Becoming Swayze

Minnesota-born actor Steven Grant Douglas may not actually be Patrick Swayze but by playing Sam Wheat in 'Ghost: The Musical' he sure is close.

Steven Grant Douglas as Sam Wheat in Ghost: The Musical
Photos by Joan Marcus

On June 18, Ghost: The Musical makes its Twin Cities debut at the Orpheum. The touring Broadway show promises to pin butts to seats with its rock ’n’ roll take on the tale of apparitional love. It also marks the triumphant homecoming of Minnesota native Steven Grant Douglas in the role of Sam “Swayze” Wheat. Barely two years out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s drama program, Douglas landed the role while he was doing the decidedly un-Swayzian thing of starring in Avenue Q in Grand Forks, North Dakota. By the time Ghost hits town, the 40+ city tour will be mostly done, but for Douglas, it’ll feel like opening night.

You landed this roll less than two years after graduating from UMD and with no on-Broadway experience. How?
My mindset was, take the opportunities that have presented themselves instead of moving to [New York City] to find opportunity. I followed where opportunity was leading me. 

A touring Broadway musical is a bit different from Avenue Q in Grand Forks. Ever get nervous?
I don’t really get nervous before a show, but I haven’t played Minneapolis yet. And I have a feeling I’m going to have a little bit of a nervous breakdown because there will be so many people in the audience that I know. It’s almost harder to play an audience of people I know. I know what the show is capable of, so I get nervous about the show reaching its potential on a given night. 

What was Ghost the movie to you before you got the show? Did you have any affinity for it or was it literally just that thing where Patrick Swayze wraps his arms around Demi Moore and does some pottery?
That is exactly what Ghost was to me. What you just said was perfectly worded and I must applaud you for that.

Speaking of, is that scene in the show? 
Yes. When the show was conceived there was no pottery scene and the producers sat in a room with the director and said “There has to be a pottery scene.” You can’t do Ghost: The Musical without having one of the most iconic scenes from the film in it. 

What’s it like to do that thoroughly Swayzian scene each night?
It’s amazing every night because there comes a moment where I am like, “Whoa, I’m the guy. I get to sit behind her and be a part of this thing that’s so well known.”

How many times have you seen the movie?
The first time that I saw the movie—and the only time that I’ve seen the movie—is when I was flying to New York City to audition for the show. There was a woman across the aisle from me and she saw what I was watching and was smiling at me like, “Mmmhmm, that’s a good one.”

You play a Patrick Swayze role and Patrick Swayze is, well, Patrick Swayze. Dirty Dancing, Point Break, Road House . . . There’s a certain epicness to all that. What's it like reprising a Swayze role?
It’s definitely cool. As an actor, I didn’t just want to recreate what he had created. So it was how do I—Steven Douglas from Minnesota, not Patrick Swayze from Houston, Texas—navigate this character? How do I become this well known person and still not look like I’m trying to fill someone else’s shoes?

That said, what’s the most Swayze thing about you?
I think that I have Swayze’s simplicity. The reason I love what he does is that a lot of what he does is so minimal but the results are exponential  . . .  It’s a smirk, it’s a squint. It’s something that’s so subtle and human but it gets blown up into stardom. When he’s sexy and he’s funny he just happens to be sexy or happens to be funny. He doesn’t try to be sexy or funny but he just is. He just happens to be those things.

I like to think Swayze never made mistakes. Have you made any in your first big role? 
When we first ran the whole show all the way through I got a little too wrapped up in the emotion because it’s a scary thing to recognize your own mortality and so I was crying and we got done at rehearsal and my director pulled me aside and said, “That was pretty good, but you can’t be the guy crying. You’ve gotta save the crying for the audience.” 

So, aside from being tearjerker what’s Ghost: The Musical like?
It’s an incredibly high-tech show. Cutting edge Broadway special effects. What comes with that is a lot of heavy machinery so I have to know exactly where to be on stage so I don’t get, you know, a 6,000-pound video screen on top of me. 

Last question, in this version of Ghost you just wear a white sheet over you and that’s how you signifiy that you’re a ghost, correct?
Yeah, yep, I take a sheet from each hotel and cut holes in it for my eyes.

Ghost: The Musical, June 18-23, Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-339-7007,

Steven Grant Douglas admits he’s no Patrick Swayze, but that didn’t stop him and his brother Gabe (frontman for local rock band The 4ontheFloor) from agreeing to act out one of Swayze's most memorable scenes.