Close your eyes and listen to Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio onstage, and you'd swear she's starring in a new modern drama.
In Terrence Rattigan's "The Winslow Boy" -- a Roundabout Theatre Company production that opened Thursday at the American Airlines Theatre -- she plays Grace Winslow, whose young son is enmeshed in a court case and tabloid scandal. Her husband (Tony Award-winner Roger Rees) is determined to clear the boy's name. A sister is stringing along a fiance she may or may not love. The only thing missing is the family's reality show.
Then, you open your eyes, see the period costumes and remember the play is set in London 100 years ago.
Her Broadway resume ("Man of La Mancha," "Amadeus") is as varied as her work on film ("The Color of Money," "The Perfect Storm") and TV ("Grimm," "Hostages").
She is married to Irish director Pat O'Connor, and they have two sons. Mastrantonio, 54, chatted with Newsday in her dressing room before a performance.
Why this play?
I'd just moved back to New York two years ago -- I'd lived in London for 20 or so years, so I know English culture. It's funny, there's no way in hell they'd ask me to play Grace in London. It's really refreshing to be English now that I'm back in America.
Do you miss jolly olde England?
Oh, yeah, we had wonderful friends with whom I raised my children. That's a long time to spend with people. They are your unwritten journal. They've witnessed ... you know ... when we all sheepishly come out of our houses hoping no one heard us screaming at the children that morning.
Why'd you return?
It was time. Both my children were transitional, one going into university, one into high school. You either do it then or....
I've caught "Hostages," the new CBS show about a plot to kill the president. And you're the first lady. Between you and me ... who's behind the plot?
I've no idea. It's really comical -- I was recently thinking, "Could it be ... me? Maybe I'm the evil source orchestrating this whole conspiracy." What I do know is that it feels a bit like starting over.
In terms of your career? How so?
Well, they don't need a lot of women my age. So....
It's crazy that mindset still exists.
Oh, I think it's worse now, because of all the things people do to their faces. It's fictional. It makes up how you look. I don't know about you, but nobody I know looks like that in real life.
Are you basing your first lady on anyone in particular?
No. Television's funny, because you don't know who the character is ... at all ... when you start.
Because you get the scripts one at a time, as they're written?
Right. So ... I assume she's intelligent, ambitious. And has straight hair.
Yes, they're straightening your hair for this role.
Evidently, first ladies don't have curly hair.
I guess that's show biz today. Fake faces, straight hair. I gotta say, I love your name. It flies off the tongue. Did you get pressure to change it?
No. Sometimes -- I have to be honest -- I look at it and think ... it's bloody long. It's like an alphabet from a language I don't know.
One of my favorite movie moments is a scene in "The Perfect Storm," where you take your boat out, and we hear George Clooney's noble voice-over and see your face ... resolute ... determined to keep going ... whatever storm comes next.
That's so sweet, because as an actor you're thinking, "Should I be crying here ... or...?" I only worked on that film for nine days. I was never in the tank, I never got wet, like the guys. But I tell you, that director, Wolfgang Petersen, runs one helluva set. And he knows how to talk to actors. I bristled at some line I didn't want to say, and he just looked at me and said, "Now, don't be nasty," and I thought, "Ohhh, he knows I'm feeling vulnerable, and when I'm vulnerable, I swipe like a cat."
What's this little drawing on your desk, here? Is that you and....
Roger Rees, yeah.
Did you draw it?
Oh, no. I don't draw anything. Except conclusions, sometimes. We were in an important notes session, and Roger was passing this around.
The esteemed British actor was drawing doodles of you during rehearsal?
I said, "You're gonna get me in trouble with the teacher."
Oh ... and look how he drew you.
Yeah. Once again ... straight hair.