Thirty years have passed since two-time Oscar winner Glenda Jackson was on Broadway, and more than 50 since she made her debut in Marat/Sade. Now—after a 22-year hiatus from acting, during which she served as a Member of Parliament—Jackson is back, this time in a revival of Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Three Tall Women.
A film icon for her Academy Award–winning roles in Women in Love and A Touch of Class (not to mention film buff favorites Sunday Bloody Sunday and The Music Lovers), Jackson proved that time away had not diminished her considerable powers, wowing audiences and critics alike as King Lear at the Old Vic in 2016. After attempts fell through to bring her to Broadway in a remounting of that production, producer Scott Rudin mentioned the Albee play. Jackson was immediately intrigued by the rarity of a work that provides three juicy roles for women (the other two are played by Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill).
“I’d never heard of the play, I didn’t know anything about it,” Jackson says over coffee. “I did Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? [in Los Angeles] when Albee directed it, and we didn’t get on. He is a very, very good writer. Very good.” She pauses. “Terrible director, in my opinion.”
This time around Jackson has a very good director indeed: Joe Mantello. And she’s spent the last year wrestling with the script, a dense, darkly funny conversation between three women about memories, aging, and self-deception in which there is virtually no onstage action and yet almost everything about the human experience is discussed and dissected. The show is a non-stop talkfest for three women who must be at the top of their game.
“I’ve sat with that script for almost a year and I haven’t had any voice to hear but my own,” Jackson says with a wry laugh, a few days before rehearsals began. “And people say to me, ‘Have you learned it? Have you learned it?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve learned—I hope—my lines, but I don’t know the cues, and if I don’t have the other voices I don’t know what to do.’ If you don’t have those other voices, it begins to lose its energy. I mean, you’re just looking at printed words on a page, which is dangerous.”
So does Jackson still get nervous? “Of course,” she says. “The really frightening thing is if you don’t feel frightened. If you don’t feel frightened, what the hell is the matter with you?”