As her best known character, the perky, pink-wearing Audrey Penney from ABC's comedy "Ellen", Clea Lewis terms herself "a goody two-shoes." Goody-goody no longer, Lewis is currently making her New York theatre debut as the sex-seeking commitment-avoiding Grace in Off-Broadway's Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight. The new New Yorker has a host of theatre credits beginning in her youth in Cleveland Heights, where she performed at the Cleveland Playhouse, through her education at Brown University, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and the University of California at San Diego, as well as stints in Chicago and Los Angeles that included time with Second City and productions of Othello, All in the Timing and Pterodactyls. With no firm plans ahead of her after Midnight, Lewis says, "I'd like to stick around New York and try to do more theatre."
Playbill On-Line: Is there any credit you couldn't wait to get off your resume?
Clea Lewis: My first TV credit was an episode of "Doogie Howser." I was pretty psyched when I was able to stop putting that at the top of the list. I just thought it sounded a little ridiculous. (Laughs.) Even though it was totally fun. It was my first TV job, so, of course, you feel a little nostalgic about it.
PBOL: What's the most amusing or strangest thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
CL: Something pretty funny happened in the show I'm doing now. Basically the whole third scene of the play takes place on this three-way telephone call. During previews we were all running around with the telephone doing this scene and the phone cord snapped. We all stood there because the entire rest of the play depends upon us talking on the phone. Then one of my fellow actors, Jeffrey Donovan -- he's playing this tough guy in the show -- he grabs the two ends of the cord that were broken and he tied them together in a knot and then he said, in "tough guy" voice, "Okay. It works now."
PBOL: What drew you to the character Grace? Why did you want to play her?
CL: I was drawn to Grace because she's pretty outrageous and it's a very different kind of role than what I've had the opportunity to play recently on TV. As Audrey, I played sort of a goody two-shoes and on "Maggie Winters," a real sort of wallflower, nerdy character. But Grace is very bold; she's very sexy, funny and a little more grown up, which is nice. The scene that Grace is mainly involved in had a lot of flow and fun play to it. Plus I wanted to do a play in New York, for goodness sake!
PBOL: Was it intimidating to spend most of the play in a negligee?
CL: Not really. I have this weird thing where I'm actually completely uninhibited when I'm playing a character, much more so than I am in real life. In life, I can be sort of shy, sort of closed off. Once I'm in the skin of a character I really couldn't care less. If it feels right for the role, then I just do it. It's fun. PBOL: You've done work in pretty much all of the areas open to an actor -- television, theatre -- even a cartoon [providing the voice of Nicky on Disney's "Pepper Ann"]. Which do you prefer?
CL: I really love doing theatre. It's much more exhausting and draining and exhilarating. It feels more like your full system is totally engaged when you're doing theatre. You have to really be there with your brain and your emotions and your energy. I'm sure everyone says this to you, but it really does feel like a collaboration between the audience and the actors and it feels very much like a group effort. The immediate response is so wonderful, to hear laughing or gasping and know that you're affecting people in the moment.
PBOL: Is there someone in the theatre you particularly admire?
CL: There's a playwright, Jeffrey Tanner [author of Pot Mom, Teen Girl and Happy, Happy X-Mas], who works out of L.A. He's incredible, very prolific. His plays are very funny and astute and kind of shockingly realistic and reminiscent of childhood and teenagerhood.
PBOL: What's your dream role?
CL: I really want to play Honey in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. I love that play and I love that role.
--By Christine Ehren