Laurie Metcalf is in the midst of her own March Madness. For an actor it doesn’t get much better than this.
Earlier this month she attended the Academy Awards ceremony, nominated for best supporting actress for her portrayal of a tender yet determined mom with a fiercely independent daughter in “Lady Bird.” She also co-stars in the revival of the popular sitcom “Roseanne,” a limited series premiering Tuesday, March 27, along with creator Roseanne Barr, John Goodman, “The Talk’s” Sara Gilbert and all the rest of the Conner gang. Metcalf also makes up one-third of Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” on Broadway, opening Thursday, March 29, at the John Golden Theatre, an electric production with Tony Award nominee Alison Pill and British acting legend and two-time Oscar winner Glenda Jackson.
The play opens with the three women onstage — Jackson (an irascible senior) jabbers on about her life to Metcalf (her amused caretaker) and Pill (an impatient attorney). Or at least that’s how it seems, before the plot makes several sharp turns.
Sitting in her dressing room, Metcalf, 62, in jeans and no makeup, is as unadorned and straightforward as many of the roles she plays. On one table sits a jigsaw puzzle, about a quarter finished, depicting a rural wintry scene of a man on a plow. (It keeps her busy between shows, she explains.) The mother of four spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
Part of the fun of seeing this play is that moment when everything gets upended. It’s like one of those games where you try to get all the balls into tiny holes and just when you’ve almost done it — bam — the balls roll in all directions.
Isn’t it wonderful?
Your character speaks to the audience. Do you have a sense of us piecing things back together?
Not really. I can see faces. Every once in a while, I’ll allow myself to make direct eye contact. But it can throw you. God forbid I see somebody I know — that would be really disarming.
What’s it like working with Glenda Jackson?
That’s the reason I’m doing this.
It’s hard to take one’s eyes off her.
Her stamina — I thought I had good stamina. She’d do three shows a day if somebody would let her.
And to think — she’s not only a riveting actress, but she was a member of Parliament.
For 23 years. Walked away from acting . . . all of it.
Could you imagine walking away from it all?
No. The most I ever did was take a year off. I lived in Idaho on a little semi-working ranch. I was like a pseudo-farm wife, shearing sheep and spinning wool. Going to rodeos and stuff. My son went to school there. I still have the property. That’s it there. [She points to the jigsaw puzzle, which turns out to be an image of her son plowing.] I haven’t had another spell of wanting to do that again. I don’t like the downtime so much. I like to stay working. So I can’t see walking away now.
I couldn’t help but think of the synchronicity in your life now. You’re in this play, which talks about looking back on our past selves, and here you are kind of doing that in your own life — revisiting “Roseanne.”
I can’t deny that all these things have sync’d up in such a weird way — jumping from theater to film to TV, and it all climaxes this month. I mean . . . [She laughs.] This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’d always hoped we’d do a “Roseanne” reunion show, so to do these nine episodes was fantastic.
How’s Roseanne doing?
She’s great. It was interesting — to sit on the same set and watch, say, John [Goodman] and Roseanne do a scene together. You can have actors play characters with a history, but John and Roseanne really do — they were in a pseudo marriage for nine years. Seeing the two daughters, Sara [Gilbert] and Lecy [Goranson], have an argument in the same kitchen they really did grow up in. And now they’re in their 40s. You can’t buy that. We’re all drawing on a real history. And I’ll say this — while “Roseanne” was a sitcom, it could have depth. It carried some heavy subjects.
That’s what I loved most. Like this play, actually, “Roseanne” episodes could be happily chugging along — then turn, with just a line or a look, and suddenly get real.
Thanks to Roseanne herself. She was willing to draw upon her own experiences. And she was always willing to sacrifice laugh lines in order for the show to have that depth. In these upcoming episodes, there are a handful of moments that are very, very touching . . . emotional. So, yeah, there’s some coming.