Sean Young has been making headlines for over 40 years, including her spectacular performances in such films as Blade Runner, No Way Out, and Dune. Now, she is making more headlines with her New York stage debut at the Actors Temple Theatre in Ode to the Wasp Woman, a new play written and directed by Rider McDowell about the last 48 hours in the life of four B-movie stars. Young portrays Susan Cabot, who starred in Roger Corman’s 1959 horror film The Wasp Woman, and who came to a tragic end in 1986.
TheaterMania recently chatted with Young about why she took the part, her concerns about doing the show, what similarities she sees between herself and Susan Cabot, and what’s left on her bucket list.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What convinced you to do this play?
After my agent suggested it, I called the director, because I did not know Rider. While I thought I could probably do the part, I believe talking to the director first is an important stage of agreeing to a project. He has a really eloquent style of communication, and he hasn’t been tainted by his own success, as so many people have. Those are both so important to me. Rider ultimately gave me a lot of confidence about doing the show. And no, I did not ask him if he had me in mind for the part when he wrote the play.
Do you have any personal recollections of Susan?
Yes, I do remember her as the Wasp Woman. I actually worked with Roger Corman once and he had a poster of the movie in his office. So I did watch the film, and it’s like the longest movie ever. They put a thing around her — some sort of masky headpiece — so she looks like a wasp. She has a headache before someone dies; then at the end, she falls out of the window. It was ridiculous. But she was actually very good.
You said you could probably do the part. What were your concerns?
There were two things I was initially afraid of. I have a lot of material to do, especially monologues. But it only took a few days to get them into my head. I’ve taken Omega-3 for 30 years and it really helps my memory. Second, no actress wants to be in a B movie — I’ve done A, B, C and D movies — never mind, play a B-movie actress. Plus, whenever you’ve been labeled anything in this business, it’s hard to run from it. And purging “crazy,” which I’ve been called, is a tough thing to do.
You didn’t see any similarities between you and Susan?
I don’t think Susan is anything like me. First of all, she was five-foot-two. And her story is very sad, Susan had a bad childhood. Her father left the family and her mother ended up in an insane asylum; that was not a happy start. The other big difference between Susan and me is I am a survivor — not everyone survives this business. The whole play is about how you prepare for fame. Still, I admit I was not prepared for my career in my 20s. Now, I know what I am dealing with. I know the slog of getting through the bad stuff and I have an inner strength now I didn’t have before. I am also in a place where I feel I can be freer when I act.
What do you think is the best part of your life?
Raising my kids — they are 25 and 28 now and they’re great. My younger son is a visual effects supervisor in film. I think my older son should be in the business; he’s always been a great performer, and he’s photogenic and charismatic. I believe if you get it right as a parent in the first three years, your kid will probably have a fabulous life full of security, reinforcement, and confidence.
What’s still on your bucket list?
I always wanted to be the female Gene Kelly. I was so enthralled with him. When I was 16, I sort of fell in love with ballet and modern dance. But I was too tall. When I was 18, I switched to studying tap-dancing in New York. I still take tap, it’s always a bit of learning curve. But I wasn’t going to be a dancer, so I moved into modeling and then made a quick jump into acting. It helps that I am a quick study. I would love to do a stage musical. I might be scared at first, but my confidence explodes by the third and fourth day, and then I feel totally solid.