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Meet the Tony Nominees: Laurie Metcalf of ‘Three Tall Women’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

After winning a Tony last year, Laurie Metcalf triumphs on Broadway once again

Laurie Metcalf is currently starring in Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Three Tall Women. She acts alongside Alison Pill and Glenda Jackson, who has returned to acting after more than two decades serving as a member of parliament for the Labour Party. The play dissects the choices we make, the regrets we harbor and how we come to where we are. Last year Metcalf received a Tony award for playing Nora in A Doll’s House, Part 2. She also wowed in the film Lady Bird and was nominated for an Oscar. On TV, Metcalf plays Sheldon Cooper's mother Mary in The Big Bang Theory

Laurie Metcalf in 'Three Tall Women' (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

Laurie Metcalf in 'Three Tall Women' (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

What inspired you to do Three Tall Women?
Laurie Metcalf:
I wanted to be in the same room with Joe Mantello, who is my favorite director to work with. I wanted to watch Glenda’s process and also work with producer Scott Rudin again. He also cast me in A Doll’s House, Part 2 last year, which was fabulous, and the movie Lady Bird. I wanted to be in the room with all those people.

Three Tall Women makes you think about the past and how you get to where you are. Is there something you wish you could have told yourself when you were starting your career?
Laurie Metcalf:
If I could go back, I would tell my younger self, “You can depend on this passion that you have for acting. You’re not going to lose it.” I would have liked to have known at 25 that years down the road the passion would not diminish, that I would get the same rewards working in the theater as I did at my younger age.

Wasn’t Auntie Mame one of the first shows you did in high school? 
Laurie Metcalf:
I had three lines or something.  On opening night, I accidentally got a laugh on one of the lines. And I wasn’t expecting it. It kind of threw me for a second. But I wondered, how did it happen? I didn’t like that I didn’t know how I did it and that it was an accident. I wanted to figure out why I got a laugh with that particular delivery, so could I do it again. 

Then I kind of figured it out and got a laugh at the other performances. I think that is what hooked me. I thought, I like this. I like to control it. I like knowing what I’m doing. I find the whole technical side of acting fascinating. To this day I’m always figuring out, ‘Why did I miss that laugh last night? Oh, I know, because I didn’t emphasize the right word in the lead-up to it. Or I came in too quickly.’ Usually it ends up being about timing.

In the 1970s, you, Terry Kinney, John Malkovich, Jeff Perry and Gary Sinise formed Steppenwolf Theater in a church basement theater in Highland Park, Illinois. Did you have any sense that the company would be so successful and continue to this day? 
Laurie Metcalf
: We took a leap of faith. There was no master plan for how long we would do it or where it would take us. We just initially started out wanting to put some one-acts together for the summer. Then it just kept building and growing. I don’t know that I would have stayed in the acting profession if I hadn’t done it with that particular group of people.

Doing Three Tall Women, you are not able to consult with playwright Edward Albee (who passed away in 2016). Is there something you wish you could have asked him?
Laurie Metcalf:
During rehearsals I would have had a lot of questions. I found the rehearsal to be really hard. It was a really difficult play to learn. I think we all stumbled around for a long time in the rehearsal room. But as Joe [Mantello], our director, got to know the play, it started making more and more sense to us. All the humor in it was, to me, not always apparent in the script. It was fun to find once we got an audience in there to help us.

I am glad that we struggled along on our own. I really like what we ended up with, how our production fits together and how the three of us work together. I love what the set contributes to it, which is gorgeous.

What do you like about playing the caretaker? 
Laurie Metcalf:
I love playing the reality of the frustration of that job. Some of the humor comes out in how they (Metcalf's and Glenda Jackson's characters) have a contentious but codependent relationship. That is a lot of fun to play for an audience.  Edward Albee really captured the conflicting emotions of the caretaker. 

And in the second half I like playing the woman, right in the middle, age-wise. She is sitting at a really comfortable time in her life. She doesn’t know what the future brings for her. Like I say in the play, "I’m the one that has the 360-degree view of where this character is at in this particular moment." I like playing the one in the middle.

Your daughter, Zoe Perry, is playing your Big Bang Theory character, Mary Cooper, on the show’s prequel, Young Sheldon. Have you given her advice?
Laurie Metcalf:
I don’t give her advice for the same reasons that I don’t direct plays. There is a real skill to be able to talk to a fellow actor and not mess them up. And I don’t have that skill. So I don’t give her advice on portraying the character. But it has been fantastic to know the Young Sheldon show and see the back history. Now, when I go on The Big Bang Theory, I feel I have more information to draw on for my character on that show because of Young Sheldon.

What did you say to your daughter when she told you she wanted to be an actress?
Laurie Metcalf:
She was flirting with it when she was very young, but I didn’t want her to go into it at that age. I think it’s too stressful for a kid. So I didn’t let her audition for anything back then. In high school, she forgot about it and didn’t want to do it anymore. So it wasn’t an issue. When she went to college at Northwestern, she fell in love with the theater crowd. She ended up auditioning for a couple of things, got in them and stuck with it. It was kind of a natural progression.

What do you like to do when you are not working?
Laurie Metcalf:
I still have a young one in junior high, so I do the mom thing. And I like to do jigsaw and crossword puzzles – things that keep my mind active. I also like knowing what my next project is going to be. So I can start daydreaming about how I might play it and begin learning the lines.

For more great theater, check out our Top Shows in May.


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