Introducing Amanda Peet, Playwright
You know her as an actor, but Peet is about to debut her second play, Our Very Own Carlin McCullough.
Amanda Peet remembers the first time she saw her name on a marquee as a playwright. "I almost died," she says with a laugh.
While Peet has been seeing her name on marquees for years, it's been for starring in films like Something's Gotta Give and HBO's Togetherness. She's even had her fair share of onstage appearances, ranging from Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park to Neil LaBute's The Break of Noon.
Looking at the words "by Amanda Peet" on her play The Commons of Pensacola, however, was a game changer for her. The production premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club in fall 2013 and starred Sarah Jessica Parker and Blythe Danner. "Just taking the subway up there, with my script in a proper binder, as opposed to papers from my own printer, was bonkers. Bonkers."
Peet's coming-out party as a dramatist was a mother-daughter story born out of her interest in the post-disgrace life of Ruth Madoff, wife of jailed financier Bernie Madoff. Her sophomore effort, now receiving its premiere at the Geffen Playhouse, is another mother-daughter story, though set in a completely different world. Our Very Own Carlin McCullough is about a single mother who discovers her 10-year-old daughter, Carlin, is a tennis phenomenon, and how Carlin's coach impacts both of their lives.
"I didn't set out to write a sports play," Peet explains. "It wasn't tennis that attracted me. It was the idea of having a crush on the same man your mom has a crush on," she says. "It's also about what it's like to be coming to middle age and having a blossoming daughter, and how to cope with the feelings of launching someone into the world fairly, with your complete blessing. Tennis was just sort of the way it came to me."
Peet's bourgeoning career as a playwright at 46 actually began many years earlier, when she tried to write after graduating from Columbia, but got "sidetracked with acting." It was only after meeting and marrying David Benioff, cocreator and showrunner of Game of Thrones, that she found herself revisiting the early desire. "When I started going out with David, I was inspired to try writing more, and that's sort of how it happened," she explains.
Being married to a fellow writer, Peet believes, has helped her work to her fullest potential. She describes Benioff as "merciless," when it comes to giving notes, and that she constantly works down to the wire before passing her material over to him. "It bodes well for my marriage that I'm like 'I'll give it to you tonight,' and then be crazily tweaking to make it better and to try to catch him off guard."
With Benioff's Game of Thrones partner D.B. Weiss and his wife, the quartet have annual "Notes Nights," where they analyze each other's work over beer and wine. "It's basically like having your nails pulled out," she says with a self-deprecating chuckle. "It's really not pleasant. But I think it's the middle-aged version of what would have happened if I went to graduate school. The fact that he's my husband and that they're my close friends makes it more comforting and worse at the same time."
Through the years, Peet constantly found herself stymied by the hurdles most writers encounter: the inability to "construct a good plot, create suspense, come up with a really compelling bunch of characters who go through something exciting, and come up with an ending." She's quick to point out that Commons wasn't her first try, either. "I've been trying for a really long time to finish something, and then finish something that could attract an actor other than myself." She's had no trouble, not with Commons or Carlin McCullough, which stars Mamie Gummer and Joe Tippett.
From an actor's perspective, Peet is open to returning to the stage; she cites Tracy Letts, Jon Robin Baitz, and Yasmina Reza as writers whose work she is deeply interested in. But appearing in her own play is off the table. "I can say with absolute certainty that that would be impossible. Impossible. One hundred percent." At this point in her theatrical career, she's just enjoying being on the other side of the table, and all that comes with it.