Diane Venora Plays the Lady
A match for Kelsey Grammer's Macbeth.
Julliard trained, Venora moves effortlessly between theater, movies, and TV. She holds her own on the big screen with powerful men such as Russell Crowe and Al Pacino in The Insider, Clint Eastwood in True Crime, Richard Gere and Bruce Willis in The Jackel, Forest Whitaker in Bird, Anthony Hopkins in Surviving Picasso, Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in Heat, and Ethan Hawke in the newly released Hamlet.
We met before rehearsal one morning. A petite woman dressed in black with a freshly scrubbed face, Diane Venora has that thing--that absolute simplicity and purity good actors radiate.
THEATERMANIA: Did you ever play Lady Macbeth before?
DIANA VENORA: No. The play always bothered me. It's so dark--the images--it's unnatural. Against nature. The covertness is so deep. It's wanting something so badly that you would kill for it.
TM: Why did you do it?
VENORA: I wanted to complete playing all three roles--Juliet, Gertrude, and Lady Macbeth--and see [Shakespeare's women] from a different lens. You can never "do" a Shakespearean play and think you are finished with it. As you grow older, new things come into your life. It's always going to be about something more in your life.
TM: How do you move so effortlessly between theater, TV, and movies?
VENORA: I think of the British who do it, who work constantly. Look at who is on Broadway right now: Gabriel Byrne, Sinead Cusak, Stephen Dillane, Derek Jacobi, Roger Rees, Patrick Stewart, and David Suchet. They were trained to move effortlessly between the various media. That's the craft. I say, "I've got to be in that play. I've got to work with Cherry Jones. I need to work with Marian Seldes."
TM: You stopped acting for a while?
VENORA: I wanted to be a hairdresser. I did not want to go to college. My father insisted. Thank God he did. I went to the guidance office and went through every book looking for colleges that didn't require math and science. That left only Fine Art Schools. Boston Conservatory of Music had a drama program, I applied; they gave me a small scholarship and accepted me. Right away I thought, "Maybe the school isn't very good because they took me." I had no idea what I was going into, but I had an immediate attraction to it.
TM: Was there a teacher?
VENORA: There is always one teacher--Miss Ray, a diminutive actress full of piss and vinegar. She was strong and serious about the work. I said, "I think I like this now, this acting thing." I knew I wanted to do the classics because classics satisfy the soul. I saw the Juilliard Company perform at Harvard. When they took a bow I said, "I have to go to that school." My friend said, "Oh you'll never get in. First of all, you have no money. It's very expensive, and they only take about twenty students a year. Forget it." I said, "I'm going to get into that school, and if I don't, I'll be a cashier at Woolworth's." After much trial and error, I was accepted to the Juilliard School with full scholarship. And I'm grateful, grateful to this day, because as hard as the school was--and it was hard--nothing's been harder. Not film.
TM: What's it like in Hollywood?
VENORA: Hollywood taught me how to deal with the politics. I'm not good at it. I need a political manager like a business manager. I'm just an actor. Do I have to deal with saying it right? Could you talk to my political manager so I don't say anything that will implicate me in any way? I always stick my foot in it, but my heart is right.
TM: Do you like working in the theater?
VENORA: I love it. I like the classics because they're always fresh. You say the words in a classical play and they never get old. The best part of me is child-like, not childish. There's a difference. It has to do with discipline. Every scene I'm in is a love scene; the absence of love, the search for love, the discarding of it, and always the need. Love is basic. Love is the hook.
TM: How do you retain that purity, that passion?