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BWW Interviews: Tony-Winner Julie White Talks NURSE JACKIE, Benanti, McDonald, Schwartz, Huffman, and What's Next
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Most actors can only dream of having the career Julie White has had. A Tony-winner for 2006's THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED, White spent five years on TV's GRACE UNDER FIRE, starred in the mega-hit TRANSFORMERS franchise and the Academy Award winning LINCOLN, and on TV with FRIEND's Matthew Perry and fellow Tony-winner Laura Benanti in GO ON.
White can now be seen on Showtime's NURSE JACKIE, where she plays Tony-nominee Edie Falco's AA sponsor. I spoke to her the Friday before Easter as she was preparing to head up to her fixer-upper outside the city to prune roses and pile up leaves with her good friend Tony-winner Cady Huffman.
If you are familiar with White, you know that she is as funny off stage as she is on. In our conversation she talks about how working with Audra McDonald stopped her from singing in the shower, why Stephen Schwartz takes credit for her career, and what's up next for her.
New episodes of NURSE JACKIE air on Showtime Sunday nights at 9:00pm ET and recur throughout the week. And each week, BroadwayWorld TV will have recaps so you can discuss your favorite moments of the episode.
I was already a fan of NURSE JACKIE, but having you on the show this season has been so much fun. What was it like working on the show?
It was great. They are a wonderful group. And because the show's been running for a while there is a certain autonomy. It is so nice to do a show that wasn't... the last show I did was GO ON, a network show for NBC, and there is so much about the ratings and uhhhh. There was so much pressure on stuff that is not about telling the story. So, at NURSE JACKIE, they're just really interested in telling the story.
And it shoots in Queens. It is so great to be 20 minutes from my own house, and not have to be on a different coast to do it. And Edie is just extraordinary. I think she is just a fantastic human being and a marvelous actress, so it was really fun.
You and Edie Falco both have such great experience in comedy, drama, and not to mention in the theatre. What were the scenes like working with her?
Just really straightforward. We would just run through things and then start working. It just felt very relaxed. And the hallmark of that show is how real everything is played. And it's not like there are three jokes on a page, that's for sure. It's moved into something that we normally don't associate with a half-hour comedy.
Edie Falco said on THE TODAY SHOW yesterday that she doesn't consider NURSE JACKIE a comedy, even though the Showtime people might get made at her for saying that. There are obviously some humorous moments to it, but especially with Jackie relapsing, it definitely has a more serious, darker tone this season. And Antoinette, your character, is in the middle of all of that.
Yea, and my character's investment in Jackie goes pretty deep; it almost started to feel pathological to me. I will say, it was kind of an uncomfortable few months that I was doing it. Because Antoinette, that character, carries a whole lot of guilt, and I think is trying to make amends for the terrible crap she did when she was using, by helping Jackie stop using.
Well, that's a hallmark of the AA program, making amends for your sins. So, seeing that manifested in her in such a grand scale rings true with this character and storyline.
Also, I feel like they are kindreds. They recognize each other as people who in general see through other people's bulls**t. But for Jackie, it starts to get uncomfortable because Antoinette is seeing through her bulls**t.
I loved the scene in the season premiere where Jackie and Antoinette in the diner. It seemed like a light went on for both characters that they saw themselves in each other. It was cool to see Jackie have that connection, because she normally doesn't, because she is always hiding something.
She definitely is, and I think that is part of what made me uncomfortable. Personally, I try not to bring my work home, but it was that feeling of, "I'm not getting through to her. I'm not getting through. I'm not getting through." And that's what's written, I mean I... you'll have to watch it, but it's a challenge.
You talked a bit about the difference between network TV, which you have a long history with, and the pay-cable format, which is a little freer. You are coming off GO ON and going on NURSE JACKIE, is there a difference between how the cast and creative team approach this show, compared to on the more rigid network TV.
Every show is different, but certainly as a single-camera filmed show, it feels like you are making a little independent movie. Not even little, it is a tremendous crew, and they've had these people who have worked on that show for six seasons now, so they really are a brilliant film crew, and they get it done. We had great directors on that show too.
And I also did a little show for Amazon; I played John Goodman's wife also at the same studio, and almost shot the two shows concurrently. (ALPHA HOUSE) had a slightly different vibe, because they were going for something that was more straightforward comedy, so it was fun to do both.
And Edie is right, (NURSE JACKIE) is really a dramedy. I guess there's some laughs in it, but there are some laughs in THE GODFATHER too.
NURSE JACKIE doesn't have those knee-slapper kind of laughs, they're more, "Oh, that's really uncomfortable," kind of laughs.
(Laughing) Exactly. Oh my gosh. I think Merritt (Weaver) is so darling, and is so naturally funny. I think that's part of her incredible appeal. People are like, "Oh, I can take a breath at this point." She is really something charming.
It's interesting for theatre fans who watch that show to see so many of their favorites on TV. Obviously, Edie has a great deal of Broadway experience, then there is Anna Deavere Smith, who has kind of constructed her own genre of theatre all her own, and then with you and Laura Benanti appearing on the show this year, there is definitely a theatre vibe to the season. Do you notice that actors with theatre backgrounds approach screen work differently than actors who primarily work on film?
(After a thoughtful long pause) No, I really don't think so. Because it is such a different animal. I mean what Laura does on stage when she sings, oh my God. That's like it's just a such completely different animal. And certainly when she shows up on a film set, she knows how to act in a film. You figure it out pretty quickly. I mean there are smart actors and there are dumb actors. It's just like in any other business. It does seem to me that most people who succeed in the theatre are pretty smart. You've got to keep a lot of balls in the air. So when it is theatre people on a set, I'm always pretty confident that they know what they are doing.
You mentioned Laura Benanti, you guys worked together on GO ON, a show that was criminally cancelled before it's time, if you ask me...
Oh, my God. Me too. I loved that show. And I mean what a great group of people. That was super fun. There was a lot of people in there like Seth Morris and Brett Gelman and Sarah Baker and, to a certain extent, Suzy Nakamura, who all have a sketch comedy background. It was really fun to act with them.
Was there much improving on the set, or was it pretty much as written?
Well, you know, what you do is, you run stuff by your writer. For example, on NURSE JACKIE I had a line that felt jokey to me. It felt convoluted, too long, too many words. (Jackie) is saying, "I've done this terrible thing," and I had a comeback, which was, "I've done this terrible thing," but it was long and went all around, and I said, "What if I just say 'I blew a guy for a daiquiri once.'" And he said, "That's it. Ok!"
Yea, that's a little simpler, more to the point.
And it had the "K" sound in it. It got the thumbs up. So, that kind of thing, I felt free to do that on JACKIE. They are very open to that, to you making it your own. It's a great group of writers, and actually, one of the writer/producers on JACKIE is Liz Flahive, and I had done her first play (FROM UP HERE), which was produced at Manhattan Theatre Club like five years. So, she was definitely someone I could go to when I was like, "What's happening there? I don't understand this, that, or the other," or "Can you guys change this?" And it was good, and they were very open to it.