Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Estelle Parsons Interview

I recently finished conducting my second big interview for this blog, today with Estelle Parsons.  The Oscar-winner and theater regular was a real treat to speak with and was great about answering all my questions.  I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it!

Ms. Parsons, thank you for taking the time to speak with me this afternoon.  I’ve been reading up on your background and learned that, after finishing college, you studied law at BU.  How did you get from there to acting?
I started out singing and acting in community theater since the age of 6, and later moved up to singing in bands.  (As for the law,) I was interested in constitutional law and legal theory, (but never as a career).  I’m not interested in performing for a living, I’m just interested in living my life.

You are known for your film career, including your Oscar-winning performance in Bonnie & Clyde, yet you continue to return to Broadway every now and again.  What draws you back to the stage rather than staying in Hollywood?
I’m not known for movies – I’m known in theater!

How did you get from acting and singing in Massachusetts to Broadway and Hollywood?
At 16, I started into summer stock, where Melvin Douglas and a lot of other people you’ve never heard of were working.  I worked as an apprentice in those class-A stock companies with Jack Lemon, a childhood friend.  After doing that, I went off to boarding school and college.  I was trying to get some work in Marblehead and Boston.  It was really hard – there was only one company in Cambridge, the Brattle (which is now a movie theater).  They had a rep company, but the weren’t going to take anybody.  After my year in law school, I was living with a friend in New York and we worked on what became the Today Show.  I went back to Massachusetts and went into politics in Marblehead.  Then I came back to NBC and had Barbara Walters’ job before she had that job (as the first network political news reporter).  I’ve been acting in New York ever since!

Given your roots in Lynn, Massachusetts, does Good People feel like somewhat of a homecoming for you?
Oh god, does it ever!  After the 1st day of rehearsal, the director said “ok … you could show up as soon as we start performing”  I had it down so well.  It’s just like a trip home.  Before this, I was doing Deathtrap with Simon Russel Beale in London and had to act with a Dutch accent, which is a terrible accent for theater.  I then did August: Osage County for a year, but it was already a hit, so it was different to step into this where I’m not the lead.  I was very relieved to do a play where I’m not playing such a difficult character.  I was a monster for two years.  Though it’s a funny play, it was a terrible experience!

Many actors say that playing a character in a play teaches them something.  What, if anything, have you learned from Dottie?
The whole thing is a learning experience.  Isn’t that why we do the theater?  Starting from square one each time is always a learning experience.  I stepped very far away from myself in this character, which is harder to do than a large part.  With a large part, you have all night to get it right, but with a small part you have to get it right from the beginning.  I like that.  Maybe I’ve learned I can step far away from myself.

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