The thing that really struck me is.. I almost want to read the actual script because it just seems the mannerism and the physicality and everything you bring to the role, I can't see how much of that can be in there. Sister Aloysius could easily be just a flat, hectoring character if it you did it wrong, which of course you didn't.
It's an amazing role and every actress will be so, so different because it's such a wide-open character. There's only one requirement for that character, that she has absolutely no doubt about her mission. And the mission is to protect those children. And with what she believes she has seen, she has great certainty about him, the priest. But, other than that, you can really go to town in all sorts of fun different directions with her. I wanted to give her a physicality that was so specific that 50 and 60-year-old people who had had nuns in school would look up on that stage and sort of shiver with recognition of their high school principal or their second grade teacher.
I did one year in a parochial school to the point where, if you didn't do your homework, they slapped your hand with a ruler. The whole deal.
How old are you?
Wow, you got in right at the end there with ruler-snapping nuns.
But I was a bit precocious because they didn't really hit hard, so when it came to doing 90 minutes of math homework or a little slap with the ruler, I was just like, 'Yeah, go ahead.'
It's a much quicker thing than sitting there and doing math at night. So, I guess, the other thing that I'm curious about is... since it is, and I don't know you personally, but I assume this role is much different from you when you're not on stage, so what kind of preparation does it take? At 7:30 at night, do you have to start a kind of ritual?
I actually start it a little earlier. I always eat a light supper around 5:30ish. And then I start sort of running my lines. I run my lines every night for two scenes before this one, because I have to really drive the first opening scenes. It's about 13 or 14 minutes long and if I falter even for a moment, I just... in other words, I cannot falter. I cannot make a mistake, and I have to get my mouth warmed up to speak as she speaks, because I have given her this sort of Albanian truck driver kind of voice. I don't mean that, but I heard Mother Teresa speak once and she sounded like this Albanian truck driver. Very coarse and very gravelly and not particularly pleasant to listen to. And I thought, how wonderful if, on top of everything else, this woman has this really unattractive voice.
But at times can be touched with her care of the children, so there's this sort of wonderful contrast when you hear the pain in that gravelly, unpleasant voice it will become, on nights I do it well, hopefully even more poignant than if she had a more normal voice. And I wanted her to be stooped from osteoporosis. I didn't want her to have that sort of ramrod-straight stereotypical nun posture. I wanted to show some wear and tear of this mortal world. And I couldn't figure out why she hadn't had children, because she had been married as a young woman, so I decided that she had had a hysterectomy as a young woman, and so she hadn't had calcium since she was in her twenties. Her bones are absolutely brittle. She's actually not in such great health. She's only in her early 60s, but it's 1964, which means it's more like she's in her late 70s to the way people are now in terms of health care. It gives some nice contrast, so in the final confrontation scene, to see this sort of bowed, turtle-like woman be able to hold her own with this virile young man. It just adds a little extra juice.
It's interesting because you've performed this more than 400 times now?
It's about 540.
Just that you're still running the lines every night...
It's like doing scales, running those lines for those first two scenes.