NEW YORK — What’s the best way to tell the tale of a D.C. kid who grows up to live his showbiz dreams — TV? Comic book? A splashy musical?
In his multi-platform career, the bicoastal Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is juggling all three. Most recently, he has been shooting a new pilot based on the “Archie” comics in Vancouver, B.C., at least during the week. Weekends have been dedicated to shepherding the glossy, bloody new musical version of “American Psycho” to Broadway, where it opened April 21.
“The schedule is intense,” Aguirre-Sacasa says over lunch in New York after one of his red-eye flights from Canada.
Even so, the tall, cheerful Aguirre-Sacasa seems to have lost none of the eager edge that marked him as an unusual playwright — genre-oriented and darkly funny — back when he was trying out scripts on his home turf at D.C.’s Source Theatre. In 2001, his sci-fi fable “The Muckle Man” made an unexpected splash, and in 2009, his 1980s-tinged adaptation of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” premiered at the Round House Theatre.
His writing credits since then have ranged from TV’s “Glee” and “Supergirl” to the reboot of the calamitous Julie Taymor-U2 musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” Since 2014, Aguirre-Sacasa has also been the chief creative officer of Archie Comics, which explains “Riverdale,” the pilot he wrote and is executive-producing with Greg Berlanti (“Arrow,” “The Flash,” “The Mysteries of Laura”).
How do the Archies connect to “American Psycho,” the controversial 1991 Bret Easton Ellis novel about a materialistic Wall Street slasher? For Aguirre-Sacasa, everything is related.
“I’m all over the map talking about these things,” he says. The Archies have moved into the 21st century: “Riverdale” is conceived with a “Twin Peaks” tone, and Aguirre-Sacasa has created a zombie/horror series for the gang called “Afterlife.” The horrific “American Psycho” came his way because of “Dorian Gray”; it features a thumping club score by Duncan Sheik and stars Benjamin Walker as the preening murderer Patrick Bateman.
“Dorian Gray is such a precursor to Patrick Bateman,” says Aguirre-Sacasa. “He was obsessed with fashion, society, good looks and youth. He’s obsessed with art in the way that Patrick Bateman is obsessed with pop art. And, he’s, you know” — he flashes a fleeting, sinister smile — “a killa.”
“His wit is really in tune with Bret’s,” says Rupert Goold, who directed the 2013 “American Psycho” debut in London and now on Broadway (where the reviews have been bloody — “Slick and tedious,” Peter Marks declared in The Washington Post). “It’s literary, caustic at times and able to embrace a pulpy kind of camp.”
The widely spaced professional dots connected pretty quickly for Aguirre-Sacasa, 43, even though he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do growing up in Washington’s Spring Valley neighborhood. His mother worked in a bank, and his father at the World Bank before becoming Nicaragua’s ambassador to the United States. The younger Aguirre-Sacasa went to Georgetown Prep, Georgetown University, then to McGill University in Montreal for a master’s degree in English literature.
Back in Washington, Aguirre-Sacasa worked in a law office as a filing clerk, wrote for City Paper and was even the Shakespeare Theatre’s press rep for a stretch. One of playwright Paula Vogel’s famous one-day “boot camps” at Arena Stage persuaded him to get serious about writing, so he signed up for Yale’s graduate program.
“These were life-changing things,” he says. “Boot camp with Paula. David Carr at City Paper saying, ‘You’ll be better at creative writing.’ I was terrified to tell [Shakespeare artistic director] Michael Kahn I was leaving, and he said, ‘It’s time.’ Even that benediction meant a lot to me.”
Aguirre-Sacasa wrote short plays for Source with such punchy titles as “Bride of Bigfoot” and “Say You Love Satan.” Before he was finished at Yale, he had an agent and a writing commission from the respected Manhattan Theatre Club.
He moved to New York to start a residency with Manhattan’s Second Stage Theater, and at the same time, Marvel Comics invited him in. It was 2003, just before Marvel morphed into a movie-making machine.
“They were looking to bring new blood into the comic-book- writing ranks,” Aguirre-Sacasa says. “They were looking for novelists, screenwriters and journalists who were clearly fanboys.”
Aguirre-Sacasa got noticed by Marvel thanks in part to the Archies. An assignment during Vogel’s boot camp was to write about two things that don’t go together, so he mashed up the Archies — his favorite as a comics-obsessed kid — with the killers Leopold and Loeb. What if Archie fell in with those young psychos and tried to stop their crime? The resulting play prompted the Archie corporate office to send a cease-and-desist letter; Aguirre-Sacasa took the opportunity to say he’d love to work for them.
A Marvel Comics recruiter heard about the Archies kerfuffle, and also liked the genre elements in the “Muckle Man” script. Soon Aguirre-Sacasa was writing a “Fantastic Four” comic to support the big new movie.
He kept a foot in Washington as Rorschach Theatre staged his 2007 “Tempest” riff, “Rough Magic,” and then television hunted him down. “This was when L.A. was really cherry-picking playwrights,” Aguirre-Sacasa says. He wasn’t interested: “I was really snooty about it.” But he went to California to interview with the “Big Love” team, which led to an offer he advised his agent to refuse. Almost instantly it felt like a mistake, and Aguirre-Sacasa begged his agent to somehow allow him to go back and say yes.
“I knew you were going to change your mind,” she told him.
After three years in Los Angeles with “Big Love,” Aguirre-Sacasa returned to New York — and the phone rang. The humongous Broadway musical “Spider-Man” was in trouble. Would he help rewrite it?
While waiting for the contractual dust to settle before starting the “Spidey” re-weave, he returned to L.A. and took a meeting with “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy about a top-secret project called “American Horror Story.” At the end of the meeting, Murphy said, “By the way, do you like musicals?”
Aguirre-Sacasa replied, “I love musicals. In fact, I may or may not be working on ‘Spider-Man.’ ”
A week later the offer came — not for “American Horror Story,” but for “Glee.”
The way one thing leads to another for Aguirre-Sacasa is perpetually strange, though former Round House artistic director Blake Robison says that “it all makes sense.” (Robison produced Aguirre-Sacasa’s “Abigail 1702” — a sequel to Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” — at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.)
A “Carrie” remake with Julianne Moore? Stephen King’s “The Stand” as a comic book? Why not? “He’s the go-to guy,” Robison says of Aguirre-Sacasa’s shape-shifting, “because he holds that idiosyncratic place in the industry.”
In Aguirre-Sacasa’s mind, stories and characters are ripe for adapting and expanding, naturally hopping boundaries. Yet the process is always familiar.
“Even though ‘Spider-Man’ was this $70 million machine, it was the exact same job I had playwriting and on ‘Big Love,’ ” Aguirre-Sacasa says. “Rewriting, cutting, punching up jokes, trying to build the connection between characters, trying to land story and dialogue.”
Next up is a musical of “Magic Mike” with composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey, the team behind “Next to Normal” and “If/Then.” (Aguirre-Sacasa says it’s a prequel of sorts to the first “Magic Mike” movie.) He’s working on a play titled “Press the Flesh,” which he describes as a gay “Glengarry Glen Ross,” dealing with cutthroat Hollywood agents. His fingers are crossed that “Riverdale” will get picked up as a series.
“He follows his passions maybe more than anyone I can think of,” Robison says, explaining the rare variety of Aguirre-Sacasa’s projects.
“Yeah,” Aguirre-Sacasa says with fanboy enthusiasm about all the doors that keep opening, “I hope this is the life!”
American Psycho Now playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St. Visit telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200.