The Tony nominees' brunch at Sardi's was a madhouse of chattering actors, producers, journalists, camera crews, and publicists. It was a happy occasion for the nominees, who clutched their framed nomination certificates and rushed to eat between interviews before heading out for their Wednesday matinees. TheaterMania talked with 17 of the 20 actors nominated for their performances in this year's plays. A few chatted on the run; others took a few minutes to reflect on their nominations. (Alas, Jennifer Ehle escaped before we could get to her; Philip Seymour Hoffman didn't feel well and ducked out quickly; Blair Brown didn't attend.) Here's what the nominees had to say about Tony, Broadway, and other topics.
Best Actor nominee for playing James Tyrone in
Isn't it nice that you, Cherry Jones, and Roy Dotrice were all nominated?
Oh yeah. But, you know, awards and nominations are such strange things. On the one hand, I feel very thrilled that we were all honored. On the other, I don't know how you compare one performance to another, one play to another, or one director to another. A director who is subtle and insightful might not draw attention to himself, while somebody else who is flashy and spectacular gets the name of being a great director. For me, the ultimate reward is if the audience goes out changed in some way from the way they came in.
What discoveries have you made about stage acting after having spent so many years concentrating on movies?
I realized very quickly into this process that the real function of the actor is to be a conduit for the words of the playwright and present them to the audience--no more, no less--and it's an incredible privilege to be able to do that. That's why I feel so connected to this play, because I realize that there's a direct connection between him [O'Neill] and them. What I have to do is pass it on. I can't say that I feel some tremendous sense of exhilaration when the curtain comes down, like, "Wow, wasn't that amazing?" I don't. I feel that I got through it and, hopefully, I gave something that people will take away with them. I believe that all works of art explode in the subconscious of the audience; you may ostensibly be following the story of the characters, but the real damage is done deep inside.
Best Actress nominee for playing Josie Hogan in A Moon for the Misbegotten
As a Tony veteran, did you give Gabriel Byrne and Roy Dotrice any advice?
They're big boys; they can handle all this (laughs). My nomination was a big surprise, but Roy and Gabriel are such gentlemen that it would have just killed them if I hadn't gotten it. They so wanted the three of us to go through all this together, so I'm happy.
Best Featured Actor nominee for playing Phil Hogan in A Moon for the Misbegotten
You're the favorite to win this award. Do you feel any pressure?
No. I was lucky enough to get the Outer Critics' Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award, so it's almost too much to think that I might get the triple crown. That hasn't been done since Secretariat, has it?
How did you, Cherry Jones, and Gabriel Byrne create such a lovely ensemble?
We do seem to come together awfully well in this play. We often cursed our luck that we were [trying out] in Chicago in snow and freezing cold weather. But, in fact, it was also a great bonding process because we lived in the same apartment block and traveled to and from the theater together every night. We would discuss the play and how we could improve it, go out for meals and have laughs together. I think that bonding shows in the production.
This fall, you're going to play Gabriel's father in the ABC sitcom Madigan Men.
Isn't that wonderful? It will be done here in New York. Our profession is littered with broken friendships because you get close to people, but when the play ends, you never see them again. The great thing about this show for me is that I can continue to work with Gabriel. I adore the man, and we'll be exploring relationships among three generations of Irish men.
JOHN C. REILLY
Best Actor nominee for playing Lee in True West
You and Philip Seymour Hoffman trade off the roles of Austin and Lee. Do you wish you could have shared a single Best Actor nomination?
I think that would have been the most accurate assessment of our work because we're playing both roles. As it is, one of the roles that we play was not even considered. But it's all icing on the cake; we're really happy to be nominated.
Why do you think True West is drawing such young audiences?
I suppose because of our film work; most young people know Phil and me from Paul Anderson's movies [Boogie Nights, Magnolia]. I'm really happy about that. Every time some young person comes up to me and says, "I've never seen a play before, and I came because you're in it," that's the real payoff for me, more than an award-knowing that we're making a difference in the future of the theater.
What's the lure of theater for you?
It's what I feel I'm most suited to doing. I've been doing it since I was eight years old; I'm a relative newcomer to film, believe it or not. I'll always come back to the theater.
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Cherry Jones and Gabriel Byrne in A Moon for the Misbegotten
Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly in True West
Frances Conroy as Theodora Felt in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan
Helen Stenborg at the Tony nominees' brunch
Bob Stillman and Kevin Chamberlin at the Tony nominees' brunch