Despite fan club, award-winning teen actor remains humble

Ryan McCartan is a national award-winning actor
Ryan McCartan, a 2011 graduate of Minnetonka High School, has won national awards for his musical theater acting, performed at the Guthrie Theater, and has a fan club, but remains very humble. Photo courtesy of Ryan McCartan
“The fact is almost every project I’ve ever started I’ve said ‘Wow! I’m terrible at this.’ ” -- Ryan McCartan

The average high school graduate likes to spend their last summer before college relaxing, but average is definitely not a word used to describe Minnetonka High School alumnus Ryan McCartan.

The 18-year-old actor spent his summer training in Germany and rubbing elbows with musical theater legend Patti LuPone, who has guest starred on TV shows such as Glee and 30 Rock.

He also performed for some of the most important political officials in the United States in an arts showcase at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.

McCartan has performed everywhere from the Guthrie Theater in plays such as “The Master Butchers Singing Club” and “Little House on the Prairie” to starring in a 2008 Subway commercial.

“Performing is probably my favorite thing in the world,” said McCartan.

The musical theater actor has been steadily working in theater since he was eight years old and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, hindering his athletic interests because of the strain extensive activity put on his health.

Ten years later, McCartan has flourished as an actor, including winning two national awards. He was named a 2011 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, an award given to twenty high school seniors each year who excel in artistic fields as well as academics, leadership, a demonstrated commitment to high ideals, and more.

McCartan also won the 2011 Jimmy Award for Best Actor, a national high school musical theater competition in which selected high school from across the nation compete in acting, dancing, and singing. The Jimmy Award includes a $10,000 prize for furthering the actor’s education. Both awards are among the highest honors a teenage actor can receive.

“I don’t think that you can say [the Jimmy Awards] are necessarily an accurate representation of who is actually the best in musical theater. I don’t think highly of myself because of it,” said McCartan, who beat out 24 other boys to win the award.

When confronted about his humble demeanor, McCartan blushed. “If you let anything go to your head, first of all that’s just rude – no one wants to work with a really egotistical person – but, second of all, I really think it damages the integrity of the artist’s work if they’re really arrogant,” McCartan said. “The fact is almost every project I’ve ever started I’ve said ‘Wow! I’m terrible at this.’ ”

McCartan credits others for his achievements. “It’s super cliché but I owe so much to friends and family,” said McCartan. “I mean I wouldn’t even be doing theater if it weren’t for [my sister] Alison. She really pushed me towards it. And my parents are so supportive.”

He also credits having fantastic directors as well as Minnetonka’s “phenomenal” theater program for getting him where he is today. “In that environment, it’s impossible not to learn,” McCartan said whose final role at Minnetonka was the Phantom in “Phantom of the Opera.”

Just because McCartan hasn’t been too impressed by his accomplishments doesn’t mean that other students haven’t been. He has a fan club of freshman and sophomore girls who continuously fawn over him after performances.

“I actually kind of love it,” said McCartan, laughing. “Not for the reasons you think! It’s just really adorable. And to be honest, I think it’s actually the characters they’re in love with, not me. Once they get to know me, they all realize that I’m not that special.”

But McCartan wasn’t always loved by his peers.

During middle school and early high school, peers teased McCartan for acting. “They’d tell me ‘You’re weak. You’re gay. You’re only doing this because you’re not good enough to do sports,’ and that was rough. After a while I started to believe that what they said was true,” McCartan said.

“Eventually, though, we just all grew up, myself included, and it wasn’t an issue anymore,” he said. McCartan is currently a freshman in the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program this year.

McCartan has dreams for his future, but he doesn’t sweat them too much. “I’d love to be on Broadway, but we’ll see. I’ll be happy as long as I’m able to just keep doing what I love,” said McCartan.