Unlike other actors, who never lose their star persona, Lili Taylor has that unerring ability to become the character she’s playing, so much so that you forget you’re watching her and just see a frustrated waitress (her breakout role in “Mystic Pizza”), a homicidal groupie (“I Shot Andy Warhol”) or a long-suffering single woman caring for her ailing father in “Marvin’s Room,” a revival of Scott McPherson’s touching family drama, which opens June 29 at the American Airlines Theatre.
The tale concerns two sisters — Dad’s faithful caregiver, Bessie (Taylor), and prodigal misfit Lee (Janeane Garofalo), who returns home after many years when Bessie suddenly finds herself the patient needing care. (Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep starred in the 1997 film version.)
Taylor, 50, recently earned an Emmy nomination for her work in “American Crime.” She is married to poet Nick Flynn, and they have a daughter, Maeve.
In the play, we see Bessie about to give blood, talking about how she’s not good with shots and needles. How is Lili with that sort of thing?
I’m OK, thank God. [She laughs.] So it’s not hard to do the scene. Although the way the doctor is flailing that needle around could make anybody nervous.
The play is funny, but it’s spot-on when dealing with the odd reality of health care.
The playwright had HIV when he was writing this. Later when he was dying, he was happy about how right he’d gotten it. He really captures that tension, the absurdity and gravity of it all.
How’d you get involved in this production?
The director, Annie Kauffman asked if I would do it. The summer isn’t the best time to do a show, what with having a kid, and summer camp. It’s strange for me to be here in New York . . . home . . . but not with her. I’m always trying to get [jobs here] so I can be with her, and once I get a job in town . . . she’s away. So, c’est la vie, it is what it is. She’ll come back, and then I’ll have to go away for a job. But that’s what it is. She knows I’m a gypsy.
Was this play on your bucket list?
No. I’d never considered it. But it grabbed me. It has this special quality — it’s his only play, he died young. For me, it has this need-to-get-out kind of thing.
One thing that’s unique about it is Marvin, your bedridden father . . . and his room. We see the doorway, we see you go in and out, we hear you talking to him, but we never see him or the room. What do you do in there?
We treat it like a real room. There aren’t props, but I pretend to move around, I flip his pillow — that’s real. As our director said, if we’re not moving, you can feel that we’re just sitting there like lumps. You can feel a deadness in the room. But if there’s just a little movement and an intention to the movement, it solves the problem.
As for upcoming movies — I hear you shot “Leatherface,” about the infamous villain from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
I play the mama — the big bad mama. That’s my boy.
Your parenting is clearly a little wanting.
It really is. It’s not good. [She laughs.]
But it sounds like you had fun.
We did. We really did.
One last thing — I hear you’re a big-time birder.
I am. I’m on the board of the National Audubon Society, and the American Bird Association. I’m involved, talking about legislation.
What birds do you like?
Common stuff. What’s right around us. I’m not into finding exotic birds. I’m into more, “Oh, did you see that interesting sparrow over there?” That’s exaggerating, because sparrows bother me. But there’s so much wildlife in the city. I can go anywhere in the world and see birds. They’re great. Birds can open you up to interest in trees, insects, climate — everything. It’s a gateway drug. [She laughs again.]
Why do sparrows bug you?
They’ll kill other birds for their nest. They kill everything around. I have a house upstate — and bluebird boxes. Now bluebirds are having trouble, and I’m trying to help. But a sparrow kept killing the bluebirds, their babies. I finally had my neighbor shoot the sparrow — it was a whole Greek drama.
You don’t mess around.
No, nature’s rough, and I’m part of it, too. So I’ll kill the damn sparrow. Legally you can — they’re an invasive species. So it’s OK.
I’ve interviewed birders. You’re an unusual breed.
We are. My husband’s a poet. He says, “I found the tribe that’s a little bit odder than poets.”