It's Oscar night in Paul Rudnick's latest comedy, Big Night, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The protagonist is Michael (Brian Hutchison), a nominee who's under a lot of stress. His transgender nephew (Tom Phelan) hopes that his uncle's acceptance speech will be politically charged. His boyfriend (Luke Macfarlane) won't answer the phone. And his mom, Esther (Wendie Malick), has a huge announcement. And then Mike's night takes a completely unexpected turn.
As a two-time Emmy nominee for NBC's classic sitcom Just Shoot Me!, Malick knows a thing or two about awards shows and how accurate Rudnick's script is in its tense portrayal of such a high-stress evening. So the pairing felt natural to her and offered Malick the perfect opportunity to tread the boards once again.
1. Were you looking to do a play when Big Night came your way?
Oh, I'm always looking for a play. My last theater ventures have been Love Letters and The Guys with Dan Lauria, but the last play I did was Closure with Gary Cole at New Jersey Repertory Company, and we had such a fabulous time. I always tell people I have so much respect for theater actors because you just have to totally immerse yourself. But it's the most rewarding thing in the world. You get addicted.
2. What was it about your character — and the way she factors into the story — that interested you as an actor?
Esther Stratford is a marvelously flawed force of nature: brilliant, funny, self-righteous, and uncensored. She gives voice to the inappropriate but truthful thoughts most of us don't cop to. And when she loves, she loves with every fiber of her being. And she looks fabulous!
3. Is doing a play similar to filming with a live studio audience?
On television, you stop in between every scene, and sometimes they'll rewrite something and stick it in. It's much more leisurely. We did it live a couple of times on Hot in Cleveland. Betty White kept saying, "This is the way it used to be, all the time." And when I look back at some of the old Playhouse 90s, it's extraordinary what those people did live on television.
4. What was it about Big Night that interested you?
Well, I love Paul's writing, and I love discovering a character for the first time. That thrills me to no end. The overall message of it is about how important it is to love the people in your lives and make the best of every situation. And that's what these people manage to do against all odds on a very heightened night like the Oscars.
5. Oscar night does seem like a night where drama is inherent. With your experiences at Hollywood awards shows in mind, how realistic is it?
It's an out-of-body experience when you're nominated. I've only been nominated for Golden Globes and Emmys, but you feel like your whole future depends on what happens on that particular night. You think it's going to change your life completely, and it certainly does have an impact, but the next day, that's not really the case. But there's pressure coming from everywhere because it is such a singular experience.
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