It's a long way from Tenafly to "Tennessee," but Adam Rothenberg has made it a southern comfort kind of trip.
He's made the star trek triumphantly but the movie mileage he's traveled is even more impressive. At age 26, he was still at home, living in his parents' attic; now, just a handful of years later, he's on the TV in their Jersey living room.
And at a theater near you: "Tennessee," appropriately enough a road movie, opens this Friday.
Hit the road, Adam? "I actually had a late start as an actor," muses the handsome hunk who'd also done some modeling before extricating himself from that attic for starring parts in TV's "The Ex-List" and Hollywood's "Mad Money."
"I had no idea what I wanted to do. I spent one year in the service in Germany, fooled around afterward for a while."
You're only fooling yourself, said his dad. "When you're the son of a Jewish doctor — and I had no education whatsoever — and you have no plans, well …"
Actor., heal thyself. "When I told my Dad I was interested in acting, he said, 'You want to be an actor — act!' "
He took action right then, finding a path, "doing a lot of off-off- Broadway plays."
But it was way off-Broadway that he found his way; getting "my first job at the Williamstown Theater Festival," one of the most acclaimed companies in the country.
Then he didn't have to scream for attention; it came with the territory. Soon after, the man without a plan took a stand by hailing a streetcar.
And that scream of "Stella!" attracted attention far and wide as his Stanley Kowalski corralled critics to his side as Rothenberg, alongside co–star Patrician Heaton, lit up the third rail of dynamics in the Kennedy Center for the Perforrming Arts production of "A Streetcar Named Desire."
"I felt like I was going to the slaughterhouse," recalls the actor, nervous and somewhat diffident slipping into the T-shirt once emblazoned with Marlon Brando's name on it.
But he more than connected with the kindness of strangers; he got their approval.The young actor who feared being branded a pale Brando poseur was poised enough to be compared to a "young Marlon Brando" in the New York Times.
From Tennessee Williams to "Tennessee," there have been many stage credits along the way, as well as the quick exiting — but critically lauded — "The Ex-List" on TV.
On the Road — Quickly
Part of a grand scheme of things? This is no scheming actor; open, charmingly honest, disarmingly appealing, Rothenberg regales as a gale of applause takes him from one role to another. As for young Carter, the part he plays in the new film produced by Philadelphian Lee Daniels — he barely had time to pack his bags for his "Tennessee" trip.
The "Tennessee" waltz was more a beeline to the airport. "I had no time to prepare; my agent called, with two days notice, said get on a plane," and soon Rothenberg was rehearsing opposite Ethan Peck, who plays his younger, fatally-ill brother. And there was another actor in the credits, whose glitter didn't blind the other two on screen: Mariah Carey as a singer singed by an abusive husband who joins the boys on the ultimate road trip.
"Two for the Road" More "Three for the Road," with her guitar thrown in.
And it all hit home: Portraying an older, wiser brother was a welcome mat of material out front for Rothenberg, one of six siblings. "I have two brothers," he says of the Carter kinship,"whom I love dearly."
The pecking order was in place. "Here we are," he says of co-star Peck and him, "with so little movie experience between us … so green … But I looked at his face and he looked more terrified than I was was. So I became more protective toward him."
And they both drank it all in. "I taught him how to drink," volunteers Rothenberg of lessons learned in the Volunteer State.
Carter's complexity is crafted so elegantly by the actor that no seams show. It seems that Rothenberg, the focus of much blog bleatings about him being the next big thing — and he is major material and heat on screen — doesn't feel pressed by the press or the "Adam's Apple" applause he receives diurnally on the Web fan site.
Where to next? "I have no idea," he says with a sweet smile of his next road trip.
For sure it won't be to an attic in Tenafly.