BWW Interview: Liv Rooth
Liv Rooth is more than just another steel magnolia turned New Yorker. The New Orleans born and bred actress is brainy and beautiful, and willing to plow through new territory.
First things first. Her name is pronounced LIV, not Leev (as in Ullman). It's short for Livingston, a name on her mother's side of the family. She began acting as a little girl and continued in summer theatre as well as school plays. She recalls being fortunate to have worked with a "particularly amazing" actress who took everyone under her wing. The child performers hung out with her in the dressing room. She was the first of many mentors Liv would have.
Liv graduated from Dartmouth College and the NYU Graduate Acting program, where she earned her MFA. "I have so many fantastic mentors, including teachers and colleagues" she says. "The NYU Graduate Acting community is very tightly knit." She says "I am so very lucky to have worked with some of the best directors, playwrights, actors, and stage managers in the business" who are "very supportive." She asks herself, "What would this person have to say when I feel stuck? I feel I've got some champions out there."
She is the type of actress who is almost unrecognizable at first each time you see her perform. Connecticut audiences have seen her as Catharine Holly in Suddenly Last Summer, perky nurse Fay in Loot, and as the definitive Nora Helmer in Ingmar Bergman's Nora, a rewritten version of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. Recently she was the voice of a hostage's wife in The Invisible Hand, all performed at the Westport Country Playhouse. She loves regional theatre because people are really excited about it. "Audiences tend to be smart and excited about something that's going on in their artistic community," she enthuses. She also met her husband, actor David Wells at the Geva Theatre in Rochester, New York where they were doing Pride & Prejudice.
This month, Liv made her Long Wharf Theatre debut as Kate in Other People's Money. "The theatre is a lovely facility," she says. The people there are "so welcoming and warm" and go "out of their way to make good theatre a reality." Kate is an ambitious big city lawyer who is an expert at fending off hostile takeovers and was hired to protect her step-father's company. The 1991 play by Jerry Sterner is complex and still timely. "I have a better handle on Wall Street than I did before" the play, says Liv. "I found it vaguely depressing in a lot of ways," but the director and dramaturg have "given them so much specific information which made it much easier to understand the ins and outs of the Wall Street world." Kate, she adds, is "really strong and really good at her job. She knows what is right and what is wrong...She comes up against herself and everything she believes in."
She admits that roles such as this are a real challenge. "I am drawn to them," she says. "I feel very fortunate to have people who want to work with me on different projects." That includes Nora. "I was terrified of playing Nora. I didn't understand it. I never wanted to play it. It was the hardest play I've done...a brutal part to work on." But going ahead with such roles gave her more belief in herself. "I should never, ever limit myself. [I should] just shut up and do it!"
What other roles on her bucket list? Hedda Gabler is one. "The older I get the more I crave these [roles]. I don't know if I'm right for the parts, but playing Nora really broke something open that made me want to" she says. She would also like to perform in plays by some of her favorite playwrights such as Tennessee Williams, David Ives, Melissa Ross, Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, and David Grimm. She notes that there are "so many new parts being written by women." Liv doesn't usually actively seek projects because "things come your way," she claims. "It's a challenge. I prefer to play characters who are not like me at all." She's played Vanda in Venus in Fur twice - starting as Nina Arianda's understudy on Broadway, and then at Hartford TheaterWorks. She praises Arianda's performance. "Watching her, she's an extraordinary actor. Getting the part that she set the bar very high [for] was a tricky thing to do. It's one of the best parts for women. Again, that's David Ives," she says. "It was terrifying because Nina's performance, her fierceness as Vanda....going on for her was very scary, but she's what made me feel so powerful when I got to play the part in Hartford...at that point I was extremely comfortable with the role, and I was able to wear something that was my own....I'm not ashamed to admit I had spent a huge amount of time with the play and that watching Nina helped me do the play to the best of my ability. It's electrifying. I'd love to do the play again."
She has been actively involved in Fair Wage on Stage since the beginning of the movement. "It's becoming very strong," she says. "So many people supporting it now including playwrights and directors....[There are] new videos everyday [of people] telling their stories [about] their lives in the theatre...struggling to make ends meet. It's now impossible to make a living Off-Broadway. [Actors] need a survival job."
Liv's other work is as a fromagère. "I'm lucky that I have a passion outside the theatre," she says. She loves cheese, and she has studied it for years. "My boss is a great friend," she says. "He took me to the American Cheese Society Conference....in Des Moines. It is a nice community. Food is about making people happy, trying to bring joy to people." She can tell you all kinds of things about different farming practices, difference between milks, and more at Casellula, a cheese-focused New York City wine bar with a huge variety of cheeses on the menu. Liv is Head Fromagère there. Cheeses from Georgia or Tennessee. Cheeses from Croatia. Cheeses from America and Europe. She loves making cheese plates and telling patrons about the milk, country of origin, etc.
She is also an experienced equestrienne, although she hasn't had an opportunity to use those skills while performing. "One day I'm going to get lucky and do it in a TV show or a movie."
What else would she like readers to know about her? "I think I want people to know that I love what I do so much that I never want to stop doing it," she says. "We spend [our] days hoping and auditioning. We do feel really lucky when we get to do it, and the support of people who come to theatre is essential and vibrant."
Follow Liv Rooth @MissJambalaya. Other People's Money plays at the Long Wharf Theatre through December 18. For tickets, call 203-787-4282 or 800-782-8497. The Long Wharf Theatre is located at 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. www.longwharf.org