at the table watching people read and sing for parts, and making cuts.
The right part
During eight years in casting, from 1998 to 2006, Gregory says he kept thinking, "I'm young, I'm cute, I'm stylish, I'm living in L.A. and I know people."
As part of his description of the L.A. lifestyle, Gregory puts his finger over a nostril and does an exaggerated impersonation of someone sniffing a giant line of cocaine. He says that although he was able to avoid drug trouble, he began to feel surrounded by superficiality.
"It's also the L.A. mentality," he says. "If I was living in a different city like if I'd stayed in Boston I probably would have gone to medical school, gotten married and destroyed my life that way."
In August 2006, one of Gregory's brothers, an Army soldier who lived in Colorado Springs, asked him to live in his house while he was deployed. So he packed up his 2001 Volvo S40 sports sedan and hauled his whole life east. And it was here that he realized his sense of self doesn't need to come from big parts.
"I started thinking, you know what, to get that far in the process is huge huge," he says. "When you have a hundred thousand people auditioning, getting to the point where they flew me to New York, I was like, 'OK, I'll take it,' and I stopped being so hard on myself."
Gregory graduated from UCCS with a theater degree in May 2008. So far, he's appeared in such shows as Theatre 'd Art's Shopping and F*cking and Theatreworks' Playboy of the Western World and Wit.
In playing Caldwell B. Cladwell, Gregory will be put to the ultimate test, according to Laura TimmKreitzer, Urinetown stage manager and Gregory's roommate.
"He's such a nice guy [in real life]," she says. "It'll be hard to see him actually being mean to people."
And Cladwell isn't just a little mean, either: He throws people off the tops of buildings.
Gregory says that when it comes down to it, he's sincerely happy to play any parts he gets. His favorite local role, as it turns out, is teaching theater at the Colorado Springs Conservatory. He says he's always telling students that "Shakespeare said, 'All the world's a stage.' We're acting all the time, always someone different to our parents, our friends ..."
And he would know, no question about it.