Janeane Garofalo Comes Russian In
The multi-talented actress discusses her new role in the New Group's production of Russian Transport.
THEATERMANIA: What made you want to do this play now?
JANEANE GAROFALO: This idea came strictly from Scott Elliott, the director. I don't know why or how. I'm eternally grateful, but I don't know why he contacted me. I had never worked with him before. I originally passed because I thought, "I'm going to suck, I can't do this." He made it seem so easy, so by the end of a one-hour conversation, I was doing it. He is the best director I have ever worked with and now I feel like I don't want to work with anyone else, ever.
TM: How do you see Diana?
JG: I know she is supposed to be sort of the architect in the downfall of the family, and a person that people could come to dislike, but I don't see her that way. I see her as a person that is a pragmatist more than anything, and her main concern is the financial stability of her family because they are struggling right now. I definitely wouldn't talk to my kids the way she does, though.
TM: You have turned down screen roles due to their violent content or their inappropriate nature. Did you have any reservations about taking this part?
JG: Diana is not like me, a middle-class kid from the suburbs. She is a poor person from pre-Perestroika Russia. So it's hard to judge someone whose environment is so compromised in a way that I can't relate to. Back when mainstream scripts would come my way and there was no reason for attractive women to be killed or harassed in their underwear -- things that have nothing to do with the plot --I'd turn them down. But Russian Transport is well-written and everything in it has everything to do with the plot.
TM: In the show, you have a thick Russian accent, and you even speak Russian at times. Did that come naturally to you as a performer?
JG: I feel like I'm sucking terribly! We went over the dialect with coaches. At first, I thought the accent was coming easily, until I was told by the coach that I was making a lot of mistakes. Then I became increasingly self-conscious, and therefore less accessible. The Russian itself was initially very difficult because there are so few similarities between Russian and English. It's much easier now. But when I hear myself with my own ears, I sound like I'm doing a crazy character! I actually do the accent constantly around the house, and my boyfriend Pete is irritated to no end. He rolls his eyes and leaves the room immediately.
TM: You're originally from New Jersey. What are some of your favorite New York memories from when you were a kid?
JG: As a little kid, I was terrified of New York, because on the Lower East Side at that time it could be quite intimidating. But I always knew I would one day live here. That was the plan -- especially after I saw the movie Desperately Seeking Susan. I just loved that movie, but that really sealed the deal.
JG: No, we sure haven't! I don't know how you would turn that into a play. I'm sure Ben would laugh in my face if I even brought anything like that up.