Eddie George has always had a wicked swivel in his hips and flash in his step.
Those traits helped him win the Heisman Trophy as a running back at Ohio State University and during nine seasons in the NFL. Since retiring in 2004, George has remained a man on the move as a Fox football commentator and analyst, business owner and an instructor at his alma mater.
Last year, the 43-year-old added singing-and-dancing Broadway actor to his resume when he debuted as slick criminal lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago — a character he’ll reprise at EJ Thomas Hall May 9 and 10.
George developed an interest in theater while taking acting and voice lessons to improve his performance as a sports commentator and prep for bit movie and TV parts. He broke out with roles ranging from the leads in Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Othello and Julius Caesar to Walter Lee Younger in Nashville Repertory Theatre’s A Raisin in the Sun.
“The stakes are high, the pressure is real, and you get instant reaction from the audience,” he says. “That’s the closest thing I’ve come to outside of football that gave me that same satisfaction.”
We explore this field of play with him.
On dancing: When I was growing up in Philadelphia, I was a break dancer. We had a little crew called the Southwest Philly Breakers. My name was E-Z E. I used to spin on my head. I took ballet when I was in high school and throughout college. I did it as a form of cross-training. It wasn’t unfamiliar to me to do African dances or jazz dances, because I’ve been doing it for the last 10 years as an actor, just to have an awareness of my body and stay nimble.
On his first time onstage: It was an ensemble piece here in Nashville, Tennessee, called God’s Trombones, by James Weldon Johnson. And it was the closest thing to death I think I could ever experience. I felt like I was going to hyperventilate, die. I was backstage, like, Oh, my God! Why am I doing this? Stage fright overtook me. I just wanted to get the hell out of there! It was one night only. There was so much pressure. Everybody came out to see me perform. And it was not a great experience at first because I completely destroyed my lines.
On Shakespeare: I went to see Hamlet on Broadway with Jude Law. I wasn’t expecting a great performance. When he came onstage, I was amazed. Truly, it was transformative. I was transfixed with the language. I didn’t understand a word that they were saying at first, because the language was the King’s language. But I understood that there was a sense of urgency or there was distress. Also, it was a very athletic play. I remember I left saying, “I would love to play a role like that.” It was challenging, and it really stretches you as an actor.