Interview: Debra Jo Rupp Travels to Boca After TV Encounters With Wanda Maximoff and Agatha Harkness

Rupp returns to Barrington Stage Company in this new comedy about senior citizens in Florida.

While it's easy enough to think of Debra Jo Rupp as a sitcom queen, thanks to her memorable work on That ‘70s Show, Friends, and Seinfeld, Rupp is just as happy being on the stage as she is on the small screen. Moreover, as anyone who saw her as Mae in the 1990 Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in Manhattan Theatre Club's acclaimed production of The Cake, or as Dr. Ruth Westheimer in Becoming Dr. Ruth can easily attest, she's even better in person.

Now, Rupp is back on the stage in Jessica Provenz's Boca, a series of short comedies about senior citizens in Florida, playing through August 29 at Barrington Stage Company's Outdoor Production Center. TheaterMania spoke to Rupp about the play, having a milestone birthday during the pandemic, almost turning down WandaVision, and her advice to would-be-actors.

Debra Jo Rupp
Debra Jo Rupp
(© David Gordon)

Tell me about why you chose to do Boca.
I haven't done some stage work in two years, and I missed it. Originally, I was asked to do something more serious at another theater. But I decided if I want to be in a theater, I wanted to make people laugh. Also, Jessica is part of the Barrington family and they've been very good to me over the years, so when Julianne Boyd asked me to participate, I couldn't say no.

Are you happy doing a new play?
I love doing new plays, but this one is being rewritten every day, so that's been a little traumatic. And Boca being my first show after the pandemic makes everything different. On the one hand, it was really hard to be isolated for so many months with only my two dogs who I talk to incessantly. But then you come back to something like this, and you go, "wow, it's a lot of people to deal with." And while I did a couple of Zoom plays during the pandemic, I didn't have to learn lines for them. Memorization comes easy when you work all the time, but I didn't really know if I could do it again.

Did the pandemic make you consider retiring?
Not really. I will say when you're younger, you go, go, go all the time – you keep track of your career, you figure out how to do this and that. But then what happens is you get older and you realize you need to breathe and appreciate people the around you. I was tired when the pandemic hit and it was great to take a break for a while. And then I got bored. Also, I turned 70 in February and you have not lived until you turn 70 in a pandemic roasting hot dogs in a freezing driveway. So, yes, I'm glad to be working again.

Actually, you did work during the pandemic – filming WandaVision. While you were on the set, did you ever imagine the enormous critical and audience approval for this show?
I had no idea. In fact, I almost turned it down. I thought it was a cartoon. I said to my agent, "Is that what my career has come down to?" It was my great-nephew who made me do it. I was telling him about the show on the phone one day, and I said something about The Scarlet Witch, and he immediately said, "Aunt Debbie, if you don't do it, I will never speak to you again!" I guess I owe him a gift.

I read your parents didn't approve of you becoming an actor, but you did it anyway. What advice would you give to young people in the same situation?
I would just say follow your dream if you're lucky enough to have one. It may even lead to a different dream. As for my parents, I think they just tried to protect me, especially because I had a so-called weird look for an actress. I was like a little dumpling. In fact, they wanted me to become a CPA. But I knew I was good at acting and I loved it. So, if anyone today is like I was then, then I say, just do it.

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Closed: August 22, 2021