When Laura Linney starred in a 2002 Broadway revival of The Crucible, her favorite part was Act Three, when her character, Elizabeth Proctor, doesn’t appear onstage. “I would be underneath the floorboards of the theater, just listening,” she says. “You could hear the orchestration of the voices. Liam Neeson tromping around. Then you realize just what a fucking genius Arthur Miller was. When you’re in the work like that, it just envelops you and moves through your body.”
Laura Linney is an actor’s actor. Juilliard-trained and now sitting on the school’s board of trustees, she has built a more-than-30-year career moving across television, film, and theater. Most recently, she appeared in the final season of the crime drama Ozarkbefore flying to Dublin to shoot The Miracle Club with Maggie Smith and Kathy Bates. Throughout her body of work, she exudes a quality at once familiar and slightly hard to place, with a dimpled smile that can slide easily from delight to menace and a contralto voice that can be adjusted to the scale of the medium. She has a good disposition for the job, with an eye for longevity and a sunny steeliness that can weather caprice and ego. Still, when it comes to why she became an actor, she has no answer. “I don’t know if I really want to know,” she says one day at a restaurant in Brooklyn. “Maybe when I’m 80 I’ll look at it.”
What are your first distinct memories of the theater?
Well, my father was a playwright. I would visit him on weekends. My parents divorced when I was an infant. He lived on the West Side; my mother and I lived on the East Side. She was a nurse at Sloan Kettering, so we were in a small apartment, and I would take the bus over to visit him.
Very The Squid and the Whale.
Well, actually, my father and Noah Baumbach’s father knew each other and were at the same writer’s colony together so it is all … Yeah. It was a very nasty divorce. I used to tag along with my father to rehearsals. I remember sitting on the floor at HB Studios, watching Herbert Berghof direct some actors in some scene. My perspective level was low because I was on the floor.
How old were you?
Young. Six, maybe. I remember hearing him type outside the door. Torrents. My father was a brilliantly complicated guy. He had tremendous passion and ability to express it. I can remember sitting outside the door listening to the rhythm of the typing. It was electric typewriters then. So it was like r-r-r-rr-r-r-r-rraww. There’d be a silence. And I didn’t know what was more exciting — the silence or the typing. I was like, Oh, he’s thinking. Oh God, there’s thinking, there’s something … Then you can feel the dam break and he would type-type-type-type-type.
Is that when you knewthat this was what you wanted your life to be?
I just knew it early. I didn’t care where I was in the theater. I just wanted to be in the theater. I know a lot of people say that — I really mean it. I would have been a really good stage manager and been very happy.
Why did you decide on acting?
Oh, come on.
No, honestly. It’s interesting, but I don’t know if it’s that important. For me, it’s always been about a connection that I don’t find anywhere else, possibly.
What was the first role that you had?
I think this is correct, but in third grade — whenever 1972 was, after Ms. Magazine first came out — we did a Christmas play called Mrs. Claus Takes Over. Santa Claus got a cold, couldn’t deliver the presents. Mrs. Claus came to the rescue, and I was Mrs. Claus.
I remember doing satires of beauty pageants. There was something that, even then, rubbed me the wrong way about all of that. I just thought it was terribly chauvinistic. That shouldn’t be the only way someone can get a scholarship to college.
This might be a very obvious question, but was theater a way of getting closer to your father?
I would love to say to you no. It was a combination of things. He played a part. For me to deny that connection is silly. It’s not the sole reason. I love it too much for it to have been about trying to get someone else’s attention. Now, is there an element of that? Sure, for both parents. My mother is incredibly beautiful, very striking, and charismatic, and I wanted both parents to be proud, because they both admired the theater. Do I really believe this? I don’t know. Do I think it’s plausible? Of course. Then do I really care? No. I don’t think it really matters at the end of the day. It shouldn’t.
It sounds like theater was also something you and your father would discuss a lot, talking about George Bernard Shaw, for instance.
Absolutely. I loved that. I could talk to him in a way that I think he enjoyed and that I enjoyed. It was something that we shared from a really early age. I was really interested, and he was the only one who would talk to me about theater at that level. It wasn’t just a hobby. It was fun to talk shop with him.
During your senior year at Brown, you performed Childe Byron, one of your father’s plays. How did that come about?
Is this article only going to be about me and my father?
Okay. At Brown, they did four shows a year on the main stage. I’m sure it was chosen with the intention and the hope that I would do it. I auditioned for it. I got the part. They did it. It made me very uncomfortable that they had chosen that play because I could see what they were doing and it was a little unfair to the rest of the student body, you know? It’s the only play of my father’s I’ve ever done. I’m very grateful that they provided that for me and my father. It was a good old college production. It was not bad. I think it was okay.
Did you discuss it with him when you were working on it?
No. He came and saw it. He didn’t hate it. I think he was really happy I did it. I don’t think we ever talked about it again.
You never spoke about it afterward?
No. I didn’t feel a need to either. I mean it wasn’t an awkward thing. It was just something I did. I knew that I would not try to do anything of his professionally when I got out of school. I knew that. When I first got out of Juilliard, I was offered to do something of his and I turned it down.
Well, you just want to pave your own way. I have no issue with other people doing the work of their own parents. I wasn’t comfortable doing that to myself or doing that to him, for that matter. God forbid it didn’t go well, that would have been awful for both of us.
After graduating from Brown, you decided to attend Juilliard. You’ve said that part of the rationale was having watched certain ingenues plateau as they got older and that you wanted to avoid that by going to a rigorous drama school. My sense is that you had foresight about what being an actor would entail as a long-term career.
I did, and that’s not to be self-aggrandizing. When I went into Juilliard, I was ready for it to be really hard. I was not expecting a parade, and when I got out of school, I was not expecting the world to open up and flowers to fall from the sky. I was, and still am, very realistic about what a life in the arts is. And not only just the logistics of making a living, but also just what it is to be an artist and navigate all the things that you have to navigate.
Did you feel like there were specific difficulties of how young women could get chewed up in the industry?
Absolutely. Or not taken seriously.
Was training a buttress?
To learn technique is so you can help yourself when there’s no one around to help you. You can learn how to be diagnostic about the scene, a play, a script, and then learn how to help yourself. It gives you a whole bag of tools to further your understanding and your execution of work.
Congo is one of the few big-budget movies you’ve done. What was the person who said yes to doing Congo like?
I was fresh out of Juilliard. I had auditioned for Jurassic Park. It was down between me and Laura Dern and it went to her, which is great. I think they had always kept me in mind. Then Congo came along, and I knew what that was, going in. I knew there would not be a whole lot of acting required, so I could learn about what it was to be on a set. I was always really intimidated by film and TV. I was not someone who grew up thinking I wanted to be in the movies. I wanted to be onstage. With Congo, because it was a long shoot, I went to every department and I said, “Can I hang out with you for three weeks?” I went from department to department. I thought the only way to be less afraid of it is to go learn about it and figure out if it’s worthy of the fear that I have. I know what everybody does, and they’re so cool. Crews are amazing.
For whatever people think about Congo, I have a real soft spot in my heart for it.
You could have done more movies like that, I assume.
I don’t know if I could have or not.
Did you want to? Everyone’s career is a meeting of opportunity and desire, and I’m curious about what your own taste and preferences are.
As I get older, I’m more picky. At first it was just like, I want to go learn. I’m not going to judge because I don’t know what I’m talking about. Go do a ridiculous blockbuster movie about apes and gorillas!And then, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten braver about saying no and have realized you can see red flags earlier. You learn as you go. But you never know how something’s going to turn out. It’s a miracle when anything works. There’s a difference between successful and good. Something can be great and nobody sees it.
Is the attitude the same when you’re going into something like Congo as it is for an indie like You Can Count on Me?
No. You have to figure out how much work a script will hold. If I had done the type of preparation for Congo that I had done for You Can Count On Me, it would’ve dropped like a wet Kleenex. It wouldn’t hold anything. You can’t overload something that’s not meant to be overladen. You have to let it be what it is and then figure out: What is it telling you to do? If you come at it with a personal agenda, you’re going to fuck it up.
So what’s a red flag for you?
The director answers questions too quickly.
That’s funny. Why’s that?
Too knowing. It’s already stunted. It’s already done. There’s no sense of discovery. There might not be room for contribution. It’s nice when there’s a pause if you ask a question. Some people know what they know, and that’s great. But when you’re geysered, it’s lonely.
It sounds a bit like the importance of the silence, back when you were listening to your father writing.
That’s the big moment: the quiet. The creative quiet is a good place to be. It’s so intriguing because there’s such a difference between being alone and being lonely. All of my prep work I do alone. I just dig in there. It’s my favorite time. I do all of that work and I roll around in it. But feeling lonely around other people while you’re working is brutal. It’s demoralizing.
And people have different taste levels. Taste is a tricky one. When people’s feelings get so hurt and they get so bent out of shape, it’s so hard. It’s like telling someone their child is ugly. And you feel so bad when you think that you’re at odds with someone else’s taste level, but then …
Well, aren’t you just saying, “Your child is not for me”?
No, you’re not. You’re saying, “Your child is ugly.”
Is that why you’ve stayed away from the bigger blockbusters?
No. I’ve just never been offered one. There’s a myth that you’re offered a ton of things. And I am offered some things. If a huge blockbuster came my way, I’d consider it. Absolutely.
Yeah, if it was a fun part in a fun place with a great director and some cool people to work with, you bet I would. You have a great director, like a Sam Mendes — come on, are you kidding? Who would say no to that?
What if it’s to play Aunt May in Spider-Man?
Well, I don’t know. It depends on Aunt May. Can I do anything with it? If I can’t do anything with it, give it to someone who can.
Is there stereotypical writing that bothers you?
Yes. When everyone’s voice is exactly the same. When there is a metronomic thing, when too much is told, when too much is explained, when too much is given away. It robs everyone of an experience. But particularly when everyone’s voice is exactly the same. They all talk in the same rhythm, the same amount of time.
Was there a point in the ’90s when you were pushed to try to be a Hollywood bombshell type?
I think people would’ve been happy if that had happened for me. It probably would’ve helped in a way. It wasn’t anything that I personally pursued, but I’m sure my representation pursued it. I’m sure they did.
Did you have conversations about that?
No. Here’s the good news: I was working all the time.I was booked and busy for a very long time. I wasn’t thinking about it because I was just thinking about my work.
Have you ever had a dry spell?
Yes. I had a bit of a dry spell after The Truman Show. I remember thinking, Maybe that was just it. Maybe it was just that one nice little movie, and that was that. And that’s just what a career does. It ebbs and flows.
I’m surprised that happened after The Truman Show, though.
Me too. It’s weird because you can have something that’s very successful and either that leads to more work right away or it has the opposite effect. I also feel like a lot of the characters I play are not terribly likable. When you play a part that is not everyone’s view of nonthreatening femininity, people don’t quite know what to do with you.
Was there advice that you really took to heart early on?
When I first got out of Julliard, I was an understudy for Six Degrees of Separation, which was right across the street. I was the happiest understudy there ever was. There was a wonderful character actor named Sam Stoneburner, and we used to take the bus home together after the show. He was an older actor, and he took an interest in me. He was a great-looking man. He was so nurturing, so wonderful. In the theater, there’s a real tradition of older actors mentoring younger actors. That doesn’t exist as much in film and TV, and I wish it did. But I remember him saying to me, “Just say yes to all of it. Just go. Don’t say no to something you don’t really know.” And his voice has really rung in my ears for decades because you can think you know something, but you don’t unless you’ve actually done it.
Is there an instance where you questioned your own preconceived ideas about something?
When I got the call about Frasier, I had said to myself, “I don’t want to do a sitcom.” I thought it was canned laughter, a little easy on the jokes, fun and entertaining but a little slapdash. Unfair of me, totally unfair. And then I stopped. I was like, What do I know about sitcoms? I went to do Frasier where I gained a real appreciation for what the sitcom is. I got there, and they’re like, “This is just like theater.” It’s nothing like theater. It has a live audience. That’s it. And it’s also nothing like a single-camera drama. It’s nothing like a movie. It’s its own thing, and it’s never been given the respect to be its own thing artistically.
Well, Frasier was also a really good sitcom.
That’s the other thing. I’m always like, “If I’m going to learn, I’m going to go there.”
I assume you might also be reluctant to sign onto TV shows in general because of the multiyear contracts that can lock an actor in.
Absolutely. And there’s no guarantee that you’ll be used. You are signing over your life to that.
Ozark is the longest you’ve worked on one show. My understanding is that your character Wendy Byrde was changed after you first read the script. What changed that allowed you to say yes to doing it?
The character in the pilot was very different. I just remember she was snoring in the bed a lot. There was a lot of: Wendy snores. I just didn’t know where it was going to go. I don’t know why I trusted Jason Bateman and Chris Mundy as much as I did, but I remember saying to them, “I hope that if I sign onto this, you’ll use me. Otherwise, don’t cast me. Take someone else.” There’s nothing worse than people not wanting what you have to offer. When people don’t want what you have to offer, it’s just womp-womp-womp.
Would you have done more seasons?
Absolutely. I’m having real withdrawal from Ozark. Everything about it worked. All the right people were in the right positions. Everyone had a similar viewpoint. Everyone had a similar work ethic. I loved being in Atlanta. It was an unbelievable crew. Crews on television normally do not stay intact. Ninety percent of our crew stayed the entire time. What that does on a set, the safety that you feel, the unspoken communication, the ease, the comfort, and the fun that you have — I feel like I just landed in a pot of honey. I miss it a lot.
Ultimately, what was Ozark about?
Identity. Who are we? Who are you? Who am I? What do we want? Who are we as individuals? Who are we as families? Who are we as communities? Who are we as a country? Identity.
Okay, so to that end, who are the Byrdes? Who is Wendy Byrde?
Who is she? It’s not like who she is. It’s looking at the journey. When you’re telling a story, people get confused when they start asking questions. They infuse it with a little more meaning than it’s worth. From the beginning, it’s a group of people who don’t know themselves and don’t know each other at all. They really don’t. They function well, they’re a family. And then through the course of those four seasons, they learn an enormous amount about themselves, an enormous amount about each other.
Do you feel like they know who they are and who each other is by the end?
They know each other more than they did before. Do they go on and learn even more? Probably.
What did you think of the ending?
I haven’t seen it. I don’t know what they chose. I’m very bad at watching myself, and I’m particularly bad at watching things that I really loved doing because it’s going to change the minute I see it. I really can’t comment on it.
Can I ask what the other endings were?
No. I’m not going to do that.
Maybe this is not a fruitful conversation, so we can move on …
No, it’s fine. This is just what my experience in doing it is. What its overall result is or how it affects other people, I don’t have an agenda about that. I don’t think about results — like, what it all means, what it all does. I don’t know. I think about the little, tiny moments leading up to that and then it’s going to be whatever it is, and I don’t have anything to do with that. That’s not my job.
But even if you as an actor are playing a small part of a greater whole, you’re still thinking about the totality of the thing, no?
I don’t think you know until it’s over. You can have an idea and you hope that it lands in some ballpark, but you can’t play an idea. You can’t act an emotion. You act the things and then the emotion is a result of something.
You haven’t really done rom-coms in your career; the closest is probably Love Actually, in which you play Sarah, a woman whose arc is that she forgoes a romantic connection in order to take care of her mentally ill brother. How did that come about?
I got a letter from Richard Curtis, who said his casting director had finally just lost her cool with him because they were auditioning people for that role and he kept saying, “I want a Laura Linney type.” And she finally just turned to him and said, “Well, just get Laura Linney.” And so he wrote me a letter asking if I would do it. I was like, “Yes, I will, Mr. Richard Curtis. You bet. When do you want me to show up?”
Why was that a no-brainer?
Well, I was just offered something, which is lovely. I was the only American in a stellar, primarily British cast. I was filming Mystic River at the exact same time, so I was flying back and forth between Boston and London. So I’d do a week on Mystic River and then do a week on Love Actually.
What do you think of the movie?
I love the movie. It’s great. But is it The Seventh Seal? No. It is what it is. And it’s a movie that shouldn’t work as well as it even does. It works because of Richard Curtis. A string of other movies tried to copy the formula of Love Actually, and none of them worked. And here’s Love Actually 20 years later, and people are very attached to it.
I don’t want to put you in a position where you feel like you have to defend the film, but the script essentially reads as male wish fulfillment. Your and Emma Thompson’s characters feel completely incongruous to the rest of the movie.
Sure. It was a different time. A different culture. It has powerful archetypes that are recognizable to a lot of people, told cleverly by really good actors. It takes you along, so Love Actually will get you in some way. But I think it’s important to remember our culture has changed so drastically even just in the past three years. So thinking about 20 years, dealing with what love is and how it is portrayed and gender representation and age — it was just a very, very different time.
Have you ever felt reluctant to do romcoms?
I’ve never been asked. I don’t think I’m quite seen as romcom material. Love Actually was as close as I was going to get. And now I don’t know what a really successful romcom even looks like. I haven’t seen one in a while.
Your character in Love Actually is largely defined by her relationship with her brother — which is a dynamic that recurs in a lot of memorable roles of yours: You Can Count On Me, The Savages, Ozark. Is there something about the sibling relationship that you’re drawn to?
I have had great cinematic brothers in my career. It’s just something that’s happened. It’s the one relationship in my work that has bled through into life. Mark Ruffalo feels like a brother. Tom Pelphrey feels like a brother. Philip Seymour Hoffman felt like a brother. And I have a familial closeness to them.
What was your relationship like with Hoffman when you worked together on The Savages?
Phil was just one of the greatest actors ever. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. Phil and I recognized something in each other. We just got each other in a way, and he was a tremendous support. That was a tough movie to make. The hours were long. It was low budget. It was difficult. Sometimes movies fly, like Kinsey; The Savages was a rough production just by the nature of independent film. He was just great. The loss is so profound on so many levels, not just personally, but just what he had to give. What he contained.
There are people who are just from another planet. They have keys to a different kingdom. Sean Penn’s one of them. Daniel Day-Lewis is one of them. Phil had the keys to the other kingdom. Those uniquely brilliant people that just work on another level. And they’re generous. They’re not thinking of themselves all the time. They’re thinking about telling the story. So you’re in service to something else. They jump right in with you.
On the flip side, I assume there are those who are …
They’re distracted. That’s all. Or they’re young and they don’t know, or they’re too afraid. The business is in their ears a little bit.
My understanding is that You Can Count on Me, with Mark Ruffalo, was also a difficult production. What were the disagreements you had with director Kenneth Lonergan about the direction?
Let me just start by saying that Kenny was right. Kenny understands his own material unlike anyone I’ve ever worked with before. He was pushing me in a direction that just didn’t fit with me. He wanted me to pat someone on the back. It was a physicalization of something. I didn’t understand it. I think I was cranky. Independent film is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got to really roll up your sleeves, and it’s hard and you are tired and you get turned around a lot. And I just didn’t understand what Kenny was saying sometimes. I couldn’t figure it out. I remember when I saw it, I was like, Motherfucker, he’s right.
It’s called “shoot the baby” in the theater, when you’re hanging onto an idea of how something should be. Let go of it. We know you love it, shoot it, get it out of the way, make another choice. I’m very easy about that now. I don’t think I was at that period of time.
Is there a hard lesson from your youth about how you held onto an idea of what you wanted to do, but you were wrong?
I tried really hard not to be an actress for a while.
Well, I guess that circles back to the earlier question …why acting?
I don’t know. It’s deeply personal for everybody and different for every single person. And I think that’s kind of the sacred space. I don’t really understand it. Do you know what I mean? I’m not withholding. I really just don’t.
When you were doing press for The Savages, you were talking with Hoffman, and you asked him an interesting question: After he won the Oscar, did he feel courageous or less courageous?
He said that getting older made him more fearful, which I thought was interesting. I wanted to ask you whether you feel similarly getting older.
There was a fierce protection not to let anything get in the way between us and the work. I remember being with Phil in Buffalo, where we filmed part of Savages. We were in a car, and someone yelled from across the street, “Hey, Phil. Congratulations on the Oscar.” I saw him put his head down and have a moment that was clearly uncomfortable for him. He did not like that it had intruded in his life that way, and that stuck with me. So consequently, I was really curious: What does success do to a person?
It’s not always good. When you hit that type of success, a lot of people, their work just falls apart, and I think Phil knew that and he was determined that was not going to happen to him.
So what does success do to a person?
I think it’s different for everybody.
Right. I’m asking you.
You’re asking me what has success done for me? It has really changed the contents of my closet. That was the big thing.
I think it can certainly give you opportunity and open the door to meeting other people, and that’s thrilling. My idol growing up was Maggie Smith, hands down. I watched The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie a gazillion times. I’ve always had a thing for her, and when I did My Name Is Lucy Barton in London for the first time, instead of a big party, they had a little gathering in the lobby. I walked up the stairs, and there was Maggie Smith. I couldn’t believe it, I almost turned around and left. She was so kind and so supportive, and I was like, I never need another good review for the rest of my life. Whoo. Maggie Smith doesn’t think I suck.
Now I’m about to go do a movie with her. So in that way, success is really wonderful, in that it can confirm that you’re in the right place, that you’re doing the right thing. It can say, “Yes, keep going. Yes, keep working. Yes.” Psychologically, that’s a big deal. The bad part of it is it can overshadow the work. It can hijack you from the work, and it can become about all the other stuff, which is fun and great. But that stuff goes away. The work does not.
Have you felt distracted in your career?
Oh, sure. At one point or another, you get distracted by the wrong stuff. Because I never fully fit into the whole fashion world, that always just made me feel bad. And then I was like, It doesn’t matter. It’s okay. It’s okay, and it doesn’t mean that I’m not fashionable. It doesn’t mean that I’m not that. I am that. I just can’t be forced into something that I’m not organically.
Well, it sounds like you’ve had a discomfort around that.
I have discomfort around cameras in general, and it’s all related. There’s something about the business where if you get really hooked into the whole huge level of money and the business, marketing, advertising, all that stuff — which are important and kind of fascinating on their own — you are always going to feel that what you have is not enough. Always. I’ve seen it over and over and over again.
I’ve noticed that you’ve never really done women’s-magazine covers in your career.
It’s a combination of not being asked, quite frankly, and not being very good at it. Still photographers are trying to bring something out of you. I get that. Even though I’m really good one on one, I’m basically an introvert. I’m not really performative. I just get there and feel awkward and silly. It’s ironic that now I’m the one who … [laughs]. My father could never get over it. Every photograph of me, as a kid, is like my hands up and I’m hiding or my back is turned.
After your first Oscar nomination, did you experience a similar moment where you wondered how this might affect the work?
No, it was nothing but a nice thing. I think winning would’ve been different.
Is it scarier to win?
Absolutely. You don’t need an award. The recognition is very nice, and it’s exciting to go to those things. There’s nothing like the Tonys. The Tonys is just heaven.
Is that your favorite awards show?
Yeah. That community is just wonderful. Sitting at the Oscars or at the Emmys or at the Tonys is a very different feeling in the room. The Oscars, there’s so much money at stake for so many people that people are very, very nervous. Some people have real blood in their mouth. They’re terrified they’re going to lose their job if someone doesn’t win. It’s enough to give anyone a stomachache. But don’t get me wrong; it’s also wonderful. The Tonys are just fun. It’s completely celebratory for all the right reasons: (a) there’s just such a relief that good work happened, and (b) there is a blanket respect that everyone has for everyone else in the room. The community is physically closer together. We’re all in the same neighborhood. Theater people spend time with each other in a way that those in the other mediums don’t.
Are there younger actors that you’re trying to nurture?
There are younger actors who I’m close to. Mary Wiseman is pretty great. She just did a play called At the Wedding. She was a Juilliard student. When she was a second-year student, I went to a gala where she did some Molière piece. I was like, “Who is that?” I also try to get to know the fourth-year students as they’re leaving.
How is the institution doing?
The school is going through real growing pains. When I went to Juilliard, it was just a white, white, white American school. And it is a very different school now. The drama division, particularly, is very diversified, and not just with American students but also international students, which would never have happened when I was there. I think about the students of color who were there when I was. I just can’t imagine. We were all so self-absorbed at the time. I would love to say that I was profoundly aware of all of it, but I wasn’t. I was a self-involved drama student who was just so terrified in my own skin. I do know the things that I wish for young artists, regardless of what color they are: I want them to have everything.
I read about how people would have to speak in an American accent.
It’s called Standard American speech. It’s interesting to unpack what has been used as a classic drama education — how does this form of education evolve so that you maintain the area of challenges that certain things will give you, regardless of if it is diversity friendly? And then what do you completely let go of because it does not suit the world, it does not suit the students who are there? It’s not about destroying something. It’s about folding in. It’s literally about inclusion in making something better and stronger from it. There is room at the table for playwrights of color, for composers of color, for choreography. It was long overdue, and I’m happy to see it everywhere, but it’s uncomfortable. Everyone’s going to feel pain at one point, but it’s going to be for the best.
The thing is you should do all of it. You don’t kick out Shaw, because Shaw will teach your mouth how to wrap around words in a way that no other playwright will. What Shaw will teach you about keeping language up and going and breath support and what it takes to carry a thought through in articulate language — no other playwright does that. So you don’t want to not do Shaw. You want to do Shaw.
Is there resistance to that?
It’s very controversial all over the place. There was an outcry about rigor. The amount of time it takes, how harsh it can be, what it costs you. I’ve come to a place where I realize there’s some validity to that, but at the same time, it’s good to be able to do that. I’m coming at it as someone who went to that school decades ago. I can see what helped me, but I’m a white, middle-aged woman, so this is just my experience.
I imagine you believe in rigor.
I do. I believe in getting through discomfort, and rigor helps you do that. That’s something that you only learn in the doing. When you have to do a monologue at four in the morning and it’s freezing cold, it’s good to know how to organize yourself so that you can get through it and then feel proud of yourself. But they’re not easy things to unpack. Feelings are very strong, legitimate, valid. There’s also a big difference when rigor is perceived as exploitation. Then there’s a real issue that needs to be really examined and taken to task and redefined. When culture changes, you got to listen. It will only make things better.