You don’t have to remind Ari’el Stachel not to worry.
“#GotMyCheck #GotMyMan #EverythingHappensforaReason,” she wrote under a carousel of photos of the two of them.
Stachel is equally as unfazed. The 31-year-old, who won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his turn as Haled in The Band’s Visit in 2018, is setting his sights on more personal projects.
“I can’t really say I have a feeling,” Stachel tells The Daily Beast about his reduced role. “I decided four years ago that the only way I was gonna be fulfilled as an artist was putting my work out there. I feel like I don’t really have a response to it. I was excluded on the playground for being brown, so I have always looked forward to sharing my own story and sharing my own humanity.”
That feeling of exclusion dates all the way back to his childhood, Stachel says. Coming of age as a half-Yemeni, half-Ashkenazi Jew in a paranoid, and sometimes hateful, post-9/11 America meant enduring everything from dismissal to outright bigotry.
Kids threw his backpack in the trash and taunted him with names like “Osama Jr.” By his teen years, he wanted nothing to do with his racial identity. He switched high schools. He stopped talking about his background. Crucially, he realized that his curly hair and brown skin meant he could pass as half-Black and half-white, a calculation that helped him escape unnecessary judgment.
“Part of it is, I have a best friend who, when he first met me in middle school, he thought I was half-Black, and his family took me in,” he explains. “It wasn’t a conscious choice, it was survival.”
Those experiences and more form the basis of his upcoming one-man show Out of Character, premiering in June at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
About a month after winning the Tony back in 2018, Stachel cold-emailed veteran theater director Tony Taccone (Angels in America, John Leguizamo: Latin History for Morons) with a kernel of an idea. They met once before Taccone sent Stachel off for another six months of writing.
“We spent the next three years workshopping this,” Stachel says. “I’m asking myself questions about what it means to be American, Middle Eastern and Jewish, and examining these intersections in connection with examining the anxiety of spending about 10 years basically hiding the fact that I’m Middle Eastern.”
The Tisch graduate is confident only in the way that having a big-name director and theater attached to your project can make you. With the stage show almost ready, he’s now working on developing a TV series from the same material. It’s all exciting stuff, even if theater, with its years of re-writes and workshops, doesn’t have the instant gratification that working on film and TV does. That’s part of what drew him to Don’t Worry Darling. Reports that he’d joined the cast of Wilde’s highly anticipated sophomore directorial feature surfaced around October 2020. Within a couple of weeks he was being congratulated by Harry Styles on his Tony win before a table read.
“I just needed a little bit more fuel,” he says. “It was actually, in many ways, thrilling. It was one of the first projects happening out of the pandemic, so I just remember being excited to be working.”
Though the scenery around Palm Springs and Los Angeles was nice too, Stachel says he had his eye on something else.
“I remember meeting KiKi. She came in—very long, beautiful legs—and said, ‘Oh, you my husband.’”
He spent the rest of their first rehearsal fumbling to make conversation.
“I was corny as hell, and then we did another take where we got to our first rehearsal and we found ourselves talking for hours,” he says.
The movie has been dogged with rumormongering and publicity since before its release. First came Wilde’s assertion that Shia LaBeouf was replaced with Styles because of his “combative” acting process, followed by LaBeouf releasing a video from Wilde asking him to stay on the project. Then came the film’s tumultuous premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where star Florence Pugh skipped a press conference and Styles was accused by the internet of spitting on co-star Chris Pine. Most recently, rumors of a huge on-set fight between Wilde and Pugh have surfaced. The movie premiered to harsh reviews and middling, though higher-than-expected box office numbers.
Representatives for director Olivia Wilde and editor Affonso Gonçalves did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast.
With a budding relationship and a slate of other projects, it’s safe to say that Stachel isn’t dwelling on the movie for long.
Asked about his favorite part of making Don’t Worry Darling, Stachel says: “Honestly, my favorite part was just looking at KiKi.”