For the record, Marylouise Burke--last season's Drama Desk Award winner for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play (David Lindsay-Abaire's Fuddy Meers)--is shorter than Mary Louise Wilson (Full Gallop) and a tad older than Mary-Louise Parker (Proof). And her version of their shared first name is one word, not two.
We first met a dozen years ago as members of Circle Repertory LAB, and now Burke is starring in Wyoming, a dark but lyrical and comic play by Catherine Gillet about a journey toward sanity. Just before we spoke, Burke also took part in an in-house reading of Lindsay-Abaire's latest, Wonder of the World, scheduled for a spring production at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage 1.
When and where did you get your start?
I lived in Philadelphia and studied at the Hedgerow Theater before coming to New York in 1973. But my first paying acting jobs where I made enough to live on began around 1986, in regional theater. Even though regional work is so gratifying, at a certain point you begin to think, "but it's out of town." As you can see, I'm a late bloomer--and I'm fine with that. Things happen in their own time. I'm so glad I didn't peak and burn out early.
Who was your favorite teacher?
Oh, the late Kevin O'Connor, who was running the Theater at St. Clements in the early '70s. He had this really adventuresome sense of casting, so I was never typed in his workshop. He wasn't a guru, just a no-nonsense, hands-on actor, and I inherited his love of new plays.
You seem to play lots of sweet and/or addled ladies. Ever play a villain?
I played lots of nasty ladies in Kevin's workshop, and I'm in the new Dan Minahan [screenwriter of I Shot Andy Warhol] independent film, Series F: The Contenders, which is going to Sundance. It's about a TV series with certain parallels to Survivor, only the contenders actually have to kill each other to win. I play a Catholic nurse who goes from saying her rosary to cleaning her Glock. I not only had to learn to handle and shoot guns, I can now give a lethal injection! I also love doing the "wicked mother" section in Wyoming. And I'm sure I'd be a marvelous Iago.
If not an actor, what would you like to be?
A film editor. One of my day jobs was for the electronic news feed precursor of CNN, and there was an editing machine in the room. I was fascinated watching them cut documentaries.
What was your worst non-acting job?
In Philadelphia, I was a usage inspector for the Army Corps of Engineers. By day, I'd be in a motorboat on the Delaware River, checking out dredges and dams. Then, at night, I'd be doing Chekhov at the Hedgerow. I remember my boss on the day job saying, "I wouldn't let my daughter do this."
Do you have a pre-show ritual?
A bath before getting on the subway to go to the theater.
An after-show ritual?
Drinks and fried food--any kind, anywhere.
None. In the theater, you don't get holidays off--and you just pray you'll be working when they do come.
Is there a role you should have played?
I missed out on the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet a few times, but she's still out there.
What's your favorite line from a show?
One of Gertie's [a stroke victim] from Fuddy Meers: "Kee da fuddin' puppa!" ("Kill the f**king puppet!")
Do you prefer comedy or drama?
Classic or contemporary?
Glasses or contacts?
Bagels or croissants?
Vanilla or chocolate?
What's your greatest fear?
Magic time--being in the zone, on stage.