Hallie Foote
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Hallie Foote
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Receiving her first Tony Award nomination, for Best Featured Actress in a Play for playing the money-hungry Mary Jo in Dividing the Estate, is a naturally bittersweet experience for Hallie Foote. The playwright -- and her father -- Horton Foote passed away in March at the age of 92. Still, Foote is extremely grateful that she got the opportunity to take on the scene-stealing role, which is something she never envisioned as a young actress.

"My father wrote the play over 20 years ago, and although I saw a production of it that I really enjoyed, we never really talked about the play or me ever doing it," she says. "But when Michael Wilson first decided to do the play Off-Broadway at Primary Stages, he asked me about being in it, and I said I'd like to play Mary Jo, which I think shocked every one. I don't always play that kind of part in my father's works."

While audiences might see Mary Jo as the "villain" of the piece -- constantly nagging her family to "divide" the family's estate -- the actress has her own interpretation of the role. "I would say she's pragmatic, instead of not nice," says Foote. "She's under a lot of pressure. She has two kids and a husband who isn't doing very well financially and they've probably been living beyond their means, like lots of people did. I also think she has these relationships with her mother and her siblings that are very complicated, and I was able to tap into my own family experiences. In the end, as an actress, you just have to find the good in a character like Mary Jo, and just not care if nobody else likes her."

In the play (which is about to be revived at Hartford Stage with the majority of the Broadway cast intact), Foote once again works with her husband, actor Devon Abner -- who plays her nephew. "We really like working together," she says. "But we also know how to go our separate ways and give each other down-time. He's a big athlete, so often takes long bike rides or does thing like that. It really works well for us."

As for her own success in the play, Foote is quick to credit her father. "As an actress, I do best in plays that are really well-written," she says. "My father was a wonderful writer."