Denise Gough didn’t want to come to New York unless it was to perform—and in the span of six months, she’s reprised two high-octane, Olivier-winning performances she originally did in London.
After playing Emma, an actor struggling with addiction, in People, Places & Things at St. Ann’s Warehouse, Gough is now making her Broadway debut as Harper Pitt, crossing the pond with the National Theatre revival of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America—and is now nominated for a Tony Award.
The wait was worth it, Gough says in her dressing room before a performance of Angels’ Millennium Approaches. But this is her second time transitioning from Emma to Harper, and both demand emotional and intellectual endurance from the performer (and audience).
“I’m doing a lot of emotional stuff, but my body doesn’t know that that’s not real,” she says. “I’m not prepared to spend my time off as Harper. I’d be a f*cking disaster.”
Fortunately, she’s developed some tools to prevent that. Her time outside the theatre is kept low-key. “I’ve gotten all the crazy stuff out of my system,” the 38-year-old says. Yoga has become a part of her routine (“not all the time—I’m not a saint”). When she recognizes the need to binge burgers or The Real Housewives, she doesn’t tell herself no.
Ultimately, the quality of the roles outweighed concerns over the mental stamina required. “You don’t turn down Angels in America. What’s the point in being an actress? If I’m not going to do Angels in America on Broadway when Donald Trump is in the White House, then what is the point?”
Being a part of “that annoying thing that won’t go away” in the wake of injustice drives Gough as an artist, and she’s prepared to stop if the work doesn’t offer that. “A lot of the time, we get paid far too much for doing far too little. And we get dressed up in fancy clothes and given gold statues,” she says. “It feels really good when you get to put yourself through something that is handing something back.”
“Handing something back” is in turn the gift for Gough, and between Angels in America and People, Places & Things, her cup “runneth f*cking over.”
“It takes a lot out of you, this play. But it gives so much back. And when I’m 75, I’m going to be able to look back and say I did Angels in America on Broadway in 2018—when all that was happening. That was my job. How great.”