BWW Interviews: Laura Benanti Talks NURSE JACKIE, SOUND OF MUSIC & B'Way Return
Tony Award winning actress Laura Benanti will guest star on the current season of Showtime's NURSE JACKIE, portraying Mia, the fiancé to Jackie's ex-husband, who starts to develop a close relationship with Jackie's daughters. Benanti's character will first appear on the May 4th episode airing at 9 PM ET/PT.
Today, Benanti spoke exclusively to BWW about her guest starring role, her recent experience on NBC's live presentation of The Sound of Music and the possibilty that she will soon return to her "true love", the Broadway stage!
Can you tell us a little about your character 'Mia' on Nurse Jackie?
Well I can't actually tell you too much because it would be a spoiler, but I can tell you that the appearance of my character rocks Jackie's WORLD, and that I really enjoyed myself. It's a really fun character to play, an incredible group of people, it's such a wonderful time.
Well speaking of the cast, I wanted to ask you about working with Emmy-winner Edie Falco. Is this the first time the two of you have worked together?
Yes, I've never worked with Edie before and watching her act is truly a miraculous thing to behold. She's just so confident, you know it's that level of relaxation that all of us as actors hope to get to. And she just has it, she's brilliant. You're never for a minute watching a person acting.
Is it difficult to come on to an established show as a new character?
It can be yes. You know I've done a lot of guest starring roles and there are times when it can be really tricky, just
because everybody in that show, if it's a long-running show, they've been doing it for a while, so they have their thing down to a science. So you don't want to be that person who comes in and upsets the balance. But at the same time, you haven't been given the opportunity to explore your character in the same way that they have, so it can be a little bit tricky.
But in this particular situation, it was nothing but delightful.
Without revealing more about your character, do the writers give you Mia's backstory, or do you try to come up with one on your own in order to get into her mindset?
Well, sure there are certain things they give me, and then there are other things that I fill in for myself, or I ask them about it. You know I do my best to personalize every character that I play so that they always seem like real people. But they did give me most of the information that I needed in this case.
Were you a fan of the show prior to your casting?
Yeah! Big time!
The show's official web site describes Nurse Jackie as "a dark satirical, comedy, drama, medical series," quite a broad genre!
Yeah (laughing) I mean, that is a broad genre. But it's actually a really funny and clever way of describing the show.
Is there any other series you've worked on that you can even compare it to?
Well, I worked on the Big C with Laura Linney for an episode, and the tone felt not dissimilar from what they're doing on Nurse Jackie, but again, also very different. Actually every show I've ever worked on has always been something very different, which is pretty cool.
Showtime has already announced that there will be a seventh season of the series. Would you like to return in the role?
Yeah, I'd love to, if they'll have me! I'd love it.
As you mentioned, you've been a guest star on many series and of course a series regular as well. How do you compare acting in front of a camera to acting on a Broadway stage?
Well they're apples and oranges of course, it's an entirely different experience. It's like sprinting and long distance, you know they use the same muscles or the same mechanisms but they're utterly different. And just because you are good at one doesn't necessarily mean you are going to be good at the other one. It's just an entirely different energy. The camera relies on you staying utterly relaxed and in your body and it's almost like you're not acting at all, like you're just talking as a person. Whereas theater requires you to have a little more energy going on, it's a little heightened.
Do you have a preference between the two?
I mean theater is my true love, so that's the thing that I feel most comfortable doing, but I honestly can say that I'm very lucky. Whatever show I'm doing at the time is the one that I want to be doing.
That's great. You really had the chance to combine the two mediums last year when you starred in NBC's live presentation of The Sound of Music. What was that experience like and what were your nerves like just before you went live on the air?
Well I was sort of remarkably calm right before we went live and I'm not sure why. That happens to me sometimes when I get really nervous. I swing the other way and I get really calm. But I enjoyed every minute of
that experience. It was a wonderful fun thing to do. Over forty-four million people ended up watching it and they just released it in the UK, and actually it was pretty amazing how many people were watching it there as well. So I'm proud to be a part of something that is bringing musicals into people's homes. I'm really thrilled that that happened and that I was able to be a part of it.
Would you compare it at all to live theater?
I mean it's a cousin, a distant cousin to being live on stage, But again, there was no audience, so it's a very different thing when you're not performing in front of an audience.
Any plans to return to Broadway in the near future?
Well, that's a tricky thing. You know, no definitive Broadway plans, but certainly conversations, but nothing that I can announce.
Well we certainly miss you here in New York.
I miss it! I miss it like crazy, I miss it a lot. I really want to get back on stage more than anything!
About Showtime's NURSE JACKIE:
Edie Falco stars as Jackie Peyton, a strong-willed and brilliant - but very flawed - emergency room nurse. In the sixth season, Jackie returns to the demons of her addiction. It is a daily high wire act with no net.
She's trying to cope with a real relationship (Adam Ferrara), an ex-husband (Dominic Fumusa), a daughter who is growing up way too fast (Ruby Jerins) and a sponsor who she can't seem to shake (guest star Julie White). Something's gotta give.
NURSE JACKIE also stars Emmy Award winner Merritt Wever, Paul Schulze, Anna Deavere Smith, Stephen Wallem, Betty Gilpin, Mackenzie Aladjem and Peter Facinelli. Special guest star Morris Chestnut returns, andLaura Benanti and Michael Esper guest star. Emmy Award nominee Clyde Phillips serves as showrunner and executive producer.
About LAURA BENANTI:
In September 2013, Laura Benanti released her debut album, "In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention: Live at 54 BELOW" on Broadway Records to ecstatic reviews. Recorded live in concert at the New York nighclub 54 Below, and released by Broadway Records, the album features not only her favorite theater numbers ('Unusual Way' from Nine, 'Model Behavior' from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), new versions of contemporary hits and original songs, but also personal anecdotes and revealing stories about her life and career.
The album is available on iTunes, Amazon and anyplace music is sold.
Benanti has brought her unique abilities to comedies, dramas and musicals since she took Broadway by storm at the age of 18.
She received a Drama Desk award, Outer Critics Circle Award and a Tony Nomination for her starring role in the Broadway production ofWomen on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown for Lincoln Center, where she also starred in Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play. Ms. Benanti also demonstrated her comic flair in the Public Theater's production of Christopher Durang's Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them.
Ms. Benanti earned the 2008 Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for her revelatory portrayal of Gypsy Rose Lee inGypsy opposite Patti LuPone and directed by Arthur Laurents. Her other Broadway roles include her Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award nominated performance of Cinderella in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods and her sultry Tony nominated turn in Swing! She also starred opposite Antonio Banderas as his muse in the celebrated revival of Nine. Benanti began her multifaceted career as Maria in The Sound of Music opposite Richard Chamberlain.
Other distinguished theater performances include Perdita in The Winter's Tale at the Williamstown Theatre Festival opposite Kate Burton, Anne in A Little Night Music at the L.A. Opera opposite Victor Garber, and Eileen in City Center Encores Wonderful Town opposite Donna Murphy. Benanti completed a week-long engagement at the popular New York cabaret club, 54 Below, for which The New York Times hailed her as an "supremely confident" performer whose "bright, full soprano, with its semioperatic heft, can go almost anywhere."
Ms. Benanti recently received raves for her performance as Elsa Schrader in NBC's The Sound of Music LIVE, starring Carrie Underwood. She will soon be seen on The Good Wife and recur on HBO's Nurse Jackie. Recently she starred in the NBC series The Playboy Club and Go On opposite Matthew Perry. Other television roles include co-starring on Starved, recurring roles on Royal Pains, The Big C, Law & Order: SVU, and Eli Stone, as well as guest starring on Elementary and Life On Mars. Benanti can be seen in the films Take the Lead and Meskada.
More information is available at www.LauraBenanti.com. Follow Laura on Twitter @LauraBenanti.
Photos: David M. Russell/SHOWTIME
Photo by: Will Hart/NBC