Front & Center
Julie White in The Little Dog Laughed, Michael T. Weiss in Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
The Second Stage production, which officially opens on January 9, isn't White's first crack at the material: "I did a scene from it as part of the TriBeCa Theatre Festival last year. Then, when I read the whole play, I was surprised by what ends up happening to the characters. It's cynical and sad, but more deeply felt than I imagined. Also, the very first thing that happens in the play is that my character is discovered on stage in an elaborate ball gown. So I was, like, 'Color me there!' "
White, who spent several seasons as Brett Butler's sidekick Nadine on the sitcom Grace Under Fire and played the recurring role of Mitzi Dalton Huntley on HBO's Six Feet Under, is no stranger to Hollywood. When asked if Tinseltown is as closeted and homophobic as the play makes it out to be, she replies, "In my experience, there are so many great, totally out performers and writers. But then again, I'm not gay. If I were, I might have a different experience of it. Also, I have not run in that big movie star circle, which might be more homophobic. I'm not freaking Nicole Kidman or something -- not that I'm saying Nicole Kidman is gay!"
Originally from Austin, Texas, White came to New York to study at Fordham University and to pursue an acting career, but she had to pay her dues before making it on the stage. "When I first moved to the city, I was one of those irritating people who spray perfume on you at Bloomingdale's," she admits. But White soon found steady work, appearing in the replacement cast of The Heidi Chronicles on Broadway and going on to star in such Off-Broadway hits as Spike Heels, Bad Dates, Dinner With Friends, and Fiction.
She says that she does not do extensive preparatory work for her roles. "I was talking about this with Zoe, and we felt that the boys were doing more research than us, which made us feel somehow guilty," White remarks. "I've met a lot of agents, managers, and producers, so I draw on them for this role. I find that the script reveals to you what you need to know, and then you just use your imagination." But, in at least one respect, audiences of The Little Dog Laughed won't need to use their imaginations. "There are naked boys in it," White says when asked to name an inducement to see the show. "There are also girls in pretty dresses. And it's by Douglas, so you know it's going to be witty, witty, witty."
Only a few days into rehearsing the Huntington Theatre Company's upcoming production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Michael T. Weiss, who plays the evil Vicomte de Valmont, was already drawing parallels between France on the eve of the Revolution and the Bush administration. "There is absolutely a political message in this play," says Weiss, best known for his work in the TV series The Pretender and in the film version of Jeffrey. "We in America are the global aristocracy. We're such a consumptive culture. If we each took small steps to lessen that, the impact would be enormous"
But theatergoers shouldn't fear that they're in for a political diatribe. "It's deliciously sexy and dirty," says Weiss of the play, which begins performances on January 6. "It's all about the decadence going on behind the facade." Speaking of decadence, the actor has been dazzled by Erin Chainani's contempo-classic costuming -- Valmont's wardrobe is said to echo the Karl Lagerfeld look -- and he alludes to the fact that the production will contain some nudity.
As part of his preparation, Weiss has delved into the original 18th-century novel, which he describes as "a series of letters written between various lovers in various degrees of undress. It's all about human relationships, how we tend to manipulate people for our own personal gain, and how that can bite us in the tuchis," he says.
When it comes to the subject of our present-day consumptive culture, Weiss is hardly all talk; he's on the board of the Earth Communications Office (ECO), dedicated to disseminating information to improve the global environment, and he personally does his part by driving a "guilt-free" Prius in SUV-saturated Los Angeles. ("You can get just as lucky in a Prius as in a Hummer," he jokes.) In Boston, he's car-free, instead patronizing the subway system. He does so not only to conserve energy but also because, as a photographer, he loves studying faces. (His show at a Hollywood gallery last spring was a near sell-out.)
This is Weiss's third Boston-area sojourn in the past year. He played Pale in Burn This at the Huntington last fall, and he recently studied art history -- the work of 18th-century French court painter Fragonard, to be precise -- as "the oldest co-ed" at Harvard Summer School. "I got a 98 on my midterm and immediately called my mom," he brags. If he appears to be following in the footsteps of John Malkovich, who originated the role of Pale on Broadway, played Valmont in the film version of Liaisons, and now lives in Cambridge, Weiss says it's mere happenstance. "He just has very good taste," he remarks.