Meet Zeus the rat: ‘Curious Incident’ star, Method actor, scene stealer

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He may be just 17 inches long, but the actor Zeus — no last name — wields a big voice in the Tony-winning play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which is running at the Ahmanson Theatre through Sept. 10 before moving to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.

The stage adaptation of Mark Haddon's 2003 novel centers on a teenager, Christopher Boone, whose unnamed condition has the hallmarks of Asperger's syndrome. Christopher’s closest confidant is a white and gray-hooded dumbo fancy rat named Toby the Rat, played by Zeus in his theatrical debut.

Speaking through animal wrangler Cara Kilduff, Zeus, age 2 (almost), opened up to The Times for this edited conversation about his career, diet and favorite pastime, sleeping.

Do you come from an acting family? Who are your biggest influences?

My career choice is odd to the rest of my family members, but I’ve always thought big. So, no, I do not come from an acting family. My biggest influences are the great rat actors of the past — think of Remy in “Ratatouille” and Fievel Mousekewitz [in “An American Tail”]. I admit he’s a mouse, but still a rodent. An older Marlon Brando is also an influence.

In the great trajectory of pop culture rats — “The Muppet Show’s” Rizzo, Chuck E. Cheese and, of course, Mickey Mouse — where do you fit in?

Hmmm, that’s an excellent question. How do I answer? Those pop stars bring happiness and joy easily, whereas my role is more serious and somber. As far as being part of a cadre of rodent ambassadors, I am happy to join those ranks. We are misunderstood creatures, historically speaking.

What's the most difficult part of this job? And how do you prepare? Method approach?

The most difficult part of my job is being sweated upon by one of the young men playing Christopher. (Heavy sigh.) I never signed off on being bathed in the sweat of a male human. My handler kindly towels me off and gives me a fresh robe once I’m back in the comfort of my dressing room. My preparation is a combination of Method and Meisner technique. Also, I eat a lot.

Toby and Christopher go to London to solve a killing, and the journey is particularly movement-based, even acrobatic. Is this scary for you?

No. I am never onstage during this harrowing scene. I’m comfortably backstage receiving a neck massage from my handler and one of my fellow actors.

Do you have an understudy?

I had an understudy when my brother, Jinkies, was alive. He sadly passed away from a brief and sudden illness. But he hated acting and was happy to let me work eight shows a week. I dedicate each show to his memory. My new brother, Avi, is young and impulsive, so I’m not sure if he will learn my track. Our associate director, Benjamin Klein, says the role is mine for as long as I wish.

Does it bother you that another four-legged co-star steals a bit of your spotlight?

Oh, heavens no! I have much more stage time than that child does. And I’m the one doing all of the press! Hahaha! We also share a dressing room.

We hear you’re a big sleeper, that you’re getting Zs three-quarter of all daylight hours. Do you have time to fit much else in, like fitness or dating?

I’m an avid reader. I enjoy mostly biographies and historical fiction. But yes, between the eating and the sleeping, there’s not much more time in the day for other activities. I do enjoy wrestling with Avi and playing with the toys in my duplex penthouse ratiminium. Fitness? I’m not familiar with the word. There are some female cast members that I am fond of, but I am a bachelor and don’t want to break hearts.

Any healthful, pre-show Rat-snack recommendations?

Yes, organic frozen peas and blueberries give me the pick-me-up I need for the stage. Once in awhile, some watermelon.

How do you unwind after each show?

I look forward to cuddles and kisses from my handler. And my hammock!

What’s next?

Once the tour is over, I will be possibly retiring from show business and living the life I have grown accustomed to in New York City. However, I adore Los Angeles and need to speak to my handler about us becoming bicoastal. There’s an energy here that I cannot ignore.

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