With Two Weeks of Rehearsal, Elizabeth Reaser Tackles Neil LaBute's The Money Shot

The ”Twilight” actress stars in the comedy about Hollywood at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Elizabeth Reaser as Karen in Neil LaBute's The Money Shot, directed by Terry Kinney, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
Elizabeth Reaser as Karen in Neil LaBute's The Money Shot, directed by Terry Kinney, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

On August 18, Elizabeth Reaser was faced with the most unenviable task of stepping into the cast of a new play — Neil LaBute's new comedy, The Money Shot — a mere 18 days before the first preview. But this Juilliard-trained actress, most visible as Esme Cullen in all five Twilight films, jumped headfirst into the process with the help of director Terry Kinney and brought the MCC Theater production to the Lucille Lortel Theatre on schedule.

Despite her film and television career (and an Emmy nomination for her performance as Rebecca Pope on Grey's Anatomy), Reaser's first love is the stage. This is her first time treading the boards in New York since the acclaimed 2012 Second Stage revival of How I Learned to Drive, and she's loving every minute. Even the abbreviated rehearsal period.

What was it like to come into a brand-new play like The Money Shot two weeks into rehearsals?
It was very, very intimidating coming in under those circumstances. I've never done that. It's hard to even describe what missing two weeks of rehearsal is like. It sounds like "only two weeks," but it's in dog years. I missed all the table work, the beginning stages of blocking, the talking to the playwright and director, and the bonding. The work of those first two weeks is so important. And also, just memorizing all those words…it's very crazy.

How did you get through it?
I love to rehearse. I don't know if it would have been possible without a perfect piece of writing and our director, Terry Kinney. I came in, we had one table read, and then we immediately got onto our feet and started blocking. They were giving me a map of what had been the blocking and what they wanted the blocking to be, and we went from there. The more we did that, the more we started finding things. That's what's incredible about Terry: It still felt like I was getting to explore, and he made me feel like we had time, even though I had a clock ticking. And it was desperate and scary, but he made it really fun. It's such an incredible group of people. At this point, it has settled down a bit. I think I've caught up.

What interested you most about the play and your character, Karen?
I'm a big fan of Neil LaBute. I've always been a huge fan and I've known him for a long, long time. I just love his voice and I just thought it was hilarious. And also, it's different in some ways [from his other plays]. I always think he's hilarious; [his plays] can be very dark, but very, very funny. This play is more of a comedy than anything else. That’s what he's billing it as. It's different than some of his other works, but it's still very LaButian.

You recently tweeted that at your childhood home in Michigan, you had a license plate on your wall that says "NY-ACTRESS." Is doing theater in New York your dream come true?

— Elizabeth Reaser (@reasereaser) September 5, 2014

It really is. That's where that tweet came from. This is what I've always wanted to do…I remember being in New York with my dad and my little sister and seeing that license plate, one of those knickknacks that they sell in one of those shops, and I made my dad buy it for me. It's still on the wall in my old bedroom at my dad's house.

Do you have any bucket-list stage roles you'd like to play?
I do. Some of them I've outgrown. One is Abigail from The Crucible, and that's not gonna happen. I'd love to do Much Ado About Nothing, The Scottish Play, any of the Chekhovs. Long Day's Journey Into Night…I think I have some time.

Don't rush playing Mary Tyrone.
[laughs] I don’t want to rush that one. I read that, I think, in high school and from that moment on I was dying to play that role.

Is there more theater in your future, or are you going from this to more screen projects?
Hopefully, more theater. I don't have any commitments when this ends. I'm gonna relax a little bit. I had just come from another job, so I've been running around, which is really great. It's good not to have time to think about it sometimes. At least that's what I'm telling myself.

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