NFL star Eddie George tackles theater

NFL legend Eddie George is putting himself through a serious workout. Nope, not on the football field. That was his first career. George has been acting for awhile now, and this spring has had two roles on stage. He just closed “A Raisin in the Sun” in Nashville, and he plays Billy Flynn in the national tour of the musical “Chicago.”

Sports and acting are both about being willing to be vulnerable, putting yourself out there and having courage, George said in an interview Tuesday at the Durham Performing Arts Center, where “Chicago” will be on stage May 12-14. They’re both physical, too, George said, but in different ways. Theater can be daunting, he said. But acting is just a way of expressing himself like football was, too.

“The field is a stage,” said George, a 1995 Heisman Trophy-winner. After playing for Ohio State University, he spent most of his football career with the Tennessee Titans. He lives with his family in Nashville.

“The last 12 years I’ve been [acting]. I’ve been doing this longer than I played professional football,” he said. “You’re fully present and alive in the moment.” George had television and film roles, including “Best Man Holiday,” as well as regional theater before making his Broadway debut as Billy Flynn in “Chicago” in New York City.

“It’s about having the chance to play with some really talented people and grow as an actor,” said George, slipping into the language athletes use. “This is the first time I’ve ever had to go from one production to another,” he said. He went from “A Raisin in the Sun” to a day off, then flying to go on stage in “Chicago” at the tour stop in Milwaukee. It was quite the challenge, he said, going from a highly emotional and draining drama to an upbeat musical. George said the cast of “Chicago” has been very supportive, and he came prepared.

“It was like jumping out of a cannon,” George said. He got rest, took care of his body and voice, and shed the Walter Lee character in “A Raisin in the Sun” for Billy Flynn in “Chicago.” He committed to “A Raisin in the Sun” last year, and when “Chicago” asked about tour dates, he decided he could do both. Even though it’s really a draining process, he said, with a yawn. This week is his first two days off in a row since February, and he’s looking forward to the break, however brief. He’ll be home, then to the “Chicago” tour in Ohio and then back in Durham within a week and a half.

“It’s a fun play to be part of, truly one family. They raise the bar every night,” George said. He said the Fosse style of dance is timeless and has its own flair. “You embrace it. It’s very rich, elegant, sensual — all those things.”

A lesson George keeps from being an athlete is to trust the process.

“Just when you think you’re spinning wheels, think about how it’s building your character and endurance. That can be business, football or theater,” he said. “Trust the process and persist without exception.”

So what’s the process?

“Putting your time in, seeing things to fruition. Trust opportunities will come,” George said, whether it’s the 14th attempt or the 56th attempt. Sometimes it has fulfilled it season or purpose so you move on. That might be for him, with movies and plays, he said, if he’s called to do something else. The Durham tour stop is George’s last, with the “Chicago” tour then moving on to Asia without him.

“I’ve auditioned for a couple things, but I want to catch my breath for a minute, take in nature for a minute. Go to the beach, be still for a minute,” George said. Then he’ll see what opportunities are there in Broadway or film.

“We’ll see,” he said.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan

GO & DO:

WHAT: “Chicago the Musical”

WHEN: May 12-14

WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center

123 Vivian St., Durham

TICKETS: dpacnc.com