"I was in Los Angeles, where I live," says Mare Winningham, "and I got a call from my agent that there was a folk-rock musical of Patty Griffin songs. I said, 'Where? I want to be in it.' I'm a big Patty Griffin fan."
Griffin wrote the score for 10 Million Miles, which has a book by Keith Bunin, and is directed by Michael Mayer. It runs at The Atlantic Theater Company's home in Manhattan from May 11 to July 1, with the official opening on June 14. The story follows Duane (Matthew Morrison) and Molly (Irene Molloy) on a road trip (in a pick-up truck) from Florida to New York. Winningham and Skipp Sudduth play numerous characters encountered along the way.
Continues Winningham, "I've always dreamed of doing a musical, but I haven't had the opportunity. This seemed dreamy-good, so I auditioned. Actually, my son [actor Patrick Maple] helped me a lot. I don't think I would have gotten it, if it weren't for him. What could be more fun than multiple roles and Patty Griffin songs?"
She's worked previously with Skipp Sudduth in the cable movie "George Wallace" (1997), "one of my favorite things I've ever been in. I played Lurleen, the first wife of Wallace [Gary Sinise]. When I heard that Skipp was doing this show, I started laughing. My memory of him is constant laughing [on the film set]; he's like Robin Williams. And he's a great actor." The role of Lurleen won Winningham her second Emmy; the first was for "Amber Waves" (1980).
In the new musical, Winningham's roles include [Molloy's] aunt, [Morrison's] mother, and "a floozy in Atlantic City. I should have more respect for [the character]. She's had too much to drink, but she's no floozy."
Winningham claims that she's not had much stage experience. "I made a bunch of kids, and knew that I was not able to fit in much theatre. I managed to do four or five plays in the last 20 years, all in L.A. I did Hurlyburly, which was great. And the West Coast premiere of Side Man — a great role. Recently, I did this little play Lessons, which had a Jewish theme. I did it with Hal Linden, who was a pleasure to work with."
In addition to "George Wallace," the film and TV work with which she's most pleased includes "Georgia" (for which she received a 1995 Oscar nomination), "Love Is Never Silent" (1985), "The Maldonado Miracle" (2003), "Off the Minnesota Strip" (1980). In that she "played a teenage prostitute who returns to her parents [Hal Holbrook, Michael Learned]. It was written by David Chase, and I think of him when I watch 'The Sopranos.'"
Winningham also had a recurring role (Susan Grey) on ABC-TV's "Grey's Anatomy," but her character died last Thursday (the May 3 episode).
The actress has recorded three CDs. "The latest is called 'Refuge Rock Sublime.' It's a country/Jewish folk album. Except for a couple of traditional Hebrew songs, I wrote all the material." Winningham, who converted to Judaism in 2002, adds: "I have the passion of a convert."
One of five (she has an older sister and three brothers, two older, one younger), Winningham was born in Northridge, CA. She recalls the first moment she knew what acting was: "My mom let me watch 'The Sound of Music.' I was the same age as the actress playing Gretl. I got serious in junior high school; my parents could tell it was something I really wanted to do."
Also upcoming, she notes, "I have a gig at Joe's Pub on June 17." Meanwhile, just travel 10 Million Miles and see Mare Winningham at the Atlantic Theater Company.
Probably best known for his six seasons on TV's "Third Watch," keeping the peace as Officer John "Sully" Sullivan, Skipp Sudduth is happy to be back on a New York stage in 10 Million Miles. "I really love the piece. Patty Griffin has been a favorite of mine for a long time. I play multiple parts, play instruments, and sing some songs. It's nice to be reunited with Mare Winningham, and I've wanted to work with [director] Michael Mayer for a long time."
His work on "Third Watch" has given him the financial security to work on stage again. He says, "We made 132 episodes; there are four or five I'm not in."
He's the only "Third Watch" actor who directed three episodes. "One was a Christmas story, in which I played Santa Claus. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done." He's also directed two "ER" episodes. "The first one was shot in Capetown, South Africa, and in the South Kalahari Desert, which stood in for Darfur. It was mainly Noah Wyle and Mekhi Phifer's story. Then, I directed the one that was Laura Innes' final episode, which began a five-story turn featuring Lois Smith. It was my great good fortune to get to direct Lois — a brilliant actress — and a very close friend for a long, long time." They appeared together in The Grapes of Wrath.
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