I heard you did a gala benefit reading of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
This is the centennial year of Williams birth, so I produced a two-evening staged reading of the play, and we raised a ton of money for charity, which was wonderful. We were packed. We got standing ovations, It was really amazing. I brought John McNaughton in. (director of the reading and also of the current production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea) We were looking for Stanley, and I e-mailed casting director Bruce Newberg. He had just seen Burn This at the Taper and Matt (Williamson) had gone on as the understudy in the performance, and he said "I think he would be your Stanley" and we met, and it was a great collaboration. We had a wonderful time. We tried to get the rights to do Streetcar, but they were unavailable this time. So, I have always loved John Patrick Shanley and I thought Danny and the Deep Blue Sea would be a wonderful fit for Matt and I and John and for the theatre in terms of the space.
Why do you love Shanley so much?
I love ...his writing is really beautiful. For instance this play is set in the Bronx, but there's a real poetry to the writing as well. And of course, the themes that he explores, there's just a lot of depth and so many layers, and it's incredibly rich, which for an actor that's the gravy, that's the stuff that you love. At a recent talkback, there were a couple of actors in the audience who said that they had not been on the stage in a while and that they got real excited by the play. One of them said "After 8 years, I want to do this again!"
Do you think the play is based on real people Shanley knew?
I do. Well whether specific...I think it might have been a conglomeration of a number of people. It definitely feels likes it's through the osmosis of the neighborhood and that milieu that he was in. Obviously that was absorbed.
From your standpoint, how does your character Roberta transform?
Roberta has an incredible journey. One of the things that's interesting...John Patrick Shanley calls it Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, an Apache Dance. It really is this push and pull between the 2 characters, or you could liken it to a roller coaster; there are such ups and downs in it. Roberta comes from such extreme obstacles; she carries this glimmer of hope that there's a better way, that she can have a better life. Both of the characters are at complete wits end when they meet and literally, if it wasn't for this meeting, they would both end up dead. So from the beginning of the play her emotions are driving her and she shares a lot of what her life has been, which she's never told anybody before. She reveals a lot; Danny ends up revealing a lot. Through a massive push and pull by the end of the play, that glimmer of hope, that hope comes through. She makes quite a journey.
What was your first exposure to Shanley?
I had never worked on his material, but I had read all his plays and seen his films. I had seen other people working on it in acting classes.
Do you bring a lot of material to work on into the Actors Studio?
I have, and I worked for years with my mentor and friend and incredible human being Susan Peretz, who has since passed away. I would always stretch and try new things with her in class in between professional projects.
I'm sure you're asked this question a lot, but what was it like growing up the daughter of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain?
To me, it's normal. When I was little, I actually thought that everybody was on their own TV set because everybody in the neighborhood were actors. I remember Rob Reiner lived nearby and he was on his TV. My sister had been friends with Diahann Carroll's daughter; that was before me, but she had been on her TV. Lucille Ball lived around the block and Peter Falk. I went to a friend's house one day and I asked "What time is your parents' show on?" (we both laugh) And they said "What are you talking about?" And I said, "Everybody's on their own TV, aren't they?" They said, "No!"
How old were you then?
I was pretty tiny. What's funny is I grew up to be, I guess, on my own TV. That's how it was. (we laugh some more)
That's really cute. I mean I grew up on Mission Impossible and I watched both of them and they're both amazing. When did you first feel you wanted to be an actress?
I thought I would never be an actress. I was a dancer.
Did your parents discourage you?
No, not at all, except they didn't want us to do it as kids. They felt like the business is not necessarily a nice business. But they were completely... whatever you want to do when you're not kids anymore... that's fine. But I was a professional ballerina, and I danced professionally for about 4 and a half years. I realize now that I always approached dancing as an actor. To me, even though I was incredibly technically proficient, it was about expressing something. I then started taking some acting classes. I had been finding the dance world a little bit insular, and I loved the fact that you could have a verbal exchange with people, that you could talk about conceptual ideas, and use your body and your physicality as a component to express something but you could also use your voice. So I started acting classes.
When was this?
I studied for probably about 4 years solidly before I started auditioning and got my first job. Then I started getting theatre work, one show and then another show, so that was my progression in becoming an actress.
Did you realize that dancers at a certain age will need something else to rely on besides their physicality?
I didn't really and I actually stopped dancing while I still could have continued on. I was supposed to dance with a company in New York, but I was doing an Irwin Shaw piece for a 9-week run and we were doing 4 nights a week, so it was more like a run of a show. I got seen by a casting director who suggested I take meetings with some agents, and that's what I did. One agent sent me for an audition for this play and I got it. It was Wendy Wasserstein's Uncommon Women and Others at the Melrose Theatre. So I thought "I'll do this play, then I'll go to New York". But then I got seen and was asked to do Murray Schisgal's The Pushcart Peddlars , which is really fun. In it my character comes on as a blind poor flower girl and she's not, she's kind of a tough cookie. She ends up doing a song and dance audition. It's really funny. Murray Schisgal saw me and he was developing a show that he was hoping to take to Broadway, based on his family. So I auditioned for Murray in this Equity house, a huge theater. On the spot, I got the part. So I never went to New York. My life ended up taking this other course. And I remember it was funny because I called my mother and said "I got the part!" She said, "Honey, I think you misunderstood. They don't tell you at auditions. What exactly happened?" I told her, Murray jumped up on the stage, hugged me and said "You have the part!" She said, "Oh my Gosh, I guess you have the part." (we laugh)
You'll have to forgive me, but I never saw you in Buffy on TV. Talk a little about the experience and how it enriched your life.
Drusilla was a wonderful role. I and another vampire were introduced as the main villains in season 2 of Buffy and it continued. We were described as the Sid (Vicious) and Nancy of the vampire set, and it was a delicious role. It had a lot of different dynamics. We were villains, but we also had this massive, incredible love affair, and it was just loads of fun. And I get most recognized for it and Angel and for also working with Tim Burton in Ed Wood.
Who is your favorite playwright?
Tennessee Williams, and working on Blanche was such a tremendous experience. When you work on Williams or Odets or Shakespeare or Shanley, the play does so much work for you; you're so supported. You spend a lot of time as an actor where the material is less than deep and your job is to fill it with as much as you can. It's such a joy when you have great material...it feels like it's right there under you holding you and then there are just so many riches in it.
What's up next for you?
I have a movie that's coming out that I just finished doing looping on a few days ago. Dark Hearts that has a really interesting director Rudolf Buitendach. It's his first feature, but he won an award from the BBC for his short film for Best New Director. He's super-talented. I'm very excited, and I play a very different character than I've ever played. Her name is Astrid and she's an artist and art gallery owner. She's sort of beatnik-inspired, dresses like an art piece and is always a little bit stoned and talks with a slight Cajun accent. (she laughs) Then I have some animated stuff and voice overs, so we'll see what happens.
Do you have any idols?
Sure. Some of them aren't here anymore. Marlon Brando. I love Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Gary Oldman. Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett...Jodie Foster...
If you had one project to look forward to, what would it be?
...For me it always comes down to the role and the director. Working on this with John McNaughton...he's brilliant.
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Danny and the Deep Blue Sea continues through December 18 at Crown City Theatre in NoHo. Don't miss Juliet Landau & Matthew J. Williamson!