"Speak! Speak!" I implored Marin Mazzie when I found her in a quiet, tucked-away corner of Le Pain Quotidien on the Upper West Side. It got a laugh from her.
These days she is playing Helen Sinclair in Bullets Over Broadway, a calculating, controlling diva who directs her own love scenes, trying to hush the passion of her insistent suitor with weak, womanly, theatrical pleas of "Don't speak! Don't speak!" The suitor in this case is an innocent, eminently gullible first-time playwright. She's vamping hot and heavy in order to get him to build up and sex up a stage role.
On this particular day it's hard to follow orders to speak. Mazzie woke up with a toothache and was midway into an emergency run to her dentist when the Helen Sinclair in her decreed "The interview must go on," so she just willed the pain away and began.
First off: No, she won't return the serve when asked if she was aware of the bold-face names who cat-fought to get the part — even to the extreme of, God forbid, auditioning for it before Woody Allen (book writer), Susan Stroman (director-choreographer) and Glen Kelly (music supervisor-adapter-lyric tweaker).
"I don't really think about it," she said, opting for the High Road. "It's not something I seek out to know. I do know it was very much a desired role — and it was very much desired by me. When I saw the movie, I thought, 'I want to play that part' — just because it is the ultimate over-the-top theatrical diva. I could see myself having a really good time with her, being able to stretch myself in comedic ways."
Doubtlessly she could also see the outrageously goofy good time Dianne Wiest had in the role. It became the second time Wiest won an Oscar for a Woody Allen film, and she told the press that she was going to have her awards turned into earrings.
It is the role awards seasons were made for, and Mazzie could enjoy a Wiest-like feast of theatre accolades by season's end.
Mazzie's Helen Sinclair is not based on a specific actress, she said, but rather is an amalgam of actresses who've influenced her over the years — "Joan Crawford and the great comediennes — Rosalind Russell, Irene Dunne, Carole Lombard. This is not a new story — the aging diva trying to play a role she's way too old for." Her most helpful references for the actress who refuses to act her age: Bette Davis in "The Star," Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard" and Catherine O'Hara in "For Your Consideration."
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