SEATTLE — "So often I think people can try so hard to fit in and want so badly to fit in that they forget what makes them stand out," Mickey Rowe said at Queen Anne Book Company, where his memoir "Fearlessly Different" goes on sale next week.
A man of many talents, Rowe was already standing out when we first met him in 2016, rehearsing for a Seattle Children's Theatre production of The Cat In The Hat.
What was striking then is how different the actor onstage could be from the quiet man sitting alone with his thoughts off stage.
"Interestingly enough, " he said then, "it's a lot easier for me to be on stage in front of an audience of 500 people here than it is for me to be in a one-on-one conversation."
Easier, because as Rowe learned the year he turned 21, he's on the autism spectrum. The diagnosis explained a lot: like his childhood obsession with circus arts and his loneliness at school.
"I spent my lunch breaks pacing the hallway," Rowe said recently. "I didn't know who to talk to or where to sit or how to talk to a person or really how to make a friend."
Onstage Rowe has always felt safe and surrounded by people who care about him.
"Because you have a script," he said. "You know everything that's going to be said."
Still, it would take a trailblazer to prove an openly autistic actor could play the lead role in a major production.
That trailblazer was Mickey Rowe himself. The year after our interview, as he details in "Fearlessly Different," he was a finalist to play an autistic boy, the lead role, in a Broadway production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time." He didn't get it, but a few months later the Indiana Repertory Theatre offered him the same role.
His story became a national story and Rowe became a spokesman for people on the spectrum.
"People on the autism spectrum don't just want to be audience members," Rowe said. "We want to be employed. We want to have an active role in telling the public stories that shape public perception about autism."
Critically acclaimed, Rowe went on to play the title role in a Syracuse, NY production of "Amadeus" and, more recently, in a one-man show called "The Fool."
In 2019 Rowe gave the keynote address in an Arts For Autism event at the Gershwin Theatre, which has the largest seating capacity of any Broadway theatre.
But the role he cherishes the most is father of four and husband to Helen Marion-Rowe.
"He is the most creative person I know," Marion-Rowe said. "He's such an out-of-the-box thinker which is really lovely when here is a person who loves on you. I get the most loving romantic surprises. He is very good at surprises."
What shouldn't be a surprise is that Rowe has become a role model, shining the spotlight on the spectrum.
"Your differences truly, truly are your strengths," he said. "And the things about you that are different are so valuable."
Mickey Rowe's memoir "Fearlessly Different: An Autistic Actor's Journey to Broadway's Biggest Stage" will be available March 15. That evening, Rowe will be interviewed in person and live at Town Hall.