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Meet the Tony Nominees: Laurie Metcalf of ‘Hillary and Clinton’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

“I always suspected that a campaign trail would be madness. And now I'm convinced of it.”

Laurie Metcalf stars with John Lithgow, Zak Orth and Peter Francis James in Hillary and Clinton. Lucan Hnath's new Broadway play was directed by Joe Mantello, and is now playing at the John Golden Theatre. Hillary and Clinton takes place behind closed doors in New Hampshire during the early days of 2008 campaign. No stranger to Hnath's work, in 2017 Metcalf won a Tony award playing Nora in Hnath’s play A Doll’s House, Part 2. Last year, she won a Tony for her role in Three Tall Women. Metcalf also has three Emmy Awards for her work on Roseanne and Emmy nominations for 3rd Rock from the Sun, Monk, Desperate Housewives, The Big Bang Theory, Getting On and Horace and Pete. On TV, she will next be seen in the upcoming series, The Conners. Metcalf was also nominated for an Oscar for the film Lady Bird. She has played many memorable roles in the films Desperately Seeking Susan, Leaving Las Vegas, Uncle Buck, JFK, Internal Affairs and the Toy Story series. Metcalf is an original member of Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

Laurie Metcalf is Tony-nominated for her role in ‘Hillary and Clinton’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

Laurie Metcalf is Tony-nominated for her role in ‘Hillary and Clinton’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

How has your vision of Hillary Clinton changed since doing the play? 
Laurie Metcalf
: I didn't study her mannerisms or anything. What I did do was research on the campaign trail in 2008, when the play is set. There is a lot of material on that. It’s fascinating what Lucas has included. But he also branches out. The play is set in an alternative universe where he can take what did and didn't happen. 

I always suspected that a campaign trail would be madness. And now I'm convinced of it. I don't know how people put themselves through it for a year and a half. I really don't. But that is sort of the mindset that the character is in at the top of the play. It’s a very stressful moment watching the polls. She is torn between what Bill is advising her to do, and what Mark Penn, her campaign advisor, is advising her to do. Personally, my idea of hell would be something like that, especially for that long and under that kind of a microscope. But here’s to the people who do it. 

The playwright, Lucas Hnath, has talked about how these roles weren't imitations. You weren't supposed to really be Hillary and Bill. How do you play that?
: The audience might go though some sort of illusion with hearing the character Hillary say these words. We have all imagined what happens in their relationship behind closed doors. So maybe the audience senses that she is there in the room instead of me. But it's very freeing that Lucas stipulates that we don't do impressions. I couldn't do one anyway. So then we're free to interpret them as we would a fictional character.  

What went through your mind when you were asked to do the play? 
: I saw Lucas’ name on the script with Joe Mantello as the director and Scott Rudin (producing). I thought, “Yes. Count me in.”

Hillary has been in the public eye for decades. People feel they more or less know her. But they don't. How were you able to craft a human portrayal of a very public figure? 
: My cues came from the script itself, and I built from there. Audiences bring their preconceived notions. Everybody has one of that couple. And I don't know if the audience's feelings change about her. I hope they see that it's done with respect and admiration, or at least on my part. Even though it's a warts-and-all slice of life behind closed doors, I feel very empathetic towards the character. Especially at the end, when she can only see as far as where she is standing in 2008, and the audience knows what is ahead of her. I find that moment really touching, knowing that she is going to fight all through what is coming up. 

You continue to find such incredible work in your career. 
: It comes in waves. I've had two or three years now where this great material is coming my way. And that is where it all stems from. It's about the material. So, for an actor, to get a meaty piece of writing is the ultimate gift. I have been very lucky to be able to bounce between TV, film, occasionally, and theater. I do that so I don’t burn out on any one thing. I would do theater constantly, but I don't want to because that is where my passion is. It's good to mix it up. 


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