I had a lot of respect for Laura Linney before we went to see her give an on-stage interview tonight at the 92nd St. Y (my first time at the UES institution) and I left with even more. Sometimes you see long-form talks with actors (late-night TV interviews aren't long enough to really get a real sense of someone, I think: a prompted anecdote or two, some banter, cut to commercial, set up the clip, etc.) and they reveal themselves to be less intelligent or less witty or less captivating that you might assume from their performances. Not so with her. Her talk, with Jordan Roth (the 30-something president of Jujamcyn and son of Daryl and Steven Roth of theater and real estate fame), was so filled with insight it felt like it was a performance she might have rehearsed. Granted, not all of these things are totally earth-shattering, and maybe they're more common if you work in acting or have studied it, but I found them interesting to hear. Some takeaways:
*The sometimes thrice-nightly ringing of cellphones in the middle of shows has added a new obstacle for actors on stage, especially during moments of high drama or tension, she said. Do you pause and wait for the awkward moment to pass or barrel on through as if nothing is different? Of course, there have always been potential interruptions in plays and public speaking (and, say, babies crying in the middle of priests' homilies), but there's something new to this nuisance. Callers don't usually know what they are interrupting, whereas less technological interruptions are often prompted by what's going on in situ.
*She said rehearsal has different definitions in the world of live acting and filmed work. Rehearsing for TV or film can feel more like a "negotiation" ("Can we change this line?") than a chance to delve deeper into the characters. As someone who is used to getting the chance to work through a theater character over and over again, whether in the rehearsal room, in previews or even throughout the run of a show, she said she's surprised at how any good work ever makes it to the screen when so much about TV and film is about getting into the virtual can and moving on. Actors, she said, will be heading home after a day of shooting and only then fully understand what they should've done in a particular scene. She also said that actors have a lot more power on stage than they do on screen.
*She has a reputation for not liking to be photographed, a feeling she's obviously had to get under control as she's become more famous. Elaborating on it tonight, she said she didn't like it because there was something standing in the way of a true human connection. The camera turns it into a one-way street, she said, whereas face-to-face interaction and live theater allow for exchange. She said there's a sound to 500 people listening intently and she knows what it feels like NOT to hear that sound when she's on stage. Audiences become like a single organism, she said. Sometimes they break off into multiple parts, but are always ready to coalesce again.
*I learned that she does not like to sing or doesn't do it very well and thus probably won't be appearing in any musicals. (I'd wondered whether she might someday appear in the Tales of the City musical that I saw in workshop form at the O'Neill last summer, although I'm not sure which role she'd play. It would be a stretch at this point to play Mary Ann Singleton, the role she had in the miniseries of the mid-to-late '90s.)
*One of the costs of being an actress, she said, is missing out on a lot of the regular human milestones and holidays that we might take for granted (weddings, funerals, birthdays, Thanksgiving, etc.) when work calls. If acting is really a vocation, then you have to be OK with getting your life sucked up for weeks or months at a time on a project. And with success also comes the ability of others to shape the way you appear in public, to do things over which a more private person might want to have more control. But even with acting success, you're still an employee at the end of the day, she said, and you hope that you get the chance to work for good people and be a part of good projects.
*One of Linney's next big projects is a dark comedy premiering on Showtime this summer called The Big C, for which she is a producer and the lead actress. Oliver Platt and Gabourey Sidibe also will star.
*She's told this elsewhere before, but her first big show was as an understudy at Lincoln Center Theater in Six Degrees of Separation. She was so excited to see her name in a Playbill, she ran down to greet the arriving pallet of programs, ripped one off, rushed to the women's room and flipped through to find her name, which appeared as "Lavro Linney." She said it's now a nickname of hers among certain friends: Lavro or just Lav.