Tonys Actress Roundtable: 5 Nominees On Pee Breaks, Colorblind Casting And Surviving Eight Shows A Week

For the fourth year in a row, The Hollywood Reporter paid a visit to New York to chat with a group of Tony-nominated performers about their journeys to and experiences on Broadway. A year after "the Hamiltonys," the Great White Way is less in the forefront of the national conversation, but make no mistake about it: plenty of other great shows (plays and musicals, originals and revivals) have moved into the neighborhood, driven by their own top-tier talent (of all ages and levels of experience, more than a few direct from Hollywood).

On May 8, THR convened a gathering at Highline Stages in the Meatpacking District with UnREAL-turned-Broadway breakout Denee Benton, 25, who's playing Natasha, a countess engaged to one man but then ensnared by another in 1812 Moscow, in the musical Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812; SNL alum turned two-time Tony winner Christine Ebersole, 64, who's playing Elizabeth Arden, a cosmetics pioneer in mid-20th century America, in the musical War Paint; Pride & Prejudice darling turned two-time Tony winner Jennifer Ehle, 47, who's playing Mona Juul, an official in Norway's Foreign Ministry who helps to broker landmark advances towards peace in the Middle East between 1992 and 1993, in the play Oslo; the double Oscar and triple Emmy winning screen legend Sally Field, 70, who's playing Amanda Wingfield, a former Southern belle raising her children under trying circumstances in 1937 St. Louis, in the play The Glass Menagerie; and three-time Oscar nominee, four-time Emmy winner and now four-time Tony nominee Laura Linney, 53, who's playing Regina, a calculating woman from a complicated family in 1900 Alabama — and, on other days, Birdie, a sweet and wounded woman from the same family — in the play The Little Foxes.

Ehle, Field and Linney are nominated for best actress in a play while Benton and Ebersole are nominated for best actress in a musical.

To begin with, I want to ask how each of you came to these particular roles — and in Laura's case, it really is roles. Laura, you're nominated for playing Regina in The Little Foxes, but every other performance you and Cynthia Nixon trade off and you play Birdie. How and why did you arrive at this sort of an arrangement?

LAURA LINNEY Well, the Manhattan Theater Club approached me about doing The Little Foxes. It's one of those plays that you think you know and then you read it and you realize, "Oh, I really don't know it." And as I was reading it I realized I understood Birdie much more than I understood Regina. So I asked the theater if I could play Birdie and they said no; they said, "No, you'd have to play Regina," and I sort of put it off for a while, and then another season went by and another season went by and they came back again and said, "How about it?" And I said, "OK. It's with my favorite director, Dan Sullivan, so yes, of course I will." And then about a week went by and in the back of my brain I had remembered that Cynthia Nixon had always wanted to play Regina. And there's something about these great parts that once they're done, they hibernate them for another decade, and then they come back, but great parts are meant to be played and they're meant to be played by good people, and I thought, "Well, why not, if this is something that she really wants to do, if it's something she'd be willing to do—" I called Dan Sullivan and said, "I have this crazy idea: what if we play Birdie and Regina in repertory?" I thought it would be good for the play, I was very curious to see what it would do to a play — thematically, what would it heighten, what would it lessen, how would a company react, what would it be like to play two things? So he went for it, and then he called [MTC artistic director] Lynne Meadow and she went for it, and then they called Cynthia and she went for it, and we've had an amazing time. It's something that men do quite often, but women have never been given the opportunity. So I'm very grateful to MTC for letting us doing it.

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Tonys Actress Roundtable: 5 Nominees on Pee Breaks, Colorblind Casting and Surviving Eight Shows a Week
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