PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Laurie Metcalf, Getting Domesticated at Lincoln Center Theater

By Carey Purcell
December 10, 2013

Playbill.com chats with two-time Tony nominee Laurie Metcalf, who is currently starring in Lincoln Center Theater's production of Bruce Norris' Domesticated.



*

Playing Judy, a picture-perfect politician's wife in Bruce Norris' Domesticated, Laurie Metcalf is not at a loss for words. For the majority of the first act, following a confession of infidelity from her husband, her character is constantly talking — about her anger, her sadness and her disappointment. 

Metcalf, a two-time Tony nominee who has starred on Broadway in November, Brighton Beach Memoirs and The Other Place, has also garnered three Emmy Awards for her role in "Roseanne" and appeared in numerous films, including "Desperately Seeking Susan," "Toy Story" and "Scream 2."

The award-winning actress spoke with Playbill.com about taking on a timely, political role and her onstage marriage with Jeff Goldblum.

What made you decide to play Judy in Domesticated?

Laurie Metcalf: I'm a huge Bruce Norris fan, so that part was really easy. And, I've worked with Bruce and [director] Anna [Shapiro] before, about a decade ago, on a play called Purple Heart. And, I love being in New York.

The play is so timely.

LM: I love that it's thought-provoking. I love the character because it's so juicy, and I love the humor in it. I was just kind of fascinated by the play itself.

I kept wondering what you were thinking in the first scene, when your character's husband gives his press conference announcing his resignation, and you stand next to him without speaking.

LM: All of us have wondered what is going on in the mind of the person standing at that podium. I played around in rehearsals with how much to show, what the character is going through — if she's devastated, if she's livid, if she's embarassed. All those things are valid. What it came down to, interestingly for me, is just, sort of, be inscrutable. I think that the audience fills in whatever they want to see on my face.

I'm purposefully not trying to tilt my character in any way with that scene at the podium, and I still have audience members come up to me and say, "She was so (fill in the blank) at the beginning." I'm trying not to have selected one of my voices at the very top, but people seem to do it for me. They read what they want to read onto the character.

How did you create your onstage relationship with Jeff?

LM: We had worked together one other time. He had a television show called "Raines," and I played a guest spot on it. I remember, when we were sitting, waiting for lighting set-ups, it came up how we would like to do a play together, and years later, here we are. It's serendipitous and so fortunate.

First of all, I'm crazy about him. He's a terrific guy. He's a wonderful onstage partner because he's so pleasant every moment of the show. He's so good with the language, which is crucial for a Bruce Norris play/character. And, that comes so easily to him. I enjoyed the whole rehearsal process with him because he has a really strong work ethic, and I like that. I like to work in the rehearsal room, and so does he. I think our sensibilities just matched on how to approach a play.

Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf
Photo by Joan Marcus
Your character goes through some really intense anger. How did you develop that?

LM: I think that, in this particular play, because the blow-up scene in Act Two is so big, I felt I had to work backward a little and modulate it in the first act. You can only watch so much of that, or it's like, "Shut up!" Knowing how big the climax of the anger is going to result in, I had to sort of watch it in the beginning and keep a lid on it.

What do you think this play is saying about marriage?

LM: Bruce's idea is right there in front of you. I guess it's not so much marriage, but gender, and how we have such a hard time understanding each other and will forever. I love how he framed that with the daughter's biology report. I find, when you're working with something written by Bruce, it's really about the issue he's chosen to write about and his take on it. And, everything comes together to support that in his play. It's really his take on this that everyone is working together to get across to an audience.

What kind of message do you think this play delivers regarding gender roles?

LM: It's just a fascinating, and I think fairly-drawn, look by Bruce, looking at our miscommunication... My character doesn't get to address that on the nose in the play, but Jeff's character does, and he makes a very valid point about wanting to... open up a conversation about what we want or expect from each other and don't know how to ask or assume.

And then, when we don't get it, the frustration of that — and maybe that's the core of what leads to marriages falling apart. The valid point at the top is that he might have an issue of monogamy, which his character is brave enough to bring up before he enters this union, and she shuts him down, and they never really recover from that. They never had the conversation. 

It's remarkable to hear you speak of his character with so much empathy after seeing you play his wife onstage and witnessing the hurt she experienced. 

LM: I'm very empathetic with his character. I think he's just so frustrated. I see him trying and trying with these women in the second act, when he gets to speak. 

My character would probably make him pay through his silence forever. There's no end to it. She gets him to shut up, and he's agreeing to shut up for as long as it takes. And then he finally figures out that there's no end. And that's when he says, "I'm not happy. I'm leaving," at which point she realizes she just screwed herself. How long do you pay for the hurt that you've caused?

With Long Day's Journey Into Night and The Other Place, you've taken on some very intense roles in theatre.

LM: I guess if they're not intense, I make them intense. I don't know how else to do it. I've been really lucky. There are such great roles in theatre, and I rarely read a part that I wouldn't just love to play. They are all fascinating.