Tam Mutu on Surviving COVID-19 and Why We Need to Support Each Other Right Now
Tam Mutu, like many of us, is feeling like the world is a bit surreal at the moment. From contracting COVID-19 back in March to spending time in the hospital to quarantining at home, the “Moulin Rouge” star hasn’t been able to process the past month or so. Mutu was one of the early patients in the theater community, and he hopes his experience conveys the gravity of the situation.
“I feel like this is a time for people to come together and not be selfish and to be supportive and to be respectful of everyone and everything,” he says. “It’s not about you. It’s about everyone else and the greater good, and that’s the thing everyone is missing and not understanding. I don’t want to sound preachy, but in a sense, it’s a simple fix. If people just do what they’re told and hopefully things will get back to normal maybe a bit quicker. Sadly, I don’t think people are taking it as seriously as they should be.”
Before lockdown began, Mutu was starring as the devilish Duke in “Moulin Rouge,” the acclaimed stage adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie musical, but offstage, Mutu is nothing like his character. In fact, the performer asked as many questions about this writer’s isolation, with genuine concern and offers to help or provide company.
As a survivor of the novel coronavirus, Mutu also adds that even though symptoms might vary from person to person, the disease itself is no joke.
“The pain is unbearable, it really is,” Mutu says, adding that he’s had the flu several times and this is nothing like it. “I don’t think people understand how, if you get it badly, how painful it is. All the people saying, “Oh it’s a hoax” is actually quite frustrating and you kind of want to bop them on the head and say: ‘Listen you don’t really understand what you’e talking about.’”
Mutu definitely understands. He started to feel lethargic and run down on Wednesday, March 11, and when he reported his symptoms to company management, he was relieved that the team took action right away and cancelled that Thursday’s matinee. That night, all of Broadway followed suit.
While there are plenty of rumors circulating about the COVID-19 experience and the virus has shown itself differently in different individuals, Mutu was especially shocked that his symptoms (fever, aches, chills, sweats) came on rather suddenly and lasted for a quite a while, going through phases of severity.
However, one night, he noticed his breathing getting bad, likening the experience to “an elephant sitting on my chest.” He didn’t want to go to the hospital, but as he continued to struggle to get air, he ultimately went, learning there that he had double pneumonia and low oxygen levels.
“It was scary to be in the hospital and all around that and the craziness that it is. It was not pleasant at all,” he says, adding that he was at New York Presbyterian Hospital during the beginning of the pandemic and it had not hit peak capacity. “All those workers, I commend them massively,” he adds. “They’re working so hard and being so conscientious and really kind and once this is all settled all down, I’m going to be able to send them something.”
Mutu recovered in the space of a few days and was sent home to heal on his own to free up a bed for the onslaught of incoming patients. Some of his “Moulin Rouge” cast members also contracted the virus after, including Aaron Tveit and Danny Burstein, who also spent time in the hospital.
Although he’s a native of the UK, Mutu is weathering the storm in New York, but he hasn’t been impressed with the government response in either location, and he’s particularly worried by the U.S. federal government’s crisis management.
“In a time of crisis like this, you’d think everyone would be on the same page and just want the best for people and the country. I’m actually amazed how badly it’s been dealt with to be honest,” he says. “I do think [Governor] Cuomo has been doing a fabulous job in the sense trying to keep people healthy and getting out the actual facts, rather than the president who is just giving you nonsense most of the time and contradicting himself consistently, which doesn’t help at all. That allows people to become too passive with it and think, ‘This doesn’t affect me. I’m going to do what I want.’ And that’s what’s causing a lot of the problems.”
As soon as he recovered, Mutu started to get back to exercising and running, as his lungs got stronger, and on one of his runs, “It’s Gonna Be Okay” by The Piano Guys came on his headphones. He immediately took inspiration from the song and reached out to his friends and performers to produce an inspiring video.
“I put that together just to give a little positive love and light in this time,” he says. “I’m not normally like that. You can argue that it was perhaps a bit cheesy, but something just came over me, I want to do something just to show that even though we’re not together, we’re still all connected and supportive of each other.”
He’s been keeping up with his “Moulin Rouge” cast mates on FaceTime and a group text thread. Amid the uncertainty as to when Broadway will be able to come back, Mutu says he’s found solace in his show, especially as they know they’ll be back as soon as theaters reopen their doors.
“We don’t know when exactly, but that’s like a massive plus to all the cast. I’m very grateful for that,” he says. “My heart goes out to all those shows that were opening and now may not be able to come back. It’s tragic. It’s really sad. I know it’s not easy for anybody but that’s something that keeps me a little more pepped up and buoyant about my situation. Ultimately we’ll have a job at some point which is nice.”
He and his wife Kristen Martin have created little routines for themselves in quarantine like “Cocktail O’clock” at 5 PM when they’ll make drinks and call friends. They’ve also gotten into baking and cooking, with banana bread, pizza, and Italian dishes featuring heavily int he menu.
Mutu found a renewed love for “South Park” when he was in the hospital and a marathon came on Comedy Central as he was in and out of sleep in the nights, and now that he’s home, he’s been watching “Ozark” and also started “Cheers” from the start.
“It’s makes me a big melancholy, this situation, so it makes me nostalgic. I’ve been watching things like ‘I Love Lucy,’ things that make you feel a bit warmer inside,” he says. “We went through a phase of watching all the post-apocalyptic movies, ‘Outbreak’ and ‘Contagion’ and I was like, come on, we need to stop watching these.”
Ultimately, Mutu is just grateful to be safe at home and to be on the other side of the virus. When asked if he had anything else to add about how he’s spending his time, he immediately extended his thanks to the people on the front lines.
“I wanted to say a huge, huge thank you to all the front line people, whether they be doctors and nurses who are working god knows how many hours with probably no breaks and are in the thick of it, along with the delivery people and people in stores, People putting themselves at risk every day,” he says. “That’s a massive show of being unselfish and wanting people to have be able to live. It’s a massive kudos to those people as well and thank you for doing what they’re doing and putting themselves at risk every day. I’m very grateful for that and I think everyone should be as well.”