After a 20-year stage hiatus, 31-year-old television and film actress Amber Tamblyn is ending her theater-fast this summer at Los Angeles' Geffen Playhouse in Neil LaBute's Reasons to Be Pretty. "I was actually kind of discovered when I did Pippi Longstocking in fourth grade," she noted. "But I have not been onstage since then — for real."
Tamblyn was introduced to America in the mid-'90s as Emily Quartermaine on the daytime drama General Hospital before landing a leading role on the acclaimed CBS series Joan of Arcadia. She went on to earn fans from her roles in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants films, among other features and television series, her most recent being a starring role on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men.
Now, with a short break in her filming schedule, Tamblyn is preparing to tread the boards in Neil LaBute's quite un-Pippi-like role of Steph — a woman who shares Tamblyn's own penchant for profanities and whose emotional volatility is unleashed when she learns that her longtime boyfriend made a less-than-positive comment about her physical appearance to one of his buddies. Tamblyn took a few minutes from rehearsal to discuss this long-awaited stage return — a project that, after a few compulsory stress-dreams, has left her excited to act out what she describes as a "fantasy play for women" and channel the inner rage that she says Kim Kardashian helps her access.
What made you decide to jump back into live theater with Reasons to Be Pretty?
Randall Arney — the Geffen's creative director — he and I had met before about a play called The Female of the Species. I wasn't particularly into the role but I really loved Randy and I've always kept him in my mind, so when this fell into my lap, it exploded for me. Because Neil LaBute is also one of my favorite playwrights. I saw this play done in New York both off-Broadway and on Broadway. I remember seeing it and going, God, that is a really, really good play. And what great roles for women, which is sad that you even have to point out that there are great roles being written for women. There's just no way I could say no.
Is it nerve-racking going back to the stage after being away from it for so long?
I'm very concerned by how very unconcerned I am. I had some really great anxiety dreams going into it where Neil forgot to give us the last act of the play until we're already at intermission and [we're] trying to memorize it really quick and I'm the only one who can't get the lines right. But once you start to really get into it and feel comfortable with it, that totally goes away and there's more confidence and excitement.
There are many people who find LaBute's writing misogynistic. As a LaBute fan, how do you respond to that?
Well those people can sit on my finger and swivel. I don't agree. I think they're misunderstanding the word misogyny if that's what they think. I think he's a poet. Just because he's a man and he wrote it doesn't mean that it's not real or that it's any less important. If anything, it's quite a feminist play because the female characters get to do exactly what every woman would love to do to a man if they found out that that's what happened. But women are so used to saying in their heads, Don't fly off the handle. Don't lose your sh*t, even though he's a f*cking idiot….Don't cry, Don't feel anything. Be as rational as possible in this argument because otherwise he's going think you're crazy. And that's a real male-female dialogue that's very disheartening, and in this case, Steph gets to be the absolute lunatic that every woman would like to be — saying every bad word and throwing things at his head and really living out the dream of what a woman who's scorned would want to do. I remember when I saw this onstage, I went Man, this is lady-porn right here.
Have you been enjoying the extended rehearsal process as opposed to your Two and a Half Men schedule where it's rapid fire everyday?
TV and film are sort of their own beasts that go at their own pace and that means you really have to know when to save your energy — your emotional energy, specifically. They do multiple shots of things, so if you spent it all in one shot, then you've sort of ruined it for yourself, whereas in theater you're going for broke. You've got one chance, which is exciting.
Speaking of saving your energy, this role is extremely emotionally and vocally taxing. Is the rehearsal process draining at all?
It is starting to become draining, but I also take very good care of myself — and by that I mean Maker's Mark before bed. That's my version of throat coat. [laughs] I sleep a lot and eat and rest my vocal chords. My mom's actually a singer, so she's showed me some exercises to do with my voice because there's a lot of screaming and throwing of inanimate objects and hitting people. Steph is very in touch with her inner rage.
What gets you in touch with your inner rage?
Kim Kardashian's advice to pregnant mothers.
One of the things the characters in the play wrestle with is the concept of "beauty" and how to define it. How do you define beauty?
I think any form of art is beautiful. There's actually a really great Charles Bukowski poem called "Style." He says "Style is the answer to everything— a way of doing, a way of being done." To me, beauty is anything that exhibits artistic style, so whatever that means to anybody personally, that's what beauty is to me.
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