Debra Winger has something of a reputation. She took the big screen by storm starting in the 1980s -- starring in "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Urban Cowboy," "Terms of Endearment" and "Shadowlands" (and earning three Oscar nominations) -- and was never shy about speaking out when co-stars, producers or "studio mishegoss," as she called it, drove her crazy.
She finally chucked Hollywood in the mid-'90s for a quiet life in upstate New York. She married actor-director Arliss Howard, raised a family, wrote a book, taught at Harvard and in recent years returned to the screen (in indie films and TV's "In Treatment").
This month she makes her Broadway debut, co-starring with two-time Tony Award winner Patti LuPone in "The Anarchist," a brittle new play written and directed by David Mamet, running at the Golden Theatre through Dec. 16.
Set in prison, the tale pits Winger (a prison official) against LuPone (a lifer who may -- or may not -- have been rehabilitated, and is angling for release). Winger, 57, recently spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
It's your Broadway debut. Why this play?
Very simple. I looked at those words on the page and thought, OK, if I say no to David Mamet, on Broadway, with Patti, I'm pretty much saying I don't wanna do this anymore. It scared the daylights out of me -- and I've been aware from the beginning of my career that if it doesn't scare you, it isn't worth it.
The two of you talk onstage for 75 minutes straight.
Yeah. Not easy. There've been very few times in film where the words have been so amazing I felt sad I'd never say them again. "Shadowlands" was like that. And some things in "Terms of Endearment." But . . . here . . . when I come offstage, I feel grateful knowing that I get to say these words again tomorrow night.
You . . . Patti LuPone . . . two strong women. What have you learned from her?
I'm learning about being onstage and not being afraid to go after what you want. That's shocking to me.
Maybe that's not . . . umm . . . the read on me out in the world, but in my life I feel much different than that. But everybody in a Mamet play goes for it, and they don't let anyone get in their way. Period.
How does stage work differ from film?
Well . . . in theater, there just isn't time for the shenanigans found in movies.
Like . . . ?
Like we all have to get this show up every night. You can't say, "I'm not coming out of my trailer for an hour." I see a lot less indulgence. Now . . . I'm working with a woman who knows what she wants. I think people are harsh sometimes with women like that. We're supposed be . . . what? Ladylike? Not ask for what we want? There's something to be said for style, grace -- hopefully we all find it in our . . . twilight years. I'm still looking.
You're not exactly twilight.
Well, maybe just starting dusk.
Nah. I saw you in the subway a few months ago with a boy who seemed like your son. He was about 15 . . .
I have three. The youngest is 15. Were we arguing? When you're with a 15-year-old, they're usually doing something to infuriate you.
No, it seemed rather sweet. I didn't recognize you. I just thought, "I wonder if that kid realizes what a cool mom he has." It was nice . . . the way you were hanging with him. I kept thinking I knew you -- then it hit me.
That's the biggest compliment. Early in my career, I didn't play larger-than-life people. I wanted to play women who you felt you knew. Part of what made me stop working was . . . I kinda did it. Now I'm interested in what happens when women of a certain age become, quote, "invisible." Had I been sitting alone on the subway you would've never noticed me.
I don't know about that.
I think women become invisible at a certain age . . . when we're desexualized. Will you do me one big favor?
The next time you see me on the subway, will you please say hello? I really mean that. First of all -- nobody ever does.
They don't say, "Hey, aren't you?"
No. I'm blessed -- I can live normally. I usually don't get recognized. Unless I talk.
What else are you up to?
I devote most of my time to helping Andrew Cuomo understand what it would mean to New York State to use fracking as a platform for his presidential bid. I've been across the country and have seen what other states have suffered. This is our last fossil fuel. The very last one. And there's maybe a decade of it left under our feet. Why take any chance with that -- and risk poisoning an aquifer?