“I Don’t Know, Personally, That I Would Wish That On a Kid,” Says Youngest Female Tony Winner

News   “I Don’t Know, Personally, That I Would Wish That On a Kid,” Says Youngest Female Tony Winner
 
In 1991, Daisy Eagan became the youngest female actress to accept a Tony Award, winning for her performance as Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. What was it like to win theatre’s highest honor at age 11?
Daisy Eagan
Daisy Eagan Monica Simoes

The nominees for Best Featured Actress in a Musical were: LaChanze, for her performance as Ti Moune in Once On This Island; Cady Huffman, for her performance as Ziegfeld's Favorite in The Will Rogers Follies; Alison Fraser, for her performance as Martha Sowerby in The Secret Garden; and Daisy Eagan, for her performance as Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden.

And, the 1991 Tony Award goes to…


So, what went through Eagan's mind when she heard her name? "I was shocked because my mother had been prepping me to not be disappointed if I didn't win," she explained. "Her argument was, 'They don't give Tony Awards to kids,' so she really just didn't want me to have my hopes up, so I was really, really not expecting it, but thank God we had some names written down on a piece of paper! I would have not remembered a thing if I hadn't had that. But, yeah, I was just completely overwhelmed and shocked in that moment." Make sure to follow us on social media for all of our awards season coverage, and visit TonyAwards.com for further details, photos and more.

Eagan is now 35 and lives in Los Angeles, but she was 11 when she took home the trophy 24 years ago. That day changed her life. She became the second youngest to win the award (Frankie Michaels was 10 when he won his Tony for Mame) and became the youngest female to take the Tony.

"I wish that I could remember more of it," she said, "but I don't, frankly. I remember going upstairs to the dressing room [before the Tonys performance] and the company being there and all being very excited, and that was lovely. I remember right after I had accepted the award and I walked offstage, somebody took the award away because that's what they do because they engrave a real one and send it to you, and I didn't know that. I thought I was suddenly having my Tony revoked, and then a stage manager said that they were going to take me across the street to the press conference, and I also had no idea that that was going to happen.

Mandy Patinkin and Daisy Eagan in <i>The Secret Garden</i>
Mandy Patinkin and Daisy Eagan in The Secret Garden

"I guess, in my mind, I thought that I was going to have to cross the street by myself, and I was sort of imagining myself there in this dress crossing 44th Street [or] 45th Street [where the Minskoff Theatre is located] by myself. And, I said, 'I don't have to do that. I'm just a kid,' so I skipped the press conference. I just didn't know!"

Being 11 years old at the time, Eagan admitted that she wasn't well versed in showbiz protocol. She fell into theatre. One minute, she said, she was playing Little League and the next she was starring on Broadway.

"I had only started acting a couple of years before, and it was just sort of on a whim. It was, you know, just sort of a hobby," Eagan explained by phone. "I really never had the chance to like aspire to winning a Tony. I don't think I even ever watched the Tonys before that year. I don't know that I really understood… I mean, I 'understood,' obviously. I didn't live in a cave, but I don't think that the enormity of it really hit me. I don't think there was really a sense of like, 'Oh my God, this is really going to change my life,' or anything like that."

Change her life it did — for better or for worse. 

About two months later, her mother had been diagnosed with metastatic cancer. Work was coming in, but she couldn't take the jobs. Then she hit her teenage years ("They're sort of horrible people," Eagan said of teens). And, at age 13, her mother died.

"Things started to change fairly quickly," she said. "I was being offered other work, and certainly being asked to perform all over the place for various different things, and my mom was diagnosed with cancer two months later after I won, so that sort of put a big stopper on the whole thing. I was offered a pilot, and there was no way for me to go to L.A. because my mom had to stay for treatment. And, my mom died when I was 13, so I think that very drastically changed the trajectory of how it might have gone. Obviously. If all of those things hadn't happened, who knows?"

Eagan openly admits that the Tony-winning time in her life was far from easy, but nightly trips to The Secret Garden transported her from the personal life she struggled with.

"There were all sorts of different pressures because of what was going on in my personal life, and I think in a lot of ways for me, the show was a very welcome escape from the difficulties that were going on at home," said Eagan. "So I had this horrible stuff happening at home, and then I got to go and literally escape it at night, which was great. I think the pressure aspect of it came later. After I left Secret Garden and continued to pursue acting, I think that I felt a pressure to always give a Tony Award-winning performance, which is unrealistic. Even in auditions. So I would walk into an audition feeling, 'They're expecting this level,' and that's impossible to live up to.

Sydney Lucas and Michael Cerveris in <i>Fun Home</i>
Sydney Lucas and Michael Cerveris in Fun Home Photo by Joan Marcus

"So I'd say that definitely that's where the pressure came in, and definitely I think it let it stymie me for a long time. Just personally, it has taken me many years to move past that and to be okay with who I am and the idea that just because I don't win an award doesn't mean I haven't done a good job. That's sort of what it sets up — this idea of if you don't win a Tony, then you really haven't succeeded." But, Eagan is hoping for a different path for Sydney Lucas, this year's 11-year-old Tony Award nominee for her performance as a featured actress in the acclaimed musical drama Fun Home.

Although Eagan hasn't seen the show, she knows the material very well. She workshopped the role of Medium Alison at The Public Theater years ago and describes the work as "breathtaking."

If Lucas wins, she'll be the same age as when Eagan won — and accepting an award in the same category.

But, "I don't know, personally, that I would wish it on a kid, frankly," Eagan admitted. "As exciting and wonderful as it is, I think in retrospect, I don't know… If my son came to me and said he wanted to be an actor, that would be a difficult decision, just because I think it is a lot for a kid to deal with, and hopefully she has good parents that have a good head on their shoulders… But, you know, it will necessarily be different for her, as she gets older, even if she does win. Careers fluctuate, and they go up and down, and they change and life happens and all kinds of stuff. Again, for me, because I'm not sure that I understood how unusual it was, I guess I just sort of thought, 'Okay, well this is going to be my life now. Now I'm going to be a big Broadway star or whatever,' and my life didn't work out that way for various reasons, mostly because of personal stuff that happened, and that took me a really, really long time to reconcile. It's hard, but again, if she has parents that are guiding her, hopefully she'll be okay."

Her advice? "Enjoy it."

"It's not even so much, 'Enjoy it because it won't last,' as it is, 'Just try to understand that you're so incredibly lucky,' and these experiences that you're having are extremely out of the ordinary. It didn't occur to me back then that performing at the White House was, you know, a huge deal. I didn't appreciate how unusual it was, but again, you can't tell a kid, 'Enjoy this now' because they really don't understand that concept. It's not that necessarily it will go away, it's just that someday you'll look back and be like, 'Oh my God, I got to perform at the White House. That's crazy.' Or 'I got to perform at Carnegie Hall. That's insane' or 'I got nominated for a Tony Award. That's bonkers!'"

Three Broadway shows, one Tony win and 24 years later, Eagan now lives in Los Angeles with her two-year-old son, who has been "an incredible gift" and given her a "clean slate." She writes, performs and went back to school to study psychology and creative writing.

Looking back once more, she said, "I'm still good friends with many of the people in [The Secret Garden], so that's definitely something that I cherish from the show, and I think also, the fact that I got to give that gift to my mother before she passed away is sort of priceless."

(Playbill.com features manager Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)

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