Maggie Siff may look familiar from her role as psychiatrist Wendy Rhoades on Showtime’s Billions, but lately, she’s taken to a different sect in Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class, currently playing Off-Broadway at the Signature Theatre Center through June 2.
Siff plays Ella, the matriarch who decides that today is the day she gets her family out. But everyone has a different idea of what that means and how to do it. Though it’s been a few years since Siff has graced the stage, she boasts a theatrical pedigree.
She began in the Philadelphia Theatre scene, playing in the Wilma Theater’s Arcadia, InterActs Theatre Company’s Aunt Dan and Lemon, Philadelphia Theatre Company’s The Laramie Project, and Oleanna at the Walnut Street Theatre. She eventually made her way to New York, working at such notable theatres as the Public, Playwrights Horizons, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, the WP Theatre, The New Group, and Theatre for a New Audience. Now, she returns home—but not before she proves her theatre cred:
What was your first professional job?
Maggie Siff: I played Ophelia when I was still in college in a beautiful deconstructed Hamlet in Philadelphia. We had a toy theatre and huge projections that filled the entire back wall of the theater.
What was the stage show that has most influenced you?
There are so many. The first time I saw Vanessa Redgrave onstage she was playing Vita Sackville West in Vita and Virginia. I remember the sheer kinetic force of her person reaching me in like the last row of the theatre. Also seeing Janet McTeer in A Doll’s House was one of the most devastating evenings of theatre I’ve ever seen. I remember thinking at the time that when theatre lands perfectly, there is no form more powerful.
Is there a stage moment you witnessed (from the audience, from the wings, in rehearsal) that stays with you?
When I was growing up my father was an actor. I remember seeing him in a production when I was about six. He walked downstage and winked at me. I remember trying very hard to synthesize my understanding of him as a character with my knowledge of him as my father. That wink probably did me in.
What’s been the biggest challenge of your career?
I think of this career as a constant juggling act. How do you make a living and also satisfy yourself artistically? How do you keep all your muscles supple? How do you keep challenging yourself creatively so you don’t get either pigeon-holed or bored?
What’s been the most rewarding experience onstage for you?
I did Kate in Taming of the Shrew a few years back with Theatre for a New Audience. To work on a “problem play” and find my way through it in a way that felt authentic and earned was tremendously exciting. So much of what makes work onstage satisfying for me is the ensemble. If you have a collection of actors and a director who come with wide open hearts, and if the process of rehearsing and performance is led with love and not ego, then I want to give a thousand percent. And those are the experiences I cherish. Those are the experiences that embody success for me. This was one of those.
Who is a collaborator (from theatre) that made you BETTER?
Arin Arbus directed that Shrew as well as a production of Much Ado… I did with her. She’s tremendous—deeply sensitive with a barometer for truth and authenticity that has made me better.
Now that you’ve broken big into TV, how do you balance stage and screen? Do you want to?
Yes I do! I’ve also been balancing parenting with my filming schedule. So I’m folding theatre back in to my life only recently. It has been my experience, however, that stage muscles sharpen the ones for camera and vice versa.
What is your favorite part of doing TV that’s different from theatre?
Some say that acting is being private in public. A camera can afford the quietest and most intimate of acting experiences. I deeply appreciate that. Television is also a long form character exploration. I get to keep evolving and growing over years. The writers can take a swerve and suddenly you’re in entirely new territory recalibrating character. It’s cool.