And when do you start inhabiting the character? Do you start thinking of Darling Jimmy before you go onstage or does that happen onstage? How does that factor in?
I sit in the wings at my desk while Father Flynn delivers his opening sermon. And I write a prayer to the Virgin Mary as Sister Aloysius. And I actually pray for some contemporary issues, I have to say. And then I think about Donald Muller, the black student, the only black student in that first day of school, leaving the school and walking across that playground, the only black student for miles around. And I say a prayer that we will be able to guide him, and lead him, and keep him safe. And then I envision sort of what she saw that sets off everything. And then I start thinking about Darling Jimmy, and I continue to write a prayer that becomes very specific asking for guidance for solving this problem.
Yeah, because I listened to the podcast that talked about the process of how you created the backstory of Darling Jimmy. Can you explain that part of how you created Sister Aloysius's backstory?
What podcast is this?
It has clips of you and John Patrick Shanley, and the other actors, and it describes the whole process.
I had no idea that Darling Jimmy was out there. I've only ever mentioned it a couple of times. I mean, what kind of detail do I go into?
A lot! He was 14, you think that he... (I give her a lot of the details from the podcast)...
Yes, yes, yes! Wow. Jeez Louise.
So, I know too much?
It's interesting because I think the only time I mentioned that was to those 1900 high school students. Something must have been recorded. It's one of those things I don't think an audience should know before they come to see the play. You shouldn't have the actor's background stories to a play. You should only have what the playwright wants you to see. So, I do think it's too much, actually. But thank you for telling me about it. If I can exert any control, I'm going to have it removed. (laughs)
That sort of transitions into our issue, since this is a gay site, because I'm always of two minds and I see both sides of the issue when you're going onstage as an openly lesbian actress as Sister Aloysius, is there an issue that you think that might be in the mind of the audience when you walk onstage? There's a slight adaptation period where you're Cherry Jones for a brief period and then you become Sister Aloysius?
I don't think so. In the first place, I don't think anyone is particularly interested in my sexuality except for other gay people. I don't feel that's an issue and I never have. Most theatergoers, they just come in hopefully with as blank a slate as possible, you know? And maybe I'm naïve and maybe do come in, but listen, half the nuns in the world are gay anyway, you know? (laughs) Maybe it makes a lot of sense to the people who know I'm gay.
Well, it's been 11 years since you won the Tony for The Heiress, when you did publicly come out. Was that something you had planned to do, or did you just...
I had never been in. I've been out all my life. People always say that's when I publicly came out, but it was the first time the national press was remotely interested in asking me any questions. And I said to them what I said to anyone who has ever asked before, so I've been out all my life. Of course, if you win a Tony Award, you're going to kiss your love. It wasn't even an issue. It was just the natural way to proceed.
So, it wasn't a turning point for you, just your life hitting...
It wasn't even a little turning point.
Just your life on display in a public way for the first time.
So, I've been curious about acting lately, and there seems to be all different kinds of schools of thought on acting. I've read the Practical Handbook for the Actor and David Mamet's acting book. Where do you fall along all those lines? Are you more in that camp or the Stanislavsky?
When I was at Carnegie Mellon, we had four different acting heads of the department the four years I was there. And it was long before Mr. Mamet had made his name. And we had all sorts of different theories thrust at us. With each new acting head of the department would come a new regime of acting teachers who would say, 'Whatever you learned last year, forget it. We're now going to teach you the one true way.' You know? And there is no one true way. You have to accumulate as many tools as you possibly can. You never approach a new role the way you approached the last role before it, or the twenty roles before that. Each role requires new tools. And the main thing, the greatest tool that any actor has, is imagination. And I know that acting schools help you hone that imagination and use it.
But I know, for example, I guess it's the Method where you're taught to use your own personal history as an emotional springboard. For me, when I had to be terribly upset onstage, I've been so blessed that I couldn't really use my own personal history. So, what I've always used, and what I tell young students who have been so blessed, is use the future. Use all the endless loss that we have to deal with in life. Use that as an emotional springboard. That has often helped me. I think I've finally lived long enough now that I'm actually able to use my own history and my own past and my own actions as an emotional springboard in a way. I couldn't when I was younger. But I don't have any one approach to a role, nor should anyone.
It seems to be a natural tendency of people, though. Even on Oasis, there are people who are 13, and it's I either want to be lesbian, or bi, or... in every path we have, we want to have the destination mapped out for us. I think you just need to pull back, and be open.
Yeah, and with kids who are interested in the theater, let the goal simply be to do good work with good people. And to remember, always, never confuse your self-worth with your professional success or failure, because in the arts it's hard not to confuse those two things. You just must not.