If Gretchen Mol has learned anything from her current role in the provocative Broadway drama "Disgraced," it's likely this: When it comes to dinner parties, steer clear of hot-button topics. Please!
The two couples in Ayad Akhtar's Pulitzer Prize- winning play, now running at the Lyceum Theatre, don't follow that advice. They chatter on about Muslims, sex, religion -- and the night goes from friendly ... to ferocious. Mol plays Emily, an artist fascinated by Islamic art, whose husband (Hari Dhillon) shows little interest in his own Islamic heritage. Then there's Josh Radnor of "How I Met Your Mother" and sexy Karen Pittman, urbanites with some potent secrets to drop.
Mol, 42, first gained attention in the 1998 film "Rounders," and she's worked steadily since, notably starring as the iconic '50s pinup girl in "The Notorious Bettie Page," and as Gillian Darmody in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire." She's married to director Kip Williams, and spoke to Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio on a lunch break.
What did you think when you first read this script?
There'd been a production at Lincoln Center. But I hadn't heard about it. I miss things sometimes. I dunno. ... I blame having small kids. But actually, that was kind of a gift, not knowing it. I just sat down, read it -- and couldn't put it down. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It's so tautly constructed. It felt ... explosive.
Can you feel the audience's response?
I've not been to many shows where there are gasps. People say things. They really get worked up.
You play an artist here. And your mom is an artist. Was she a role model?
I watched her through my youth painting and drawing. After my parents divorced, she turned the living room into her studio, and it was so great to see her getting lost in her work. I don't know if she knew at the time that it was a positive example -- but it was -- to honor the thing that you are.
Your character talks a lot about Islamic art. How'd you research that?
We all went to the Met together -- but I needed to go back on my own and just ... live in the space, and understand what she's talking about. You can see the beauty in it. And understand how it must feel to actually paint all these patterns.
I know what you mean. I was in Turkey recently and the art and architecture is amazing -- all this color on the walls, and pattern, pattern, pattern.
How did you feel? Did it affect you in a spiritual way or ... ?
Well, it was funny -- have you ever shot a film someplace far away and felt... different? I like to feel a part of a place. In Italy, people mistook me for an Italian guy -- that's awesome. But in Turkey, I felt separate and ... other.
Yeah, I've never been there, but I can imagine. I don't know ... I've felt so sad about the state of affairs in the world. It's so depressing. That's why I'm happy to be a part of the play. This is something we can't overlook anymore. We have to understand. Of course, the play isn't dealing with politics -- thank God. But it's hard ... just reading the paper -- like that story about the man held captive in Syria for years. Then you read about Guantánamo Bay, and innocent men being force-fed ... by our government. I don't know the answer. But this play gets you thinking. At the end of the day, we're all human beings.
Switching gears for a second -- I have to ask about "Boardwalk Empire."
I'm sad it's over. The writing was stellar. But I understand them not wanting to keep going too long. The story lines would get crazier and crazier. Especially my character -- she's gone through so much.
Why was this gangster show so popular?
Well, it wasn't solely a gangster series. It explored characters. It was ... humanizing. It wasn't for everybody -- it didn't have that quick payoff. I've heard people describe it as a slow burn. I love that.
Cool. Me -- I love your son's name -- Ptolemy, right? (Pronounced "TAH-luh-mee.") From the Greek, with a silent "p?" Did you get hassled over that?
Oh! So much. Now it's like ... "OHHH, I like that name." I have to give my husband credit -- he came up with that. I didn't really think much about the Greek astronomer. It sounded lyrical to me. And it suits him really well -- he is good at math! My daughter's name is Winter.
Yes, that's pretty. Though, compared to Ptolemy, Winter sounds downright ... plain.
Exactly. Well, I hope they like them. I suppose ... they can change them if it's too painful.