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By: Nicholas Ducassi (A'10)
Room keys dangle from their newly minted Carnegie Mellon lanyards as the two wide-eyed freshmen, separated by a hallway, size each other up. It’s move-in day at Hamerschlag dorm, and the strangers are a mixture of excited, nervous, and oh-my-God-I’m-actually-in-college-now terrified. When they discover they’re both acting majors, there’s a connection. They’re not roommates, but their shared home guarantees they’ll see at least one friendly face in the coming days. Phew! They chat as their mothers help them cart boxes of their belongings up the Hamerschlag stairs.
Although they have the same major, they’re as different as their silhouettes. Josh Gad (left) is jovial, big-boned, and big-hearted—a class clown with a quick wit and a Zero Mostel zest for practical jokes. “An agent of anarchy within any class,” says acting professor Ingrid Sonnichsen. “He was dear, absolutely dear—but you wanted to housebreak him.” Rory O’Malley (below) is quieter, taller, and more muscular, with ruddy cheeks and a boyish smile. Acting professor Tony McKay describes him as “thoughtful, even-tempered, reserved” but no less passionate, a “reticent man who onstage brings it to a boil.” Or as acting professor Don Wadsworth puts it: “Rory is an ‘aw shucks,’ 1950s, ‘let me carry your groceries for you’ kinda guy.” And Josh Gad? “Josh would play the old lady who was carrying the groceries.”
Their fall semester brings them closer together, a result of their groggy walks to mandatory 8am yoga classes and late-night post-rehearsal treks home. After an autumn of self-discovery and new routines, winter ushers in a geographical change in their friendship. Gad’s roommate drops out, which hardly leaves him disappointed—he’ll be perhaps the only freshman on campus with his own room. O’Malley, though, has other plans for the vacant top bunk. Despite Gad’s best rebuttals, O’Malley carts his boxes down the hall and tacks up posters on the walls of his new digs.
Not long after moving in, O’Malley comes to the rescue of his new roommate. Gad is having trouble memorizing the weekly speech assignment. Every freshman acting student has to recite a memorized poem with perfect diction, followed by an immediate critique from the professor—in front of the entire class. “I knew I was going to get lambasted,” says Gad. Not if O’Malley can help it. He listens to Gad’s recital over and over, helping him whenever he loses his place. Gad passes the exam, avoiding the professor’s wrath.
The roommates know they’ve got a good thing going, so they decide to move into an off-campus apartment together for sophomore year. Just seven days into their new living arrangement, O’Malley tells Gad there is something he must tell him. It sounds serious: “I’m gay.”
Gad is speechless. It seems to him that O’Malley has charmed every female on campus with his boyish smile—he’s gay? Gad’s loss for words doesn’t last long. He tells his best friend that being honest with himself and his friends is both courageous and the right thing to do. O’Malley, who had a “very Catholic upbringing,” is relieved that he can count on Gad’s friendship. Campus support follows. “CMU was a great place for me—to have great role models, other faculty members, students who were proud of themselves. … I made a decision to be one of them, to be proud of who I was.” Gad says he should have realized O’Malley was gay the moment he decorated their Hamerschlag room freshman year. “He had a poster of Sarah McLachlan and Bono on his wall. Those two don’t mix in any straight community, ever!”
After four years of training, the roommates—who have portrayed clowns, animals, even inanimate objects—are ready to get paid. During their final semester, they head to New York City with their classmates for the drama school’s annual Senior Showcase. For three days, they each perform a few minutes of material for hundreds of agents, managers, casting directors, and producers. Like a scouting event for athletes, or a job fair for business majors, it’s a big deal.
More than a dozen industry folk request to meet with Gad. No one calls O’Malley. No one. While Gad marches around Manhattan for meetings, O’Malley wanders the theater district, staring at Broadway marquees that his name may never grace. They’ll get another shot at the Los Angeles Showcase just two months later, but it’s little consolation for O’Malley—he planned to move to New York after graduation. At the L.A. showcase, Gad again gets a big response. This time, O’Malley gets a few bites. With no choice but to head west, he settles in L.A. after he and Gad earn their degrees from the School of Drama in 2003.(Continued …)