InterviewTheatre Firsts: What Is Denise Gough’s First Thought Every Night When She Begins Angels in America?The 2018 Tony nominee and Drama Desk nominee reveals the story behind her first audition, her first paid gig, her first Broadway stage door experience, and more.
May 24, 2018
Denise Gough first made a splash on the New York theatre scene in People, Places & Things at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse—for which the actor has earned a 2018 Drama Desk nomination—in a turn the New York Times described as “extreme, ingenius performance.” The Irish actor followed that up with her Broadway debut as Harper Pitt in the 25th anniversary revival of Angels in America—for which she earned a 2018 Tony nomination.
Both roles won her Olivier Awards in 2016 and 2018, respectively. The actor says that onstage and in life she follows a single piece of advice: ”Just tell the truth and be kind to yourself while you do it,” Gough tells Playbill. Gough works hard to deliver the honest, raw, vulnerable performances Off-Broadway and on. As she continues to dig in to Tony Kushner’s masterwork (and Tony nominations record-breaker), we asked Gough to look back to the beginning with Playbill’s Theatre Firsts:
What was the first piece of theatre you ever saw? Denise Gough: That I can remember having any effect was Electra at drama school. It was the first time I saw a brilliant female part.
What was your first audition ever? First audition was for The Night Season at the National theatre. I really wanted it and when I didn’t get it I made a decision to always go and see the woman who did get the part and celebrate the fact that at least one of us got it. And the actress in the role was perfect for that production—I would’ve been totally miscast. It was a good lesson.
What was your first paid acting gig? A play called The Kindness of Strangers at the Liverpool Everyman theatre directed by Gemma Bodinetz.
What was your first exposure to Angels in America? I did some scenes from Angels in America in drama school but didn’t study the play. I didn’t understand the profundity of it as I had to play Hannah and I had to wear a terrible wig. I was far too young and self-conscious to realize what kind of material I was working with. I do remember thinking I wished I was playing Roy Cohn though.
How did you first learn you got the role of Harper? I think Marianne told me when I met her.
What was the first thing that leapt out at you about Harper? Her emotional intelligence and her mental acuity. And the fact that her salvation would be to get away from this man who will never let her go.
What was the first scene you learned for Angels on your own prior to rehearsals with Marianne? I never learn scenes before starting rehearsals.
What was the first scene you rehearsed for Angels in America with Marianne and the production? The first scene. I felt exposed and like I could never do that speech right. But then I got over it. I do it the best I can. And that’s enough.
When was the first time you felt like Harper? Like you had become the character? Oh god I never feel like I "become" any character! That way madness lies. It’s a constant work and craft in progress and always progress, not perfection.
In one word, what was your first performance in Angels on Broadway like? Beautiful.
What is your first thought when you make your entrance each night? Surrender.
What was your first night like greeting fans at the stage door? Broadway stage doors are like rock concerts! It’s amazing. People are so nice! You just walk along a big line of people telling you how fabulous you are—what a great way to leave work. If only everyone got that, we’d all feel great about ourselves!
What is the first thought you have when you take your bow? Gratitude.
Ruthie Fierberg is the Senior Features Editor of Playbill covering all things theatre and co-hosting the Opening Night Red Carpet livestreams on Playbill's Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @RuthiesATrain, on Instagram @ruthiefierceberg, or via her website.