PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Lucky Guy Tony Award Nominee Courtney B. Vance

By Michael Gioia
27 May 2013


George C. Wolfe
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

How much did you know of the world of journalism before going in?
Vance: Nothing. I knew nothing about it… There was no research for me to do. I mean, [information] on the time period was already there. I could look through that, [but] that didn't help me with me. So I basically said, "You know what? I'll focus on the script."

I'm really glad they included the excerpt from Nora Ephron's book "I Remember Nothing" inside the Playbill. Reading that excerpt and watching what was on the stage — she really captured the world of journalism. Did you go back to Ephron's personal experience?
Vance: There were several people that producers and directors brought in to talk to us about the world. [Ephron's widower and former journalist] Nick Pileggi came in to talk to us for a couple hours about the history of the journalism in New York and what the world was like — how it used to be a working class environment. Kids would come from high school and work their way up in the newsroom. How the mob was involved in the delivering of the papers, and publishers knew that and looked the other way… It was a whole different world. That's why we spent to so much time in the beginning of the play setting the world up. There wasn't texting and Twitter-ing [during that time period]. You had to get in the street. You had to get your butt out there. It was a completely different world — you had to do some work. You couldn't sit by your smart phone. You couldn't sit at home and blog it. You had to get out in the world. You couldn't Google anything. People had to have different skills… Because of that, people who had certain skill sets rose higher. McAlary was one of those people who was good with people. He had great people skills. He happened to be in a profession where people skills mattered. He had ambition and…took off. Now, he wasn't always a nice person, but he did the job. He changed the world.

Tom Hanks, Vance and Peter Scolari in Lucky Guy.
photo by Joan Marcus

Did you find it difficult navigating the piece without Nora Ephron?
Vance: I didn't, and I don't think any of us did because we had George, and George had worked closely with Nora. The two of them had several drafts. Even though she wasn't there, we had all her drafts. Basically it was just figuring out how to put the puzzle together. It was all there.

You're doing a lot of narrating in Lucky Guy. What was it like to go back and forth between breaking the fourth wall and going back into your character and the scene?
Vance: That was very difficult to do. It was something that George had to teach us all how to do because there's a difference between narrating and storytelling. He wanted us to tell a story, not narrate. We didn't know what he meant. The more he was able to convey to us what the world [was, the more] it would make sense to us. But, in the beginning we'd get up there and narrate, and he'd [say], "No. No. Talk to us… You're in the world, and you have to bring us in. Bring us in." It was a very difficult transition for us to get, to understand. It took a minute, and eventually we got it.

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)