PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Yvonne Strahovski, Golden Boy's Incandescent Lorna Moon
By Mervyn Rothstein
December 16, 2012
Meet Australian actress Yvonne Strahovski, known for TV's "Chuck" and "Dexter," currently wowing Broadway as the love-and-loyalty-pulled lady in the middle of Golden Boy.
Yvonne Strahovski is lighting up the Belasco Theatre in her Broadway debut as Lorna Moon in Lincoln Center Theater's revival of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy, which first opened on Broadway, at the Belasco, 75 years ago.
Strahovski, 30, portrays Lorna, "a tramp from Newark" with a very New York accent who is the mistress/fiancée of married boxing manager Tom Moody. Moody manages Joe Bonaparte, the Golden Boy of the title, who has given up the violin for the financial lure of the ring. Lorna falls in love with Joe, and he with her, and she must decide whether to choose him or stay with Moody.
A native of Australia — her parents immigrated from Warsaw, her father an electronic engineer, her mother a lab technician — Strahovski is best known for TV and movies. On TV, she was CIA agent Sarah Walker in "Chuck" and is a serial killer and Dexter's love interest on this season's "Dexter." On film, she appeared with Robert De Niro in "Killer Elite" and is playing opposite Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen in the comedy "The Guilt Trip," in theatres this month.
The Golden Boy cast includes Seth Numrich as Joe, Tony Shalhoub as his father, Danny Mastrogiorgio as Moody and Danny Burstein as Joe's trainer. The director is Bartlett Sher, who directed a highly praised revival of Odets' Awake and Sing! for Lincoln Center in 2006. Playbill.com connected with Strahovski, and her Australian accent, for a chat a few days after the Dec. 6 opening night.
Yvonne Strahovski and Michael C. Hall on "Dexter."
You, the rest of the cast, your director and the production have received many glowing reviews in the last few days. How does this feel, especially in your Broadway debut?
Yvonne Strahovski: We sort of as a cast decided not to read the reviews, because we want to keep focusing on the work itself and doing a good show every night. Obviously, it's hard to avoid — we know there've been good reviews, and I certainly woke up to a thousand e-mails and text messages from people congratulating me. So it's nice to know, but at the same time it does get in your head a little bit. And it can sometimes be a little distracting — only for the performances, where it makes you realize that the people are in fact watching you. I know that sounds silly. Obviously they're watching you in the audience. But it sort of draws attention to the fact that they're watching you, and it's nice to stay in the zone of working with the actors onstage to create a good show every night.
You were quoted as saying late last month that "Honestly, I do feel a little bit like a fish out of water. A, I've never done a Broadway play. B, I've never seen a Broadway play. C, I'm Australian. And I'm an Australian coming in to do a classic American play that is set in the 30s. It's been challenging on all fronts." Could you expand on that, and how you dealt with that challenge?
YS: It's been a lot of hard work in compressed time. In rehearsals, which were four weeks, sort of coming on board with an American cast to do this classic American play. I was on fast-forward a little bit, I think, because I was catching up to the content and the history of the play, and Clifford Odets, and the accent as well, which was a big focus of mine, obviously, because it really is one of the most important things that shape the character of Lorna Moon. That's such a specific sound from a specific era. I really wanted to work on that and get that right. Being an Australian, it was a little overwhelming. I had studied it before in drama school. We did touch on the New York accent, but certainly not as intensely as I have in the last two months.
Strahovski and Seth Numrich in Golden Boy.
Photo by Paul Kolnik
Tell me about Lorna, and how you see this 1937 woman.
YS: Lorna is a survivor. I think she has had an incredibly harsh upbringing — it says in the play that her father is somewhere in the world, he's a drunk, she doesn't know him, he wasn't there for her, her mother's dead and she's had to fend for herself. I think she's very smart. She's witty, but she's harboring a lot of hurt inside, so she has had to put up a very tough exterior. It's really beautiful to see that exterior crumble in the play when she's confronted with her feelings for Joe and Joe's feelings for her. It's unexpected, and she doesn't really know what to do with it. She struggles with the loyalty she feels for Tom Moody because she made that choice to be with him, and he needs her. She runs a lot of his business for him. She constantly struggles and constantly hides, and in the course of the play we see her unravel.
You were born and raised in Australia. How did you connect with this very American, East Coast "tramp from Newark," as she calls herself?
YS: I connected with her because of all the layers of her past, the layers that make up her character. There's an element of tragedy about Lorna Moon, and I'm attracted to that as an actress because it allows you to delve deeper and deeper into a character. You have to figure out why she is the way she is and break it down again during the course of the play. It probably is the most challenging role I've ever played. It's complicated, and it's dark. She's just a human being trying to make it in the world, and during those years it was tough.
Could you talk about the rehearsal and the preview process, and director Bartlett Sher, and how you grew in the role?
YS: He really dove into this, and encouraged us to do the same, and pushed us. We talked a lot about what we thought was going on, the nature of Clifford Odets' writing, very colorful and full of subtext. The answers weren't always clearly on the page. There was a lot of exploring to do. I feel myself discovering something new every day, at every performance.
How did Golden Boy happen for you — you've been making TV series and movies, with much success. How did you suddenly wind up on Broadway?
YS: I was in Melbourne at the beginning of this year shooting the movie "I, Frankenstein" [further adventures of the monster, due out next year, with Bill Nighy and Aaron Eckhart]. During that time I had some days off to go and check out the Melbourne [International] Comedy Festival, and I ended up seeing all those standup comedians onstage, and I got nostalgic. I wondered what it would be like to be onstage again, because I hadn't done that in six or seven years. It inspired me a bit, and when my agent called and said there's this great role, you should look at this, I thought why not. I hadn't looked at any theatre because I've been so focused on film and television, and I thought I'll go in and see if I can even do a theatre audition. We'll start with that. And I guess the rest is history. Here I am.
Could you tell me a little bit about your childhood, and your parents, how you got interested in theatre and how you got started in Australia.
YS: I was always a bit of a showoff when I was a kid, a bit of a clown. I started young — I think my parents could see from day one I was going to be some kind of performer. From a very early age, I would always make my mom film my friends and me goofing around in front of the camera, making up our own series, our own documentaries and things. We have a lot of home videos like that, which is always fun. My mom put me in my first acting class when I was 12. I was always involved in all the drama classes where I could be in school productions. I did my first Shakespeare when I was 14 — I played Viola in Twelfth Night. Straight out of high school I went for my three-year acting degree. Then I worked for three years in Australia before I came to the States in 2007.
I understand it was "Chuck" that brought you to this country. How did that happen?
YS: I was just coming over for TV pilot season. Once I landed, "Chuck" happened. I never got to use my return ticket home, because I stayed on. Now I live here.
Did you audition for "Chuck"?
YS: I sent a tape over from Australia. I put down a little audition in Sydney before I got on the plane. Then I got on the plane and landed, and a couple of days later we got a call saying they had seen the tape. I went and had a couple of meetings, and by the end of the week I had the job. It was sort of being thrown in the deep end, which feels like how things have been going for me. I tend to get thrown in the deep end, like with Golden Boy and Broadway. That's why I sort of made the decision to go with the flow and take it day by day.
What was it like working with Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen on your new movie, "The Guilt Trip," where you play Seth Rogen's former high school sweetheart?
YS: I feel honored to have been able to work with them, especially Barbra Streisand, who's such a legend. It was a lot of fun. Their dynamic is very funny on set and the script was very funny, so I'm looking forward to actually seeing the movie.
You haven't seen it yet?
YS: No, not yet.
Strahovski and Danny Mastrogiorgio in Golden Boy.
Photo by Paul Kolnik
Would you like to do more theatre, more Broadway?
YS: In the near future I think I need a break. Golden Boy is very demanding and challenging. But certainly in the future. Sure.
Is there any particular role that might interest you?
YS: I haven't even got that far. Well, actually, there's a play we did in our third year, last year, in drama school. Road, by Jim Cartwright [set in working-class Lancashire, England, in the 1980s] with many characters with a Lancashire accent. That would be fun to do now, as an adult, after having some experience.
Is there a film up next on your shooting schedule?
YS: Potentially, but unfortunately it's something I'm not allowed to talk about.
Have you had the time yet to see a Broadway play?
YS: No, I haven't. I know I really need to get out a little more. We've been in previews and rehearsals, and our schedule has been pretty hectic so far. Now that we've opened I may have a little more time — without having to go into the theatre every day to rehearse — to do a couple of things, provided they're not on the same schedule as my show.
Anything in mind particularly that you want to see?
YS: I want to see Glengarry Glen Ross. I really want to see the ballet, actually. It's on my list — the ballet in New York, which must be gorgeous. I have three of my best friends in town right now, so we're exploring the city a little bit.
I want to ask you about "Dexter," where you're appearing on Showtime with Michael C. Hall and which has its season finale on Sunday. How did you prepare to play Hannah McKay, a character who's a serial killer?
YS: I was really struck by the way Michael C. Hall developed his character [Dexter], because he plays a serial killer. I was fascinated by how he managed to create a likable character that everyone rooted for. He was very much an inspiration behind some of the stuff I wanted to do with Hannah McKay. I wanted to make sure that she was coming from a genuine place.
I also watched a couple of movies I hadn't seen before to see what I could get out of them. I was struck by Charlize Theron's performance in "Monster," when she played a serial killer, because she managed to put a lot of heart into that.
I don't suppose you can tell me anything about the season finale, coming up Sunday?
YS: No, I can't. We've just ended [this week's episode] on something very dramatic. I've been arrested. It's anybody's guess still who is going to survive.