Scandal‘s Susan Pourfar Talks About Working With a Coen Brother in Atlantic Theater Company’s Women or Nothing
To television audiences, Susan Pourfar is best known as dauntless CIA operative Becky Flynn on TV’s Scandal. To theater lovers, she is known for her award-winning portrayal of Sylvia in Nina Raine’s Tribes. Now, Pourfar is starring as Laura in the world premiere of screen legend Ethan Coen’s first full-length play, Women or Nothing, at Atlantic Theater Company.
TheaterMania spoke with the versatile actress about creating a character that could come only from the imagination of a Coen brother and about the feeling of kinship with an imperfect character.
What is the tone of this play?
How does this play compare with Ethan Coen’s movies?
I always think that each one of his films is so different, but they each walk a line with a very serious underbelly while there are characters and situations and language that are ever so slightly heightened. You look at something like Fargo; it is deeply sad in moments and deeply funny in other moments. But I think that both the Coen brothers, and Ethan on his own in this play, have a very specific worldview that they bring. These characters, they could not have come out of anyone else’s imagination.
Was [director] David Cromer already attached when you decided to work on this play? Was that part of your decision?
Yeah, he was attached. I got the material from my agent, they said this is a new play, and David’s directing. And I read it and I was simultaneously completely leaning forward as I read it and intimidated by it at the same time. I wouldn’t want to do it with any person other than David.
What does he bring to it?
He’s rigorous without being overly controlling. It’s a very tricky balance to be a director who has strong ideas but yet gives a lot of room for actors to explore. I would never want to do a play about a rigorous disciplined artist and be in a rehearsal room with a director who was not rigorous and disciplined and didn’t understand that aspect of someone. He has the qualities that Laura has, so I would assume that he could help me bring that character to life.
What has it been like working with the Atlantic?
From badass Becky Flynn on Scandal to this character, is it difficult to play many vastly different characters?
It’s fantastic. I think the reason a lot of people go into acting is because you want to explore various sides of the human persona and the human psyche. And what better, safer way to do it than in the container of a great play or a great role? You get to explore areas of yourself in a very contained, safe environment, especially if you’re in such good hands as David Cromer and Ethan Coen — both of whom I trust just implicitly as artists.
Do you relate to Laura on a personal level?
Yes. A little frighteningly so, because she’s a little bit, well, she has a huge degree of self-awareness, but the self-awareness is sometimes about how often — as David has put it, I’m not coming up with this — her head is often lodged up her ass. And she has an awareness of her own nature and her prickliness and her perfectionism and her limitations, you know. And I guess I relate. At this particular moment in time, Laura is coming to grips with who she is and whether that’s changeable. “Is biology destiny?” is a big question in the play.