Nick Carrillo has been making audiences (and his fellow actors) roar with laughter as Zach Smith in Puffs for three years. We interviewed him as he prepares to depart the show on November 15.
Nick Carrillo portrays Zach Smith in Puffs, whose improvised monologues are one of the biggest highlights in the show. He also portrays Justin Finch-Fletchley, and many other characters besides. We talked with him about rom coms, shipping, and Rocky IV.
And at the end of the article, we have lots of exciting news to share about Puffs, the little Potter parody play that keeps ascending to new heights of success.
What’s been your favorite experience with the show?
I’d have to say all the backstage antics. I love doing this show and I love performing for people with my fellow classmates. But after a while, when you’re doing the show for so long, you have to keep yourself entertained. All the stuff that we do before the show, during the show, after the show – that keeps us so close and keeps us having fun.
The fan response to Puffs has been nuts. What’s been the most crazy or surprising part of that?
My favorite part has been when the [filmed version] came out in theaters. When I did my Zach Smith, the 27 Dresses: how many people responded to the 27 Dresses thing, and how we got 27 Dresses trending on social media. [It] was one of my favorite things, this obscure movie that everybody was talking about for a hot second, that it just blew up.
What was the thought process in deciding that 27 Dresses is the Zach Smith you want immortalized for all time?
As Zach Smith I do so many different things. But one of the staples that I do is that I’ll use a plot line of a movie as if Zach Smith lived through it. So I knew that for one of [the potential filmed ones] I want to do a movie. It was an inside joke with the cast, how much I love 27 Dresses – because they all know that I love rom coms, and I weirdly love this obscure rom com.
After I did it and I went backstage, Anna Dart [who plays Hannah Abbott] came up to me. She goes, “How long have you been sitting on that one?”
And I was like, “Actually, not that long, but I figured this is the time to do it.”
Would you say that’s been your favorite Zach Smith across all the hundreds you’ve done?
There’s a bunch that stand out. It’s like choosing your favorite child. But that’s one of my favorites. To me, it was like a fever dream when I did it. And then when I actually watch it, I just go, “Wow… you’re talking forever.” There’s a ton that I’ve loved. The ones that I love the most are the ones when I break everybody on stage, when they’re not just laughing but they’re shocked at what I did.
What was it like seeing yourself 20 feet tall on a huge screen during Fathom Events?
Very surreal. It was incredible, it was intimidating, it was insane. There was a sense of accomplishment because I was seeing everybody else up there. [To think] what our humble beginnings were, what it had transformed to. We’re at the PIT, having to bring all our costumes and put our stuff together, and put everything up and then take everything down. And then to jump forward and go, “Wow, now we’re seeing ourselves on a theater screen.” It was incredible.
Do you have a favorite part of the show?
My favorite part to do is Zach Smith. Yeah. But my favorite part of this show, other than that, I always love when Maddie [Bundy] and Zac [Moon] have that moment as Harry and Wayne, when they come out as the angsty teens. They’re very upset, like, “Nobody understands!” And Wayne’s like, “Just be angry,” showing Harry it’s okay to be angry. The way the two of them play it… and I’m sure somebody did have to tell Harry, “Just be angry, dude. It’s okay.”
Any Easter eggs in the show that you especially love?
I play Viktor [Krum] and his lines that [playwright] Matt [Cox] wrote are all lines of Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. I love it when there’s someone in the audience who just loses it and I go, “Oh, you’re a Rocky IV fan. You know exactly what this is from.”
Have there been a lot of Rocky IV fans over the years?
Not really, no… Matt talked about this one time, how Harry Potter and Rocky IV don’t really go together.
Who’s your favorite character to play other than Zach Smith?
I play like nine or ten different characters. Honestly, I love doing J-Finch. He’s a character I wasn’t ever really used to playing but that they all entrusted me to play. Just being that sweet, naive, silly little boy, who is “boyish and fun” as he says… It’s been a lot of fun exploring that character and learning how he works and how he is.
How has your portrayal evolved over the last three years?
I think when we started off, it was all just for fun and comedic stuff. Like, let’s just be silly! And I think as we moved on and were going Off-Broadway, let’s really explore these characters.
Like J-Finch… really learning who that kid is, just that sweet, innocent, naive boy. And that’s what the whole show is about: what about the kids who just wanted to go to the school? Just wanted to go and learn how to do magic? In the show you see all this terrible stuff happen to them. But I feel like in the end, he’s always excited to be there.
When you’re young, you can be put in danger and it is scary. And I mean, that’s how school is for anybody – no matter if you go to wizard school or regular school, private school, public school. It’s dangerous. It’s scary. It’s exciting to be a kid and it’s exciting to make friends who experience all these crazy emotions and feelings and grow with you. J-Finch is a kid growing up in extreme circumstances but still having the experiences that so many kids do have: first loves, going to dances, all the weird things that come up in your life. And exploring that and having that arc with him has been exciting.
Zach Smith — the weird stories that he tells, the weird journeys that he goes on. Zach Smith started off with just me coming out, telling a quick joke, and running off. And now it’s turned into these like long huge epics that go on forever.
[There are several companion plays to Puffs set in the same universe, and all of them feature Zach Smith in some role, due to his time traveling in this universe.]
How do you feel about Zach Smith being, in a very weird way, the centerpiece of the Puffs universe?
That’s crazy. I feel like it’s not all about Zach Smith. I feel like he’s become this huge part of it and I think it’s funny. When Matt first wrote the part, it was going to be in a different part of the show, in Year Five. It was going to be: Wayne’s like, “Hey, can we all be friends again?” And then Megan and Oliver and Wayne all make up.
And they go, “What have you been doing all year?”
And Wayne’s supposed to be like, “I’ve been hanging out with my best friend Zach Smith.” And then I would come out.
And Matt was just like, “I don’t know what to do. Just be a jerk, be an asshole.” And I [did]. And then Matt was like, “I like it. But I need to put it somewhere else.”
I was like, “Yeah, do what you gotta do.”
That’s when he came up with the tryout scene. And he was like, “I’m gonna give you 30 seconds to maybe a minute, to improvise.” And we did for the longest time, and then it just grew and grew. And then things that I started to say, Matt was like, “Oh, I kind of want to put that in the Puffs universe.” And he just kept adding to it. It’s been such an honor to me, that this ridiculous character that I love to do, where I get to be stupid and make jokes and do my own thing, has become this big part of it.
[One of the most beloved little bits in Puffs is the relationship between J-Finch and Ernie Mac.]
Are you a Mac-n-Finch shipper?
Oh, yeah. Mac-n-Finch forever! Oh, 100%! We have one fan who’s brought us shirts that say “Mac & Finch forever!” And we have them, and we love them. There’s this thing that that Steve [Stout, who plays Ernie] and I do when we’re all introducing ourselves in the beginning. When it gets to Steve, and he goes, like, “Who’s that? Oh, it’s me. I’m Ernie Mac, I’m basically the best.”
Our characters look at each other, kind of like, “Oh, hey, you’re an interesting fellow.” We call it the start of the romance. That goes to the end.
Oh, so you think the romance is there the whole time?
I think as kids, they see each other and they go, “You’re interesting. I like you. I want to know more about you.” They don’t know what it is because they are 11-year-olds. It happens when you’re a kid, whether it’s “I want to be friends with you” or “I like you.” Either way, you’re always drawn to somebody, and as a kid, you just kind of know. We do a little thing of, like, “I’m drawn to you immediately. I don’t know what this is.” We realized in the end what it is.
Is that why J-Finch rebuffed Sally’s kiss at the end of Year One?
I think it’s one of those things where at that point, you’re not sure, but this is not something that you want. I let her kiss the [Quidditch] ball, and she thinks she kissed me and tries to go in for another kiss. And I’m like, “No, no thank you. Not for me.”
Later on he tries to take Leanne to the dance and then she thinks he’s imaginary. It’s one of those things where you’re figuring out what you’re into. I think from the beginning one thing is certain: J-Finch is drawn to Ernie. And that’s the thing that he realizes in the end.
Talk of which, where did the whole J-Finch being imaginary thing come from?
That was just Matt. Matt had this idea: “I think it’d be funny if he’s imaginary!” I think that was supposed to just be like, look at how goofy Leanne is! She thinks J-Finish is imaginary. And J-Finch is just heartbroken, and it just became this thing that worked and so we kept it.
What’s next for you after Puffs?
I’m excited to go home for the holidays, which is something that I’m used to doing all the time and I haven’t been able to. There’s a lot of projects I’ve been writing with my writing partner that we’re going to try to get off the ground. I’m going to work on scripts. I’m working on a play, rom com horror actually. I’m just gonna dive into writing and producing these projects I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and I’ve been putting off.
What’s being a part of Puffs meant to you?
Being a part of Puffs is like being part of a family. We’ve been doing it for three years now. It’s a huge part of my life. I guess when you when you look at your life, you look through sections of like, “I was here, I was in high school, I was in college, I did this.” And I feel like Puffs is going to be a big part of my life. I met so many incredible people. I made so many incredible friends, and was really a part of something incredible. None of us ever expected it to be what it became. It was just always a fun thing for us, something that we take delight in, and it grew into something much much bigger than any of us anticipated.
Any closing thoughts?
I just want to say thank you. The fans are incredible. You all are what made this. We’d still just be hanging out doing this (and having a good time with it) at the PIT. Whenever we get messages or comments and stuff, it’s incredible to know that people out there care, and are invested in the characters that we’ve created. It’s just an honor. It blows our minds, really, because there’s nothing that can prepare you for “Oh, wow, people are invested in this thing that you helped make.” It’s awesome, it’s incredible, and it’s fun.
Thanks to Nick for speaking with us! We wish him happy trails!
If you want to see Puffs, including the infamous 27 Dresses bit, the filmed version will be available on Amazon and iTunes starting November 22, and is already streaming on BroadwayHD.
If you would prefer to read along, and get a glimpse at some alternate Zach Smith monologues, the script will finally be available to purchase on November 22! This is something we have been championing at Hypable from the very beginning, and we can’t wait to put it proudly on our HP bookshelves!
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even license the play to stage it yourself! Doesn’t that sound like way more fun than yet another community theatre production of Annie?
And of course, Puffs is still playing in New York City, with tickets available through September 2019.