Monday, November 9, 2015

2015 Interview - Joanna Miles

Actress Joanna Miles, who won two Emmy Awards in 1973 for playing Laura in TV's The Glass Menagerie, will co-star with David Selby in a world premiere drama Front Door Open at the Greenway Court Theatre in LA opening November 13. In our talk, Miles discusses the play, her costar David Selby as well as highlights from her career.

Tell me what it was like growing up in France? Were you bilingual?

I was born in France during the war. My mother was an American and we were helped to come back to America in probably forty-two. So, I never did very well with my French. We were a headline in the New York Times as the last Americans out of France. My father was from Europe and happy to get out.

When did the acting bug bite? At a very young age?

My parents were painters and although they both became successful, I found my mother's struggles particularly frightening.  So I decided acting was a better idea. In those days, the business of acting was different then it is now. Work was plentiful. The Stanislavsky Method had just come into being and there were some truly amazing teachers in New York, each of whom put his or her personal spin on it. Harold Clurman. Stella Adler. Uta Hagen. Sandy Meisner. Lee Strasberg. I auditioned and was accepted into the Actor's Studio and had the chance to study with an impassioned group of young actors including Al Pacino, Bob DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman. We lived and breathed acting and would gather at Joe Allen's or Jimmy Ray's to celebrate whatever was happening. 

I have the DVD of The Glass Menagerie and love your performance in it. What was it like working with Katharine Hepburn? Did you get along well? What did you learn from that whole experience? Also comment on Sam Waterston and MIchael Moriarty, if you would.

The Glass Menagerie was casting. It was produced by David Susskind and was to be shot in London. It was 1973. I had done the play in stock with Dustin Hoffman. Bill Devane wanted me to call Alixe Gordin the casting director. When I didn't do it, he plugged a dime into the pay phone and handed me the receiver.

I was asked to read the Gentleman Caller scene, but I had prepared a scene with Amanda. So Katharine Hepburn agreed to read with me, and she cast me on the spot. It was truly a wonderful experience. Katharine Hepburn was an exciting person, who made the set a very demanding place. She even rode around London on her bicycle. It was a pleasure to work with the director Tony Harvey, who had just directed The Lion In Winter. Of course Michael Moriarty and Sam Waterston were the best. Let’s not forget Tennessee Williams who couldn’t have been more pleased.

Tell us about your involvement with Star Trek. It seems that the best actors get to play wildly fun roles in this series. Did you have fun?

Star Trek was such an unlikely job for me. It was 1991 and I was asked to play the role of Perrin, the wife of Sarek, who was played by Mark Lenard. I'm still invited to Star Trek conventions and frequently asked to sign autographs. Due to the magical mind of creator Gene Roddenberry, my character was Spock's mother despite the fact that Leonard Nimoy was nine years older than I. The sets were something wonderful. I brought my young son one day and the crew activated the doors and set pieces to give him a treat. A lot of it was activated by ropes from the rafters. People seem to be very fascinated with this show. 

Any other film role remain a favorite of yours? If so, which one?

I appeared in a film called Born Innocent, which, because of its subject matter, became instrumental in creating the network television family hour. It was about a young girl who was a constant runaway.  She was played by Linda Blair, who is incarcerated and finds herself caught between her brutal peers, her abusive family and the system. I played the only care worker who understood. 

My husband, Michael Brandman, is a producer and in partnership with Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy. He put together a series of films for television, all written by playwrights. It gave me the chance to work with some pretty impressive writers: Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Wendy Wasserstein and Horton Foote. I appeared in all six films, playing a host of different characters, some of them unrecognizable.

To the project at hand. Tell us about Front Door Open. How did you become involved in this project?

A few years ago I developed a series of short plays called “Women In Shorts”. One of those plays was about a woman with agoraphobia. I went to the writer Tom Baum and the director Asaad Kalada and asked if they would be interested in developing the short play into a full length play. They agreed and here we are.

What role are you playing? Does the play have a topical theme?

The part I’m playing is Eleanor, who has Agoraphobia and hasn’t left the house in many years. In my research I found out that one in fifty people in our country have this problem. The play is also about what this condition can do to the family.

Have you and David Selby worked together before? If so, in what? 

Yes, David Selby and I have worked together before. We played husband and wife in a film starring Hume Cronyn, that Horton Foote wrote about life after his wife and life time partner died. Hume told me that for years he developed work for himself and Jessica Tandy. He didn’t wait around for someone to offer him something.

What other observations about the business today would you care to comment on? Are you happy with where you currently are?

As I mentioned at the outset, the business has changed significantly over the years.  There was a time when there were plenty of roles for older actors in movies and television. Those days are gone. Unlike England, where older actors are celebrated and important work is plentiful, here they're put out to pasture and are rarely, if ever, seen again. I'm proud to be active in the west coast branch of The Actor's Studio. I'm delighted to be acting and writing and even producing plays in the vital and energized Los Angeles theatre scene.   

Don't miss award-winning actress Joanna Miles in Front Door Open!
The play runs five weeks; Nov. 13 - Dec. 13, Fridays/Saturdays at 8pm, Sunday evenings at 7pm at Greenway Court Theatre (near Fairfax High). TIX at or call: (323) 673-0544.

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