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The White Stuff

From Up Here's Julie White discusses returning to New York, playing mothers, her obsession with Project Runway, and Mickey Rooney's revenge. logo
Julie White and Brian Hutchison in From Up Here
(© Joan Marcus)
Julie White has been one of New York's most beloved actresses for many years, thanks to her work in such plays as Dinner With Friends and Bad Dates, but her stardom reached new levels last year with her Tony Award-winning performance as the ruthless Hollywood agent Diane in The Little Dog Laughed. She has now returned to the New York stage for the first time since that triumph in the Manhattan Theatre Club-Ars Nova co-production of Liz Flahive's world premiere comedy From Up Here, in which she plays Grace, the mother of two troubled teenagers.

While White is a New Yorker again -- she recently bought a home in Brooklyn -- she won't be here forever. This summer, she'll appear in her good friend Theresa Rebeck's The Understudy at the Williamstown Theatre Festival as a stage manager who has to rehearse the show's new understudy, who happens to be her ex-fiance (played by Reg Rogers). And this fall, she'll head to L.A.'s Kirk Douglas Theater to reprise her Little Dog role.

We recently talked to White about her new project, her wardrobe, and her family.

THEATERMANIA: We thought we might lose you forever to Hollywood once you took a role on the ABC sitcom Cavemen. Why did you come back?
JULIE WHITE: I always wanted to move back to New York. I had been in Los Angeles primarily for a relationship -- and that broke up. Plus, I was staying in Malcolm Gets' house, and he sold it, so I knew it was time to come back.

TM: Some people might have thought you would have had a bigger vehicle for your first show in New York since winning the Tony Award. Why did you choose to do this Off-Broadway play?
JW: They didn't ask me to do South Pacific. I kept asking everyone why Nellie couldn't be 45; wasn't Glenn Close even older than that in the movie? There have been lots of other things that were offered to me, but Dan Sullivan, whom I've known for a very long time, sent me this play and I really liked it. It's really a well-written part; she's funny and nice and going through something important in her life. Plus, my character couldn't be more different than Diane, and I don't want to repeat myself or do a lesser version of her.

TM: Still, I am sure you could have come back to Broadway in some big revival.
JW: I like doing new plays. I especially like to have my name on the title page in the published script. Plus, I don't covet those roles in the great canon; I am not the kind of actress who won't be happy until I play Blanche loony-tune DuBois. If anything, I like a role like Diane where I can make it mine.

TM: Even though in real life you're the mother of a college student, this is one of the few times you've played a mom on stage.
JW: It's true. I'm the mother of teenagers in movies -- I'm Shia LeBeouf's mother for god's sake -- but I don't do many moms on stage. Lucky for me, my kids in this play, Tobias Segal and Aya Cash, are so good I cannot begin to tell you. So if this is how that part of my career starts, it's fine. The entire cast is on top of their game; so professional, yet so caring and wonderful. I also have to mention Brian Hutchison, who plays my younger second husband. It's fun to come to the theater every night and get to do a tiny bit of making out with him. It's definitely my best 30 seconds of the play.

TM: While you're out here, though, your daughter is still at USC, right?
JW: Yes, and she's trying so hard to get an internship at Bravo. If she does, it puts me one degree closer to Project Runway winner Christian Siriano. He's so fierce, though I don't know if I can wear anything he makes. I am obsessed with that show. I figure if Tim Gunn could just get into my closet, my whole life could be better.

TM: What kind of reaction have you been getting from the audience?
JW: They've been really lovely. After one show, I was at the newsstand on the corner and this older woman came by on her motorized scooter -- which she had taken to the theater -- and said "I wanted to just come up on stage and kiss you. I don't know you who are, but I love you." That so made my day. But it would be nice if a lot of younger folk would come, especially because there are a lot of younger actors in the play.

TM: One other big difference between Diane and your character here is the way she dresses, isn't it?
JW: I am so sorry. I know all of my fans in the West Village are going to be disappointed when they see me in these polyester pants and DSW pumps. I even wear clogs and baggy jeans -- and this terrible tragic sweater that I swear they picked up from a police station lost and found or laying on a street corner. But honestly, it's kind of a relief to wear comfortable shoes.

Julie White and Cady Huffman
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
TM: Did you keep any of Diane's clothes or her shoes?
JW: Our costume designer, Jeff, did give me this one pair of fabulous black patent leather sandals that were actually wearable. So I wore them to this audition in LA; but I also took a pair of flip-flops in a bag because I knew couldn't wear them all day. So I get to the audition, and they're keeping me waiting, and I walk past this adjoining room -- and who is there but Mickey Rooney! Now, you remember in Little Dog Laughed, I made fun of his horrible accent in Breakfast at Tiffany's. So now I'm hiding from him in case he knows who I am. Anyway, the audition was only fair, and then I went into the bathroom and switched shoes, and left the good shoes in the bathroom. I figure it was Mickey Rooney's revenge.

TM: So, where is the Tony Award now?
JW: Well, I bought this place in Park Slope back in November. But I didn't know getting a certificate of occupancy for a new apartment in New York was such a big deal. I haven't moved in yet, although the boxes have; so the tchotchke is in some box in the apartment. But I can't tell you anything more since someone might come in and steal it, even though Cady Huffman told me if you need to order a replacement it costs about the same as a frappuccino at Starbucks.

TM: Coming full circle, do you know the ultimate fate of your late, not-so-lamented sitcom?
JW: I don't think we've been officially canceled, but considering they had new material to put on during the strike and they didn't use it, that probably says something. I actually thought they were funny, but the show got such a critical drubbing. But there is talk about the remaining episodes being put out on DVD, so keep your ears on the ground for the complete Cavemen collection. All I can say is I had a wonderful time, and television pay always means mama can afford better shoes.

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