In his harrowing new play One Night..., Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Charles Fuller explores what happens after soldiers come home from war and how they deal with the personal horrors stemming from the atrocities they faced. At the center of the play is actress Rutina Wesley, best known as Tara on the long-running HBO series True Blood, whose no-holds-barred performance is one that will surely be remembered come awards season.
TheaterMania chatted with Wesley about her work in the new drama (a coproduction of Cherry Lane Theatre and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater) and why despite making her living in television and film, theater is her one true love.
1. Do you know anyone in the military who has seen this play? How have they reacted?
The second week of previews, we had some veterans [who] came and saw the show and [who] I got to talk to afterward. One woman came up to me and she was like, "You told my story. That's my story." We talked for a minute and it was [gratifying] hear someone relate to my work in that way...It lets me know that I'm moving in the right direction... It's the most challenging role I've gotten to play.
2. Why is that?
I haven't seen a character like this before. Especially a black female character who has so much depth and layers. It's a different type of beast to tackle as an actor. I was attracted to that. I love Charles Fuller. I love his work and I missed New York. I missed the theater. I was dying to get back on stage again.
3. Do you prefer theater over film?
I prefer theater, because theater is where it started for me. It's my home. But we all gotta eat. The bread-and-butter does come from television and film. But theater is where I get my inspiration. I always try to make sure that I stay connected to theater so I continue to be inspired. Not that I'm not inspired by television. True Blood has given me a character that has been so amazing, so I've been very lucky with that. Doing a play is so fulfilling. Words cannot describe how I feel when I finish doing a play.
4. Which is harder, acting on stage or in a film?
I think it's more difficult to do something live, because if you mess up, you have to figure it out. On stage. Right there. In the moment. There's no cut. There's no slicing things together to make you look good. If you have an off night, you have an off night. There's nothing I can do about that.
5. Your character goes through a lot in the play. How do you shed her after the performance?
I can't really shed her completely. Doing eight shows a week, I have to sort of stay in it. I usually listen to music. That helps me get in and out of a role. I breathe. Now that I've been doing her for a while, I'll be able to [release her]. Once the curtain goes down, I can come out, smile, bow, and it's done. I can leave her on stage every night. It took me a while to get there. I learned how to just go done with that for today and come back to her tomorrow and I'll learn something new. Charles has written a character who's never complete. I think I'll still be learning up until closing night.