Whether you remember Tammy Blanchard best from her Emmy Award-winning performance as the young Judy Garland in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows or her two Tony Award- nominated roles, as Gypsy Rose Lee opposite Bernadette Peters in Gypsy or the voluptuous Hedy LaRue in 2011’s revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, you probably wouldn’t recognize the tall, slim Bayonne, New Jersey native offstage — or in Nancy Savoca’s new film Union Square, which opened on July 13.
In the movie, Blanchard plays the up-tight and repressed Jenny in this study of sibling rivalry and other forms of family dysfunction, alongside Oscar winner Mira Sorvino as her hysterical over-the-top sister Lucy.
The film also stars two more Broadway greats: Daphne Rubin-Vega as Lucy’s obnoxious friend and Patti LuPone as Jenny and Lucy’s mom. “Sadly, Patti and I didn’t actually get to work together at all,” Blanchard recalls. “So it’s my hope that we’ll save my meeting and working with Patti for something that’s a lot bigger.”
Much of the film revolves around Jenny’s own faux narrative, which she conceived to subsume her own Bronx roots so she can convince her locavore fiance that she’s an orphan from Maine. “The reach for me with Jenny isn’t that everyone in her family in the film is a little — or even a lot — crazy, because everybody [in real life] is crazy in some way,” Blanchard jokes. “The script is so much about how people in a family get estranged over things that really aren’t all that important and we all have regrets.”
For Blanchard, who makes no secret of her New Jersey roots — she still lives in Bayonne with her young daughter Ava — that faux narrative was the hardest part of playing Jenny. “The reach for me was her complete denial of who she is and her trying to escape where she comes from,” she says. “I realized that she would have to be the most up-tight, phony person you’d ever meet. Of course, at the time I didn’t think of myself as a phony, because you can’t play that . So it’s hard for me to watch myself in that state.”
There was no audition for the film, even though Blanchard and Savoca did not previously know each other. “Sig de Miguel, who cast me in The Good Shepherd and Rabbit Hole, is a big supporter of my work and he had me meet with Nancy,” she says. “We both knew pretty quickly that we could do it; there was just this incredible trust between us. And then Mira came onboard and I’d always admired her work. I was especially inspired by her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe [in HBO’s Norma Jean and Marilyn], so I was very excited to work with her.”
Considering the film’s micro-budget and the 12 day-shoot, which used locations in and around the title environs, it’s amazing the film got completed. What made it all possible was the passion and determination of everyone involved, Blanchard says.
“We rehearsed for four or five days and talked at length about who we all were and how we related to each other,” she notes. “Fortunately, it’s all there in the script. It is such a hoot when someone says it sounds improvised, because that’s what Nancy does. She makes you feel like you’re watching someone’s home video.”
The actress, who got her start in 1997 on the CBS daytime drama The Guiding Light, and recently did a three-episode arc of Showtime’s The Big C, is ecstatic over her next film role, in which she will be sharing the screen with Oscar winner Cate Blanchett and a bevy of stars.
“Woody Allen just hired me for his next film and it was such a fascinating experience!” she says. “Basically, it’s just a quick conversation. In fact, they set you up and they keep telling you it will be ‘just one minute’ and frankly, that’s enough — because I was so excited and so nervous and so grateful to be there. And it really is ‘one minute’ and then you leave. He just wants to refresh his memory to make sure that you’re what he wants and then you get the phone call and you’re in a film by one of the best minds in this industry.”
As thrilled as Blanchard is for these film and television opportunities, she is longing to return to the theater. “I would love to do a play, I mean I enjoy the musicals, obviously, but I really want to do a play. I have my manager and my agent looking for me,” she reveals. “But I don’t really have a career plan. There’s no joy for me to just be a personality in my work and I feel that that’s so much of what’s out there. I always like to play roles where I either love the character or think that it’s a story that I can tell better than anyone else. There are always reasons for me to do whatever I do.”