Mary-Louise Parker(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Mary-Louise Parker
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
For Mary-Louise Parker, 2004 is definitely an annus monumentus. On January 7, the Tony Award-winning actress gave birth to her first child, William Atticus -- just two months after splitting up with the baby's father and her longtime companion, actor Billy Crudup. On August 2, Parker turned the big 4-0. And on September 19, she won the Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her astonishing work as Harper Pitt in the HBO production of Angels in America. (She was a previous nominee for her recurring role of lobbyist Amy Gardner on The West Wing.)

As if that weren't enough activity for one year, Parker has now returned to Broadway for the first time in two years. She's starring in Craig Lucas's dark comedy Reckless as Rachel, a woman who leaves her house and family on Christmas Eve after discovering that her husband has a contract out on her life. A co-production of Manhattan Theater Club and Second Stage, Reckless is not Parker's first encounter with Lucas's work: She starred in the original Off-Broadway production of his play Prelude to a Kiss and in the film Longtime Companion, for which he wrote the screenplay. For that matter, this is not Parker's first go-round with Reckless: She played the supporting role of Pooty, a mute paraplegic, in the 1995 film version starring Mia Farrow. "Thankfully, I have a bad memory," says Parker, "so I won't be able to remember anything specific from the film -- just how incredible I thought Mia's performance was. If I did remember anything more, it would be hard for me to get out of the way."

Parker was approached about appearing in the revival while filming Angels in Rome, and her first instinct was to turn it down. "I didn't have the confidence to think I could do it well," she tells me. "Finally, Ben Shenkman's girlfriend and [stage director] Oskar Eustis convinced me I should do it. So I read it and then read it again, and finally I called Craig to ask his opinion. I even called Mia to get her permission." Parker likens the play to the Biblical tale of Job, but she views Rachel's outlook in the face of tragedy as very different from her own: "My philosophies are completely polar to Rachel's. I don't believe that things happen for a reason; I don't come from the same place she does. But I think it's remarkable that she has this wild idealism, even if it gets the better of her, and that she still comes out so hopeful."

Being reunited with Debra Monk, who's repeating her film roles as a variety of therapists and who also played Parker's mom in Prelude to a Kiss, is another benefit of taking on this production. "It was so wonderful to walk into that first rehearsal and see her there," Parker says. And what does she think of Rosie Perez, who's playing Pooty? "It's really the first time we've worked together, other than appearing in 'The 24-Hour Plays,' and I think she will be better than I was. In fact, I'm not sure she realized that I did that part in the movie until someone mentioned it at rehearsal."

Although turning 40 and becoming a mother are two huge milestones, Parker downplays them. "Being 40 hasn't really changed anything, but it does sound pretty wild," she remarks. "I find myself saying it over and over to make it true! I kind of like it. And I don't think there will be that many changes in my working habits because of motherhood. I think the only big change is that I won't get to the theater at five o'clock. I always loved being there early, doing vocal warm-ups, getting settled. They had to give me the key to the Vineyard when I was in How I Learned to Drive.'" In Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize winning play, Parker earned an OBIE and a Lucille Lortel Award for her performance as L'il Bit, a southern teen who's sexually abused by her uncle. "That was probably my favorite role," Parker says. "It wasn't as flashy as Proof, but it was so much more of a challenge. I felt that there were things I was never able to achieve, but the good moments were like nothing else I've ever experienced in theater. And I've never acted on stage with anyone as brilliant as David Morse."

Thomas Sadoski and Mary-Louise Parker in Reckless(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Thomas Sadoski and Mary-Louise Parker in Reckless
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
The biggest changes in Parker's life will probably happen once Reckless closes: "After this, I won't get to do a play again for a while," she says. "In fact, I'd like to not work at all for a while, but I have to make money. Schools are expensive! I really just want to do things that interest me -- not things that I'll feel embarrassed to have done. There have been some of those, but you probably haven't heard of them. I think they probably didn't even make it to video." One project that did not go straight to video, although it is now available on DVD, was Angels in America. Says Parker, "I've never wanted anything as much as that part. At first, I was really angry when I heard that the movie was being done because I thought I'd never get the part -- and I was out of mind with joy when I got it. I thought it would go to someone more famous. I hadn't gotten anything that I auditioned for in the last seven years; I only get roles that are offered to me. I think Mike Nichols is the only director who would've hired me. He really loves to hear new ideas, which is what makes him so brilliant."

Indeed, Parker is a little surprised by how much praise her performance as Harper received, including the Golden Globe Award. "I am so proud of Angels because I think I did it honestly," she says. "But I don't think I did anything very innovative. The trick with Tony's work is to read the poetry like it's just a person speaking normally." This is not to say that she wasn't excited about her Emmy win. "I love awards," she admits. "Maybe I'm just shallow. But I think any actor who says that they don't love them is probably lying."

Parker won't be seen recreating her Tony-winning performance in the big-screen adaptation of Proof (the role of Catherine went to Gwyneth Paltrow), but she may soon be back on the small screen. "I just did a pilot for Showtime," she tells me. "I've never really been interested in series television, but if it gets picked up, I'd better get interested! There's something comforting about having a regular schedule once you have a child, though I can't picture living in L.A. for too long a period of time. I would have to get back to New York as much as possible. I've been living here for 18 years and I want to stay for another 18 at least."