BWW Interviews: The Cast of TIME STANDS STILL

By: Sep. 30, 2010
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Time Stands Still, by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies, premiered on Broadway last January. It played to mostly sold-out houses for three months and was nominated for a Tony for Best Play, but Manhattan Theatre Club had to keep it a limited run because the company had a show booked in its Samuel J. Friedman Theatre for the spring and because star Laura Linney had to go off to shoot her new Showtime series The Big C. Now MTC has brought Time Stands Still back for an open-ended run, with three-quarters of its original cast intact. The drama is currently in previews at the Cort Theatre prior to its reopening on October 7. Linney resumes her role as Sarah, a photojournalist who was badly injured covering the war in Iraq and has returned home to New York to recuperate and perhaps chart a new course in her career. She stars opposite Brian d’Arcy James as Sarah’s journalist boyfriend, James, who had a nervous breakdown while reporting from Iraq and is definitely ready for a new line of work. Rounding out the cast are Eric Bogosian as Richard, Sarah’s friend and editor, and Christina Ricci as Mandy, Richard’s young girlfriend. Ricci is making her theater acting debut in Time Stands Still, in a role originated last winter by Alicia Silverstone. All four actors spoke with BroadwayWorld shortly before the start of previews on September 23.

You’ve played a number of headstrong women in your career. What makes this one unique?
This one is unique because of what she does and how she spends her time. There aren’t many women who are conflict photographers, who have a devotion and a commitment to traveling to the most dangerous places in the world, photographing what’s going on there, so that the rest of us can have knowledge of what’s happening. 

Is she judged more harshly than a man who behaves the same way would be?
Probably. But I think anyone who has a vocation, or if you’re involved in something that can take over your entire life, that’s a challenge for anyone regardless of sex or profession. 

How hard is it to play someone who pushes away the person she loves?
Oh, but I don’t think she is... 

...who refuses to make the compromises needed to keep her relationship going?
It’s not hard to play because that’s what I’m supposed to play [laughs]. I think it’s what a lot of people have to navigate themselves through when they have a vocation. A lot of us in the arts, certainly—you know, this world can devour every inch of time you have, because you want to give it to it, you love it so much, there’s a sense that it’s bigger than you are. I think for a lot of people, it’s difficult on a relationship when you have a calling.

How is Sarah similar to Patricia in Donald Margulies’ Sight Unseen, whom you also played on Broadway?
They’re wildly different. You know, my mind is so in one that I can’t even think about the other. What is similar is they’re both plays that have four people, the structure of the plays is tight and sound. The dialogue between the four flies as nimbly as the other play. I can talk more about that than comparing the characters. If you’re working on something and you’re asked to talk about it thematically, it’s difficult to do. It’s weird to use a different perspective that way when you’re so immersed in it. 

You could make a living now working just in TV and film. Why is it important to you to continue working on stage as well?
I love the theater. I grew up in the theater: My father’s a playwright, I grew up in Manhattan. It’s an enormous part of who I am, and it’s an enormous part of who I have to be.

Did you speak with any war correspondents or do other research for this role?
Yeah, absolutely. I read a lot of fascinating and inspiring books: [one by] Richard Engel, an NBC correspondent, called War Journal. Dexter Filkins, a New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer—his book, The Forever War. Bob Woodruff, who, if you recall, was the ABC anchor who was injured in a roadside bomb. He gave us his time and his expertise and talked to us about his experience. He’s an incredible, incredible guy—and I’m not just saying that because he’s from Michigan. I think what he did was heroic. He was so generous with his time and his experience...for all of us. We did seminar work with photojournalism, met with a lot of photographers who are war journalists. So we had a lot of wonderful research in our hands, and also stuff that I’ve been able to cultivate by reading books.

How does that research inform your portrayal?
In this particular case, research is so important because you’re dealing with people who are experiencing things that you only read about. When you think about what they’re doing when they’re actually there—looking at carnage, or stepping over mutilated corpses, or trying to prevent themselves from gagging because the stench of death is surrounding them—when you think about the horrors that they’ve seen and and their dedication to wanting to tell that story because it’s important for people to know, there’s a disconnect there, because I’d never really thought about what it takes to do that. So a lot of the imagery, a lot of the experiences that these people have is incredibly important to try to absorb if I [want to] get anywhere near that in depicting what it means to do that. 

What have you noticed about returning to a role after some time away, both for Time Stands Still and when you rejoined Next to Normal?
There’s a great beauty in having a foundation that’s already been laid, and a deep trust and admiration for the material. What I find liberating is the ability to let go a little bit and not have to worry about steering it as much because you’re not in the process of making it move forward. You have this under your belt in a sense, and you can kind of let it go. I think in doing that is where things really become vibrant and potent. It’s a constant lesson for me: Don’t push on it, don’t push on it, just let it be. That’s the hardest thing, I think, for an actor to do.

Do you miss singing when you do nonmusicals?
I don’t. I find that the challenge and the focus required to do the job at hand is enough to keep me more than satisfied and interested. It’s fascinating to me to kind of shift gears, and I think that’s the beauty of it. 

What have you discovered about working on stage?
That it’s very tiring! I never realized how exhausting rehearsals would be. It seemed like such a daunting and overwhelming thing, and I was assured that once I was in rehearsals I would understand how everything works. It is true; every day you get a little further, every day you learn a little more and become more confident. But it is incredibly exhausting—and also really gratifying. You feel really good at the end of the day that you’ve tackled something.

Why did you want to play this role?
I love Mandy. I really relate to a lot of what she has to say. A lot of what she wanted in her life I understood. I like this character. I have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth, and to really want people to like me when maybe they’re just not going to like me anyway. Mandy goes through a lot of that.

How does Mandy break the mold of a trophy girlfriend?
She’s not really a trophy girlfriend. She’s younger than him—that’s pretty much it. She’s looking to be a wife and mother. There’s no glory to be gained for her in this situation. She wants to be a wife and mother.

What did you especially like about the play?
I like this story comes at you in different ways, and it portrays the characters in different ways: They’re noble, self-sacrificing, at the same time incredibly selfish. It asks all these questions about, Is it so selfish to just want to be a happy member of society, a good person? In the end it does not judge anyone for the choices they make and what they need to be happy.

The play has the Iraq war as a backdrop. Do you consider it a political play?
I don’t. It probably is, but for me it’s much more a humanistic story about people making decisions, about how they want to live their lives and what is going to make them happy. If someone is the kind of person who judges someone’s worth by what they contribute to society, then I think this play really says you kind of have to question that. You have to say, How do any of us get to judge who has value in society, who does something more important than somebody else?

Do you know any men who have gone through what your character does?
I don’t know a guy specifically... I’ve been married for 30 years, and I know there are times when I’ve thought about it—wondered about that “path not taken.” For me, to be open-minded about relationships, I do think that if there’s love there, anything is going to make sense. People surprise you, the chasms they can gap with love. And I know going in, that’s what we feel about the characters. This is very deeply a part of the theme of the play: how the love that we feel for each other is so big that it blots out other things. Whereas these other guys [James and Sarah] are spending a lot of time thinking about work, it fragments them as a couple.

What is it like speaking words written by someone else on stage?
I try to put my acting cap on, and I don’t apply the normal “editorial” thing that I would bring to something that I’m writing. It’s very relaxing for me, actually. I find writing hard, and I find acting wonderfully freeing, and I love just diving in. I think if I was doing something with writing that doesn’t work, it would be torture. But Donald understands my character so well, it’s wonderful becoming Richard every night.

Has the era of Eric Bogosians solo shows ended?
Yeah, yeah. I did the solos, very neatly, between 1990 and 2000, and I pretty much stopped after 9/11. I realized on that day, like many of us, that life is too short to be doing something you don’t want to be doing anymore. I had totally explored the solo, had done six of them off-Broadway. It was time to do what I wanted to do. I really prefer acting as a character in something, where I can get in very deeply and lose myself in the guy. I wasn’t ever highly comfortable as a—whatever that was I was doing in the solo stuff, the stand-up aspect of it. The reason I like to act is that I like to pretend, I like to make believe I’m somebody else. Richard is a really full-tilt guy: I get to play him as very tough, very demanding and also very, very soft inside.

You broke through as a sort of DIY downtown artist. Could you talk about your journey to Broadway and TV stardom?
I started as a very young actor working in midtown, and was completely freaked out by the commercial acting world. And I ran down into Soho and ended up being part of that world for about eight years or so, hanging around visual artists and really changing my whole angle. Then I met Joe Papp and ended [up] back in the theater in a more conventional way. I’ve gotten to learn a lot about New York, both ends of it: below 14th and, now, the Times Square part of it. 

You can now look back on three decades in New York theater. What do you see?
What’s changed is the role of off-Broadway and nonprofit theater as a breeding ground for the new guys. I do wish the new guys had places where they could really live and thrive. They have to have someplace where they can make mistakes. If you can’t make mistakes, you can’t grow. They have to be safe, and they have to be sort of off the beaten path. We don’t really have an “off the beaten path” anymore. I got to learn and thrive at the Public Theater, which at the time, if they didn’t have sold-out houses, it was okay—because that was the job of the place. Now everyone’s too concerned with ticket sales. Donald and I, all our generation, we really benefited from this support early in our careers allowing us to take chances.

James, Bogosian photos by Joan Marcus. Ricci photo by Andrew Eccles.

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