BWW Exclusive: Interview with Kim Staunton - Her Talented Career and August Wilson's Profound Impact!
MM – On behalf of BroadwayWorld, I just want to say how much I adore you. I loved your work in RUINED. It was actually life changing for me. It was one of the best performances I’ve seen.
KS – Oh, that’s so wonderful. So nice to hear. It’s a hard play to do. But it was an important play to do, and I’m so glad I did. It was life changing for me, too, actually.
MM– How did the play impact your life?
KS – Well, I became aware of what was going on in the Congo. I mean, I always knew, but I think through my research, through the work with Women’s Global Empowerment Fund, which is an organization here in Denver that worked closely with us – everything I learned from them . And of course, I became attached to them and became a supporter of that foundation. So that’s how it’s serviced my life outside of being an actor. But I had to delve so deep into what was going on and how it is continuing to affect the lives, even though the war is pretty much over. But, you know, just the civil unrest that’s still going on in that country. So, just my awareness as an actor, as a human being, living through Len’s characters each night and allowing those voices to be heard. It just had a profound effect and it continued and still continues for me. My level of interest and connection to what’s going on over there is much more heightened than it ever was, and it certainly is a result of doing RUINED.
MM– Wonderful. So welcome back to Denver. You’ve performed here several times now. What do you think of our fair city?
KS – Oh, I love Denver. I just love it! It is just a special, special place for me, and I’m fortunate because I’m one of those actors outside of here that’s been given a theatre home and a community that’s embraced and given me, certainly, the roles of a lifetime. Of my career. I know there’s no other theatre in this country that’ll ever provide for me what Denver’s provided for me over this 13 year period. And it’s a wonderful city. So connected to so many beautiful parts of Colorado outside of Denver. You have so many other options to visit some of the most beautiful places in the country. I mean, it’s a special place to me.
MM– Oh, thank you. So, what have you been doing since the last time we saw you in RUINED?
KS – After I left from RUINED, I went to..let’s see…how long…February? So, let’s see, I came back here for MOCKINGBIRD. I left from doing RUINED in May of that season and then I came back to begin last season with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. And I did Calpurnia in that. And then I left Denver, and then this past January. So that went all the way through the fall, I guess. I left on Halloween, I think, or something like that.
And then I began this year at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre. And, of course, the Center Theatre Group, they have the Mark Taper and the Ahmanson, and then the Kirk Douglas. So we were at the smaller theatre. And I joined a company that had moved from Ebony Repertory Theatre about five miles up the road. They moved a production of A RAISIN IN THE SUN there, but the gal who played Mama didn’t want to return to the venue. She had grown tired of the, well I guess she had moved on. And so I replaced her. So I got to…It’s funny, I got to do Ruined here three years ago, and I kinda took the jump to Mama this past season. It was a wonderful production. Phylicia Rashad directed it.
MM – Oh, wow.
KS – And it was just phenomenal to work with her. To play Mama and to play a different kind of Mama. She didn’t want the older matriarch, kind of on the couch. She wanted a middle-aged woman who still had some life, and, you know, was still very strong but still had tenderness and some life. We collaborated very beautifully together, and I gave her what she wanted. And it was a great addition to that company and quite amazing for me as an actor to do that role after having done Ruth here. I love that play so much, and to be able to experience it from another perspective was quite wonderful for me. And then, what’s interesting, my career… I’ve had this really wonderful career where I’ve been able to jump all over the place. Bruce Norris wrote CLYBOURNE PARK, which of course is a tag to A RAISIN IN THE SUN because it takes place at 406 Clybourne Street and those people who actually sold that to the Youngers.
MM – He performed it here, actually. He performed it at Curious Theatre here, actually.
KS – Yes, and when I was doing Mockingbird, they were doing it at Curious. And we were on the same schedule. Well, Seattle Rep did it this past spring, and I’ve worked for Seattle Rep before so Jerry Manning called and offered me Lena in CLYBOURNE PARK, so I went from doing her Great Aunt in RAISIN to doing her in CLYBOURNE PARK at Seattle Rep, so what a season I’ve had! And then now, to come and end almost a year and be with Rose in the fall. I’m telling you, I’m a very blessed actor to have the ability to still jump back and forth.
MM – Well, honey, you’re a talented actress - this is why.
KS – Oh, well thank you very much, and I’m grateful. I am just so grateful. I am grateful to anybody who hires me, and anybody who gets the opportunity to do this great work, because I really do love what I do. And it’s always this feeling inside me, this need to be better and to keep growing. I don’t think we ever…I tell these younger actors that I’m working with, and I’m working with a lot of younger actors now that I’m at this point in my career, and I say we’re equals, man. I’m still trying to figure it out. It’s like a puzzle. Every time I sit down at a read through - the first rehearsal - it’s like this puzzle that I’m trying to put together. And as an ensemble, we’re doing that together. So I don’t have anything more than you have, except some years. But this is an experience – we’re gonna take this journey together, and that’s what’s really important for me, and just growing and being better and better each time out. And those are my aspirations still. And when I don’t feel that anymore, I probably shouldn’t do this.
KS – It was just such an honor. I was just so open. It’s funny, see – she mentioned to the producer who was a buddy of mine and who was the one who recommended me to her – she said, Kim keeps coming up with these things, with ideas and moments before I can even get to her to even talk to her. So we seemed to be right on the same note with Mama but I had to keep myself from being in awe. It was just extraordinary. She’s just full of grace. And her spirit is so full and so generous. It was just this wonderful trip that we took together. I know it was an honor and a privilege. It really, really was. But she’s a good director. And because she knows that play inside-out, she was extremely extraordinary. And she, because she’s stepping in those shoes, she was full of surrender when it came to having an actor that she could collaborate with, that she knew understood her, and that we were just on that same note and taking a really wonderful trip together. Very, very generous and full of grace, and I’m dying to work with her again.
MM – So I’m so excited about your performance in August Wilson’s FENCES. Are you reprising a role, because I know you’ve played this before?
KS – I did. I played it at Seattle Rep when I’d just done RADIO GOLF here and August’s wife, who I’ve known from years ago, when she and August had first met, her name is Constanza Romero, and she’s a costume designer. Interestingly enough, when she came back to costume design after dealing with the estate for three years, and the first job she had was QUILTERS here at Denver Center, and we were doing RADIO GOLF, and she came in for production meetings because QUILTERS happened after RADIO GOLF and she saw the show and we were reunited after many, many years. I understudied Epatha Merkerson and Lisa Gay Hamilton in THE PIANO LESSON on Broadway so I traveled from DC, to LA, back to Broadway with the company and with August and Lloyd Richards and that’s how he and Constanza met – Constanza was the costume designer on that. So I known her that long, but we didn’t reunite until many, many years later here at Denver, and she was the one that went back to Seattle Rep which is her theatre home, and told Jerry Manning about me, and they were redoing their cycle of plays, and so I got cast. I thought it was a story worth telling because this is how this business works. It’s these wonderful connections – I had a connection 20 years ago with she and August, and that we would reunite in Denver, and through my working at Denver I’d end up at Seattle Rep for the first time doing this great play, and now here I am back again doing it here in my theatre home. It’s all relative and quite wonderful at the same time.
So I am, and I like to think of it as reprising a role that I’ve done before, but I have to tell you it’s a totally different experience with this ensemble and it has to be. Because this is an ensemble piece and the life you create in that backyard, in that ritual, in those relationships that August has set up are all relative to whatever production you’re in. It doesn’t even matter, I don’t think , if you have done it before because every experience is different based on that new ensemble. That’s been my experience; that’s what I’ve learned. It’s a totally different experience certainly Timothy Bond was my director there and that production, by the way, did have a co-production. We went from Seattle to Syracuse Stage so it was really cool, we had a long run with it. But that director, Timothy Bond, totally different from Lou Bellamy who I have now who’s a wonderful, wonderful man and wonderful director and has had all this connection with August from the early days and he knows his plays inside-out, so both experiences were quite wonderful but very different and I’m jusT Loving every moment of this. And relishing every moment because it might be, not that I’ve taken a step over to the other side, it might be one of my last chances at Rose, so I’m just sending her to the core and enjoying every single moment of my experience with her and with this company.
MM – Well, wonderful. As an African-American woman, why are August Wilson’s works significant to you?
KS – Oh my goodness, you know, he creates such beautiful women, and maybe they’re not as many as the men he’s created, but I don’t blame him for that. I know a lot of women who’ve complained about that, but I don’t complain a bit because the ones he’s created are so special, they’re so strong, they’re so rooted, they’re so unique, and they are important to me because pretty much my entire career has happened thanks to August so I will continue to celebrate him for the rest of my life and that I have this wonderful relationship with his widow makes it more special – and his daughter – makes it even more special for me. That reconnection here in Denver and then her taking me to Seattle has..we’re holding on to that relationship now. We’re not letting any years get in between, so we make it a point to stay connected and I know we will in the future. But I celebrate him through her. I never stop talking about how grateful I am. And I always let her know that. And then to that estate for still blessing us with his great work. He’s been very important to me and he’s the reason why I’m still here and not in a cubicle somewhere doing something else. I’m right here doing what I love and having experience with his great characters, and they’re not many, but the ones he has are real special. I shouldn’t say they’re not many, there just aren’t as many as men. And the way I look at that is he’s writing what he knows – he’s a man. I think people should write what they know, and I think women have to write women’s stories, but the ones he’s written he’s done real good by us. For sure.
MM – Is there a favorite role that you never tire of playing?
KS – Of August’s work or any?
MM – Of your entire career. Is there any role you can always go back to and just never tire of it?
KS – Well that’s interesting. I would have to say that maybe Rose could be that character. I mean, I really think that even in coming back to it this time I’ve discovered so many things and what I’ve discovered I think has deepened it for me, when related to her. I think I’ve found a character, and then there’s new discoveries that I’ve made that support that, if you will. I think this is a perfect example of sort of revisiting and not tiring of it, but going “Wow, okay!” And that’s what every actor wants to do. I mean, you go home at the end of a run with Mama Nadi in RUINED and you go “Oh, wow! That’s what that moment was about” or “Ohhhh,” and you’re putting things together, so when I get to come back to roles like that, I love it because it’s like what didn’t I find out the last time? What’s new here? You know. So let me take off from that place I left off because there’s always something hanging that you didn’t get and I think that’s what I’ve discovered in redoing her. It’s like, oh my God, ok there’s some other juicy stuff here that I was probably close to, but now let’s go for it. You know. Let’s go there. So I think that’s a perfect example of that.
MM – So I know that you’ve done some roles on television, also in film as well. Are we gonna be seeing you on TV or in film anytime soon?
KS – No, not anything except repeats of stuff, I guess. It’s funny, when the economy hit, that’s when my sort of drought happened in Hollywood. That paradigm shifted a great deal with reality TV, and if you’ve noticed on television, all the film stars have gone back to television. So that kind of pushes those of us who were getting guest starring roles, or possibly had a shot at the regular roles, it kind of pushed us down the food chain, if you will. And for myself, all those years I was coming to Denver since early 2001, I was always one of those actors who prided myself on keeping my foot in the Hollywood door and keeping my foot in the theatre door. But now, if I didn’t have the theatre, my God, it would be really difficult to survive. I haven’t worked in Hollywood since ‘08, unfortunately, and before then I at least had one or two guest starring roles on series at least once a year. So it’s been a little dry and a little bleak. But I always have hope that when they go back something’s waiting for me, but nothing is on the horizon and hasn’t been, and thank God I’ve been able to sustain and do these great theatre jobs, especially since 2012 began.
MM – Well I did actually follow you before on TV, because I used to watch The Nine, which was such an interesting show, and I remember you from that.
KS – Yeah, it had all this hope. I think it was sabotaged by the fact that it was placed after Lost, which was a great idea at first, but I think it was just too much for people to take in. You have to deal with all this stuff with Lost, and then you’ve got to go think some more until 11 PM, and it was just too much. And they didn’t start shifting it around to invest in it to see if there was another option, and considering they’d hailed it as the #1 show of the season. I actually feel really bad because I turned down, Kent had invited me back to do Goneril in King Lear, and whe he made the offer, and I was like “Well, Kent, I’m on this TV show, and boy, it’s doing really well right now and they’re hailing it as the big show. And I’m one of those recurring characters, but I have work every show. So I’m gonna have to turn this down” and sure enough, by the time Kent did the play in December, we were cancelled. I could’ve easily come and done Lear. I was heartbroken that that was the one season I missed because I was trying to hold out for The Nine, thinking it was going to have more success over that three months, and it didn’t. We shot 13 but they only aired 6 and that was that.
MM – It was such a wonderful ensemble. I don’t know why. I agree with you about that time slot. And I really loved that ensemble. All of you worked really well together and so that’s why I took notice of that.
KS – Yeah, and you never know, but I tell ya, with television, if the people aren’t watching, they’ll pull it in a minute. That’s for sure. It’s all relative to viewership now in these days, and has been for quite some time. I’m just praying that there’s something else, and waiting. I never give up hope of Hollywood, no matter how that paradigm shifts, I still have hope that something big is waiting for me, so that I can do some other stuff.
MM – Do you have any other projects in the works now? I mean, I know you’re working on Fences, but is there anything else possibly?
KS – No, after this I don’t know what I’m doing. I know I’m doing personal stuff. My mom is ailing so I’m gonna go home. She’s in DC, Washington DC and I’m gonna go spend some time with her, and do a personal thing for a minute, and again hope that once I come back and the business has picked up after the holiday hiatus that after the New Year things are opening up in Hollywood again. Yeah, yeah, so that’s my plan of action for this point
MM – Thank you so much, Kim. I’m so honored to get to talk to you again like. Seriously. Congrats on your Henry award for your amazing performance in RUINED, for winning here. You totally deserved that.
KS – Oh, thank you so much. That was such a thrill. I get these great awards and wonderful events happen after I’m long gone, and I just sort of hear about them and get these lovely statues and things, and it’s just..I’m so honored. Trust me, I am honored and humbled by this entire community. I really, really am. It really, it moves me to my heart, it does because this community’s been so good to me to let me come do the work, and then to be honored and rewarded for it is more than words can even express. I’m so grateful. So thank you, thank you for having an interest in even getting part of my story out there, and my gratitude.
MM – You’re welcome in Denver anytime, and I think you know that.
KS – Absolutely, thank you so much Michael.
MM – Thank you. I look forward to seeing FENCES.
KS – Thank you, dear.
The Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC) presents FENCES by August Wilson, playing The Space Theatre playing now through October 14th. For tickets or more information, conatct the Denver Center at 303.893.4100 or visiting www.denvercenter.org.
Pictured Above: Kim Staunton in Denver Center Theatre Company’s production of Fences.
Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Koskinen
From This Author Michael Mulhern