Beth Grant Learns New Tricks
The popular film and television star discusses starring in the new Off-Broadway play, Tricks the Devil Taught Me.
THEATERMANIA: Is this actually your first show in New York?
BETH GRANT: I actually started my career in New York. I came here in 1969 from North Carolina. I had never left the south, and I ran away on this Greyhound bus with a hippie painter. I desperately wanted to live in Greenwich Village and be a beatnik; I really wanted to wear black tights and a leotard and write poetry. I had done the world premiere of this Romulus Linney play called Holy Ghosts at college, so when I got here I started this theater company just so I could do the show. I went to the Samuel French bookstore and found this book, which I think was called How to Produce Off-Broadway, and we just followed what the book said . Unfortunately, it wasn't a hit, though it didn't get terrible reviews. I left, came back in 1972, stayed for three years, went to L.A., and I haven't made it back until now. Trust me, that wasn't the plan.
TM: So, how did you get this part?
BG: Last year, Tony sent me an email through my agent and asked me to do a reading of the play. But I never thought I would get this role if they did a New York production; I thought they would give it to bigger box office name. I have my fans, but it's not like I'm Marcia Gay Harden. But when I did get it, which was just a few weeks ago, I told my agent I had to figure out how to do this. Luckily, I have friends in Greenwich Village who are letting me to stay with them for free. This is the role of a lifetime. It's the most challenging role I've ever had. I thank God -- and my late drama teacher -- every day that I've done Medea and Lady Macbeth and roles like that.
TM: Betty is one mean, hard-drinking, tough-talking woman! What did you think about her when you first read the play?
BG: Oh my god, when I first read it, I thought this is like a Sam Shepard play -- but for a woman. It's almost like she's like a man. I've never read a role where anyone curses so much, especially a woman. But that's great. They don't write roles like this for women, and believe me, I am always looking at scripts. People used to ask me who my role model was as an actress, and I'd say Jack Nicholson. I like to approach acting in a sort of masculine fashion.
TM: Without giving too much of the plot away, Betty does and says a lot of horrible things. How do you relate to her?
BG: I was raised all over the south, and I've been always attracted to working class people. I had this liberal Democratic mother who taught me to be sensitive to people from all walks of life. Betty has some bigotry in her, but it comes from pain and from fear. It's my job to reveal her soul. We're all human.
TM: You're kind of used to playing unlikeable characters, aren't you?
BG: I've played a lot of women you love to hate. I even did this one play where I played a woman who incested her son, and I found my way into her. I thought if I could do that, I could do anything. When I played Medea, I believed she was killing Jason for all the women who have been wronged by men and she was releasing her children. This seems to be my path.
TM: Are you enjoying work with this cast?
BG: If this is a sample of what New York actors are like, then I'm happy to be here forever. I'm in heaven working with Mary Testa, who plays my friend Renee. She's one of my daughter's favorite actresses -- she's about to study at Juilliard, and I've seen her in so many shows. It took a while for me to get used to being on stage with her. I was like a fan. And Peter Bradbury, who plays my husband, Don, has so much charisma and sensuality. He is so hot -- and he has this gorgeous body. I even requested they add a sex scene. I know they're not getting along in the play, but I thought their hate sex would be really great. But Tony said no.