A few weeks ago while channel surfing I came across an episode of Law and Order: SVU. As I was being sucked into the plot, Linda Emond appeared as Dr. Emily Sopher. Watching her on TV confirmed for me… for the hundredth time… how capable this actress is. Last March she wowed me and audiences in her 2012 Tony nominated role as Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman. (She was also nominated for a Tony for her role in 2003 for LIFE X 3.) Aside from Broadway, you may recognize Linda from other films and TV shows such as Julie and Julia, Gossip Girl, and The Good Wife. So, read up and enjoy… because if anyone has mastered Broadway, it’s Linda Emond!
MC: When did you catch the theater bug?
LE: It’s a bit of a mystery. But after doing some speech competitions in junior high school I had the notion to walk in and audition for a play in high school. I saw a sign for auditions. I don’t think I even knew what a play was exactly. I didn’t get a part in that play. But the teacher told me later that he planned the next play (the next year) for me: Jean Brodie in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Can you imagine? I had no idea what it was really about at that age. Just went on instinct, I guess. Isn’t it silly? That amazing part. In the hands of a complete newbie.
You have an MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle. How did your graduate school experience help you in becoming the incredible actress you are today?
My grad school was a “Professional Training Program” under the direction of an amazing man named Dr. Robert L. Hobbs. He was an extraordinary teacher who created a program (with a small group of other wonderful teachers) that not only taught us a ton about voice, speech, movement, dance, combat, and, ya know, acting, but also taught us an awful lot about how to get a job. Most schools didn’t teach that at all. All in all, I can’t imagine my life without that training. All of it.
What was your first job after college and how did it come about?
In my third and final year of that training program, which was at the University of Washington in Seattle, I was asked to audition for a job at The Empty Space theatre there. Dr. Hobbs allowed me to basically leave the last quarter of school and do that show. Thank you Dr. Hobbs! I got my Equity card. Yay! The show was On the Vergeby Eric Overmeyer.
Can you talk about what it was like to make your New York City stage debut in Nine Armenians?
I remember loving that character, Armine, right away. And it was a wonderful play with a wonderful family and it felt like a family. Funnily, it also prepared me well: my longtime beau, Matte Osian, is…Armenian! So I was well-schooled in all things Armenian when I met him.
You have done some much great work in your career; it’s so hard to choose what to ask you about! Let’s skip to your most recent Broadway show for which you received your second Tony nomination. I read that your director, Mike Nichols, only considered you for the part of Linda Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Did you feel a lot of pressure walking into your first day of rehearsal? If so, how did you get past it and get ready to perform in one of the greatest plays every written?
Phil (Hoffman) and I shared emails over the year before we did the show. And mostly it was sharing that we were basically terrified to even attempt the play. But we also agreed that it was thrilling to be that scared.
Can you describe the play’s rehearsal process? What was it like to be under such intensity for hours on end?
We had the rare opportunity to do a workshop in the fall before we started rehearsals in January. It was 3-4 weeks with most of the cast. And we had the unusual chance to just show up each day and do whatever we felt like as a group. We read the play. We talked about the play. We talked about the world. We talked about our lives. It was rare and wonderful.
How do you develop your characters?
Always different. But it always starts with the play. Never character first. The play first. Then trying to understand what my responsibility is in the telling of that story. That guides me to understand how to begin to work on the part itself.
I read that once Death of a Salesman opened on Broadway you would arrive at the theater quite early. How would you prepare for the show in the hours beforehand and how do you think it improved your performance?
It just ended up taking me a long time to be ready for the beginning of that play. You can’t ease into it as is the case with some plays. It starts from a place of such emergency. So it felt better to be there, near the Loman house. I got there quite early, yes. I ate at the theatre. Read some Arthur Miller. Looked at the script. Warmed up on the stage, both physically and vocally. Hair, makeup. Then onto the stage quite early too (we had a curtain). We would all be there at that point. Phil was off in the wings, the boys and I in and around the Loman house. We would wander. We didn’t talk. Maybe touched each other as we passed. I touched a lot of the house. Went in and out of the doors. Got into the bed. And then the play started. It was always hard and even heartbreaking to start the play, but it was also always an honor to be there with those people, on that set, doing that beautiful play.
What about the cell phone ring heard around the world, when an audience member’s phone loudly rang during your famous closing monologue? How did you stay in the world of the show and carry on to finish that legendary scene
I’d like to report that I was unfazed and brave and didn’t care. But that day I found it, honestly, devastating. Now I can giggle…a bit. I mean it was insane. It wasn’t just a ring, it was some sort of sci-fi weird ring/alarm/something. And it didn’t stop right away. And it was at THE WORST POSSIBLE MOMENT. I felt the play had suddenly been lost. That we’d all worked so very very hard to bring the play to its difficult end and suddenly…SCI-FI sound.
I did work with all my might to stay in the play and to take the audience with me to the very end of it. But.
Very sweetly, Phil and Andrew [Garfield] showed up in my dressing room right after the show. For moral support, I guess. We were bummed. It was a bummer. No way around that fact.
You have done a lot of screen work as well. How does preparing and working on a TV or film role compare to preparing for role in a stage production?
I hear people say they think they are so similar, but heavens they feel so different to me. A theatre is a live place, live people, with sound that comes out of your mouth and wraps around peoples’ ears and bodies right there in front of you. And your physical self is visible at all times. So what you are doing with it profoundly matters all the time.
The camera is selective, from a specific angle, with microphones and ultimately a director and editor who become even more selective and piece it all together.
Clearly it’s hard to beat theatre in my heart. But I am in awe of the beauty and power of films.
Your part in Julie and Julia, in my eyes, was very dynamic. You had to have a french accent, cook, etc. What did you do to acquire those skills and how did you work everything in so seamlessly?
I had a blast doing that movie. Nora (Ephron) was delightful and funny and warm and wonderful to me. And I got to work with Meryl everyday–lucky me–who was also delightful and funny and warm and wonderful. I had a dialect coach for the French accent. Had read a lot about Simca (Simone Beck, the character I played). But I didn’t have to do any cooking, as I recall. I think I had to turn over an apple tart (or some such thing) at one point. That was about it. The magic of movies! You thought I really cooked!
This is kind of a strange questions but I have always been intrigued by the concept of narrating audiobooks. What is that process like? How is it similar or dissimilar to acting?
Laborious! They are. To me, anyway. I prepare a lot for them so that I spend less time in the studio recording. And so that I can just get on a roll, get in a zone, and tell a story with little stopping. I have a way that I mark scripts and I keep notes on all the characters as I’m reading. The last thing I do before recording is lay out all the characters and what they’ll sound like. Often there are 30-40 characters. And you want them all to sound quite different from one another. Which is sometimes quite tricky. I once had a scene with five Maine lobstermen. Think about it!
You have worked with many of the “greatest actors alive”. What have you learned from working with experts in their craft?
I soak it up, baby. I let them come in through my pores. Because great actors have a bit of magic in them.
What is your favorite play?
Can’t say I have one, actually. But if you asked me what the most amazing piece of text I’ve ever done is, that’s easy: The Homebody in Homebody/Kabul. Tony Kushner wrote magic into that piece. I worked very hard on that for a long time. But it was so extraordinarily written that all I ultimately had to do was to open my mouth and start that thing and it always worked. A soaring piece of writing.
What advice do you have for aspiring Broadway and film actors?
Every person’s journey is so different in this field–and in life, yes?. And my feelings about this change all the time. But since you’re asking me today, here’s what I say today:
“Make it for others. Give it away.”
Do you have a dream role?
Nope. I just follow my nose, my heart, my gut. I make lots of mistakes, by the way. But it’s all good.♦