Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Christine Lahti Interview on Broadway.com

Here's an interview from Broadway.com with Christine Lahti, who is currently starring off-Broadway in Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling, a play by Adam Rapp.

Christine Lahti on Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling and Dressing Her Oscar in Barbie Clothes
By Michael Mellini

As Sandra Cabot, a wealthy Connecticut women readying to host a lavish dinner party with old friends, Christine Lahti steps on stage in Adam Rapp's Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling in a sparkling designer suit. The glimmer of the outfit is a far cry, however, from the inner emotions of Lahti's character, who is more than disgusted and unfulfilled with her family life. This provocative drama kicks off Atlantic Theater Company's off-Broadway season at CSC Theatre in a production set to open on October 3. Broadway.com recently caught up Lahti, best known for her award-winning run on TV's Chicago Hope, to talk about entering the world of the extremely rich, concentrating on stage work and playing dress-up with her many awards (She outfitted her Oscar up in Ken doll clothes!)

Sandra is a fairly unlikeable character. Are you enjoying playing someone with so much bottled-up anger?
She’s pretty troubled. It’s incredibly fun taking the ride with this character each night. This is not really the kind of character I’ve ever played before, so it’s been challenging to find what drives her and, without giving too much away, this horrible, unspeakable act that she’s planning to commit.

When the play begins, her marriage is at a very unpleasant place. Did you and [onstage husband] Reed Birney talk about how these people ended up at this point?
Yes, we’ve worked out a backstory. Sandra basically feels abandoned and feels like she’s going through life alone and without a partner. He’s just not present. She’s frightened of everything, when faced with conflict, and there’s not much to her life, so she doesn’t feel loved. She lives in this world of extreme wealth and has such a sense of entitlement, to being happy and living an extraordinary life that feels special, and now she’s not feeling any of that. So she finds a way to strive towards a better life—or tries, at least.

Have you met people like Sandra, who’ve done very well for themselves but are still incredibly unhappy?
I’ve never met someone who would want to commit the act that she’s about to do, but I have met pretty desperate people. And I can certainly imagine that at this age, they have a feeling of “there’s only a few more years left,” which sparks a fear of your own mortality. She’s desperate.

Were you able to pull from your own experience for this character? [Lahti has been married to TV director Thomas Schlamme for 28 years.]
Not so much from my own life, luckily! I’ve just been using my imagination to think about how I would feel in these circumstances. I've never really been driven to this kind of behavior.

Sandra is very outspoken. You really have such a knack for uninhibited women.
The boldness, I think, comes out of her desperation. She’s a survivor. She’s not going to allow herself to die in this prison that she feels she’s in. She’s a real woman in action, she doesn’t mess around and I relate to some of those traits. I can understand that when the "push comes to shove survival mentality" kicks in, she does what she has to do.

The play is set during an opulent dinner party in which the guests dine on a giant goose. Is it hard to actually eat on stage and still deliver your lines?
It’s pretty good food too! I really like eating on stage. I like that sort of naturalism and seeing people talk with food in their mouth just makes it so much more real. It’s really fun. While there’s plenty of food, Sandra seems more interested in the alcohol on the table. Drinking is a very WASP-y thing to do, but she just keeps drinking really to numb her pain and also to gain the courage to move forward with her plot.

You're performing in an intimate space. Do you feel like the audience members are guests at the table as well?
It’s an odd experience for me to see the audience so much. I like the intimacy of the theater a lot, but you have to keep your focus and concentration and not always pay attention to them [laughs]. I’ve gotten used to it.

Some pretty wild things happen in the show, especially in the final scene. How have audiences been reacting?
It’s a very provocative play, but the audience response has been very positive. They seem to be very moved by it.

As a God of Carnage veteran, are you excited for the upcoming film adaptation?
Of course! That show was brilliant, and I’m curious to see what they’re doing with it. I’m sure they’ll open the story up a little and maybe even have some flashbacks of showing the boys getting into the fight in the park.

I read that you have an extensive background in miming. Is that something that still comes in handy at this point in your career?
Well, it’s not so extensive. I studied it in college and went on tour with a mime company, but, oh no, I don’t keep it up. It was really fun. We performed around coffee houses in Europe. There’s really no call for miming any more, but I also did a lot of physical character work early on which was very helpful.

You’re an Oscar-winning director [for the live action short Lieberman in Love] and an Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actress [for Chicago Hope]. Where do you keep your awards?
I put them on my mantle in my office. At one time my Emmy had Barbie clothes on it and my Oscar had Ken doll clothes on. My daughter used to like to dress them up.

Do you still get approached about your 1998 Golden Globe Awards mishap? [Lahti was in the restroom when her win was announced.]
I do, funnily enough. It’s one thing I’ll always been known for the most!

Does that bother you?
Of course not. I still think it’s very funny.

Your twin son and daughter recently left for college. Are you having empty nest syndrome yet?
I do have an empty nest, but I’m so excited to be working on this show and consumed by the role that I don’t even think about it. I’m so excited for my kids, too, because they’re in such good places and ready to move on to their next phases in life. I’m looking forward to being more bi-coastal now and having the freedom to come to New York to do shows like this.

See Christine Lahti in Atlantic Theater Company's production of Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling at Classic Stage Company.

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