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Renee Elise Goldsberry Is A People Person

The popular actress discusses her return to Broadway opposite Frances McDormand and Tate Donovan in MTC's Good People. logo
Renee Elise Goldsberry
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Renee Elise Goldsberry has been lighting up the stage and screen for the past few years, from her Broadway stints in The Lion King, The Color Purple and Rent to her award-winning work in the Shakespeare in the Park production of Two Gentlemen of Verona to her appearances in primetime TV shows such as Ally McBeal and The Good Wife, and most notably to some fans, for her four-year stint as Evangeline Williamson on the ABC daytime drama One Life to Live, which earned her two Daytime Emmy Award nominations.

Now, she has returned to Broadway, as Kate, the affluent, educated African-American wife of a successful older white doctor, in Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire's new drama, Good People, at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, opposite Frances McDormand and Tate Donovan. TheaterMania recently spoke to Goldsberry about the show and her career.

THEATERMANIA: This is your first major theater project since your son, Benjamin, was born? Did you think about not going back until he was older?
RENEE ELISE GOLDSBERRY: Nope, not one thought of not going back because of the baby. I want more of everything good; more opportunities, more time with my kid, even more kids.

TM: You first read the play when you were preparing to audition. What were your initial reactions to the play and the role?
REG: My first thought was that I was hoping in the scene when she goes into the kitchen, she might not come back -- so then I can turn it down. But as the scene goes on, she comes back and she becomes more interesting and the more I read, the more I fell in love with her. I felt she is so much like me and there was such a close connection I had to audition, and that turned out to be a good thing.

TM: Did you have any concerns about the fact that a white male writer was creating an African-American woman?
REG: Too often, you see these stock black women on stage, so it's wonderful to see the sort of black woman you don't expect. This play is much more about class than race, though Kate is not particularly elitist. I actually think she's very vulnerable. There's one other thing I want to say about David's writing. When you're doing something written so well, that can be frightening -- because you know what it's supposed to be like when you read it, and if it's not that on stage, then you know you're the problem.

TM: Kate is a mother of a six-year-old. Do you think you could have played this part before you were a mother yourself?
REG I think I would've related to Kate in many ways before I had my own child; but there's something very specific about having a child that does affect how you do a part like this. The daughter in the play is six and Benjamin's only two, so in four years I will probably feel like I didn't know what I was talking about now.

Frances McDormand and Renee Elise Goldsberry
in Good People
(© Joan Marcus)
TM: What sort of research did you before you began rehearsals?
REG: I didn't want to show up unprepared. I'm always afraid I am going to be the weak link. The biggest thing I was able to do was research the cheeses I mentioned in this one scene to make sure I didn't mispronounce them. I lived in Boston as a little girl, but I don't remember it well, and I am sorry I didn't make it to Boston again. I was especially jealous I didn't get to go on the Bingo trips some of the other cast members did.

TM: There are five other actors in the show, but you're only on stage with Frances and Tate. What has working with them been like?
REG: They're both great. I met Frances at my audition, and when I walked in, I just felt this person I didn't know giving me love on other side of the room. She's really a cheerleader for all of us. I always love to meet people who already have personas and love to find they're even more interesting than their personas. And that's what happened here.

TM: Kate doesn't show up until the second act; is that hard on you as an actress?
REG: I am good at being the one act girl. I was only in the second act of Lion King, I was mostly in the first act of The Color Purple, and I even came on pretty late in the first act of Two Gentlemen of Verona. I think Rent was the only one where I did a lot in both acts and at first I wondered why I was so tired every night. But if I had to pick being in only one act, I'd pick the second act, because that way audiences remember what you did.

TM. Have you already heard from or seen any of your One Life to Live fans?
REG: Soap opera fans are the most loyal ones you can have. I tend to go to a Facebook page one of my fans put up, so I know what's going on in my own life. I didn't make a big deal of telling anyone, including the fans, about us starting previews, but when I got backstage the first night, I got a huge bouquet from one of the fan groups. Not my husband, not my family, my soap fans. I am so grateful for them.

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