DIVA TALK: Four-Time Tony Nominee Kelli O'Hara Chats About Far From Heaven and Broadway Return

By Andrew Gans
21 Jun 2013

O'Hara and Isaiah Johnson
Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: How difficult is taking that journey emotionally every night? Cathy's husband hits her, and she makes excuses for him. What is it like to play that?
O’Hara: You know, with this particular subject matter, I don’t have a lot of personal experience to pull from. Thankfully, I’ve never gone through that with a man. What I do know is that when material is written in a way that feels natural to you, which is to say it’d be different if he hit me and I fell into a puddle. That would be harder for me. What’s actually more human to play is to cover things up. It’s much easier to play that than it would be to play… a victimized person. I do have to keep her vulnerable because I’ve learned, again, that that’s the way people can identify with her because if you think she’s too strong, then you wonder why she doesn’t just pack her bags, so she’s a very difficult person to kind of balance out. What does feel right to me from people I’ve known, from experiences I’ve seen is… I’m a mother, and when you have children, there’s a protection. You’ll do a lot to protect them, to do what’s best for them. At that time, what happens to her family is unheard of, and she’s going to do anything to make sure that’s kept for as long as possible inside. For a lack of a better word, in the closet because that’s just the time of where we are. So playing it is actually easier because it’s done more realistically, which is to say she would hide it, she would hold it in, she would protect it until she can’t anymore. I remember watching Next to Normal and things like that, where I think, "How can a person do this night after night? It’s grueling." There’s something different about covering than completely emoting every single night, and you want the complete emotion once in a while as an actress, but I find that this is kind of a train that you step on. It's a natural movement, and it’s not as hard as I thought it was. It’s definitely a journey, and it’s definitely a ride, but it feels naturalistic, it doesn’t feel like a lot of put-on work.

Question: You mentioned children – when are you due?
O’Hara: I’m due in September with my second.

Question: How has it been playing this role while being pregnant?
O’Hara: [Laughs.] Well, you know, in a perfect world we would’ve started a little earlier. I did South Pacific until I was about five-and-a-half months pregnant and after that I did concerts. I think the hardest part [with this production] was being in rehearsal and tech and previews because I was on my feet all day. There’s something that happens to your body around six months, where it just starts to really make room and change, and I thought, "Hmm this is going to be really tricky." And then somewhere around after we opened and we just started running the show, my feet got used to the shoes and my body got used to the big crinolines and things. Lately, it’s been okay, and I think I can do three more weeks. I think the thing I worry about more than the way I feel is the way people think I feel. I get a lot of, “Oh, gosh, you’re in these shoes, you’re up and down those stairs…," and that’s the only thing that I don’t want. I don’t want people to walk away from the story with thoughts about the pregnant Kelli O’Hara when you should be thinking about Cathy Whitaker’s story. But that’s my only problem with it right now is that I look a little silly, I look a little rotund, but really I’m not worried about that. I have lots of railings, and the shoes are comfortable.

O'Hara and Isaiah Johnson
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: I wonder if the baby will come out humming that score.
O’Hara: Let me tell you. She goes crazy kicking in the same moments every night. It’s the funniest thing. There’s some sort of connection she has to – it’s usually when I’m with Raymond during "The Only One," the last of the first act. She goes crazy kicking, so I don’t know what that means, but when she’s born, I’m going to try to figure it out.

Question: That’s probably the most beautiful song, so maybe she has good taste already.
O’Hara: That’s probably what it means - she likes that song.

Question: Is there talk of a recording?
O’Hara: There is, indeed, and I believe it’s happening. I believe it’s pretty certain, which I think is really important because the music is so eclectic. Once you listen to it, you can’t get it out of your head. It's really wonderful; I think it deserves a recording, and I think we’re going to record in July after we close, and then it will be out for everyone to really enjoy and to get to know the show even more.

Question: Is there any talk of a transfer or another production?
O’Hara: There’s not right now or not that I’m aware of. It’s just one of those things that you never know, but I think that they would definitely love that.

Question: I know you were also attached to Bridges of Madison County, which is going out of town. Will you be attached when it comes to Broadway?
O’Hara: Yes, I will… It’s very exciting. I hate to miss Williamstown, but I’ll just be about to give birth, and that’s not a very sexy story. [Laughs.]

Question: What’s the score to that like because I love Jason Robert Brown's music, too?
O’Hara: It’s the best he’s ever written, and I’m a fan of his anyway. It’s one of the most beautiful scores – that’s just the amazing thing about where I am right now, which is hard having a baby at the same time. It’s kind of all come at once. I have these two amazing brand-new roles with amazing scores. It’s just too much to give up—I’m not going to do it! [Laughs.] I’m just so excited about that as well, so I just feel really lucky this year to be doing these things.

[For tickets visit PlaywrightsHorizons.org.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

PHOTO ARCHIVE: Four-Time Tony Nominee Kelli O'Hara on the Musical Stage

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Kelli O'Hara and Chad Kimball in My Life With Albertine