Fi­nal Cut

Mcnally one-acts set stage for Stockard Chan­ning

Variety - - Contents -

Stockard Chan­ning re­turns to the New York stage in “Apolo­gia,” open­ing Oct. 16 at the Laura Pels The­atre, fol­low­ing its suc­cess­ful West End run. Alexi Kaye Camp­bell’s play con­cerns an art his­to­rian clash­ing with her past as a 1960s po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist.chan­ning has decades of stage ex­pe­ri­ence, but most peo­ple know her from movie and TV roles, in­clud­ing Betty Rizzo in the 1978 film “Grease,” and First Lady Abbey Bart­let in “The West Wing.”

Chan­ning made her stage de­but in Bos­ton, in a 1966 pro­duc­tion of “The In­ves­ti­ga­tion.” Her name first ap­peared in Va­ri­ety on Feb. 25, 1970, when she was in a pair of Ter­rence Mcnally one-acts in New York. Later, she was a cho­rus mem­ber and un­der­study in the mu­si­cal “Two Gen­tle­men of Verona” and was re­warded with the lead fe­male role in 1973.

Was there a turn­ing point in your stage ca­reer?

There was a time dur­ing “Two Gen­tle­men of Verona” when I was sit­ting in the cho­rus and go­ing to un­der­study re­hearsals, just think­ing my life was truly over — or at least my ca­reer. But I got a call that [star] Diana Dav­ila wasn’t feel­ing well; she lit­er­ally gave me the chance I needed, be­cause my con­tract was nearly up. I went on, and the next day I got a stand-by con­tract. Months later, I left to try to find my for­tunes again, and they rang me and asked if I wanted to per­form [in the play] for two weeks around Christ­mas. Then, even later, they asked me to join the na­tional com­pany. I went, and it was a huge suc­cess in Los An­ge­les and San Fran­cisco. And then I got a role in a TV movie called “The Girl Most Likely To...,” and that led to ev­ery­thing.

Did you have any men­tors?

I wish I had. I never had a men­tor fig­ure; I didn’t even have train­ing. Ev­ery­body else had gone to drama school. I had ex­pe­ri­ence at a the­ater com­pany in Bos­ton un­der David Wheeler. Frankly, the men­tors were the peo­ple who were nice enough to give me a job so I could keep do­ing what I was do­ing.

You had to work from your own in­stincts?

I think so; I think we all do, ul­ti­mately. Af­ter all, you can have a good men­tor or a bad men­tor; peo­ple can give you bad ad­vice. You al­ways hear, ‘Never give up.’ But I say, ‘Don’t be afraid to give up if you have to.’ There’s no shame in fig­ur­ing out some­thing that works, es­pe­cially in the gig econ­omy we’re liv­ing in right now. Plan B isn’t a bad thing, or C or D.

What was it like tran­si­tion­ing to tele­vi­sion and movies?

When I started do­ing those roles, I re­ally threw my­self into them. When we were shoot­ing “The For­tune,” I was go­ing to my car and War­ren Beatty fol­lowed me to the park­ing lot. Even though we’d only shot for a cou­ple of days, he looked at me with knit­ted brows and gave me some ad­vice. He said I had to pace my­self. And I just couldn’t — I was so ner­vous that I’d blow it. I had this role op­po­site him and Jack Ni­chol­son! I was so hun­gry and so thrilled about this job that I could’ve done take 55 if I had to. But I took his ad­vice to heart. He still thought I was this odd crea­ture — and I was.

How did it feel to be in a project with that kind of star power?

It was ter­ri­fy­ing. I was so ter­ri­fied I had to pre­tend I was an­other per­son who wasn’t ter­ri­fied. I was a fan and wanted to ask for their au­to­graphs. But when we got down to it, we were ba­si­cally just three peo­ple work­ing to­gether.

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