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Elizabeth Reaser Takes A Drive

The popular star discusses returning to the stage in How I Learned to Drive, fan reaction to her role in the Twilight series, and returning to Grey's Anatomy.

Elizabeth Reaser in
How I Learned to Drive
(© Joan Marcus)
Elizabeth Reaser has lent her considerable talents to blockbuster films such as the Twilight series, low-budget movies such as Sweet Land, and such hit TV series as Grey's Anatomy and The Good Wife, on which she'll make another appearance later this season.

Currently, she's starring in Second Stage's revival of Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, How I Learned to Drive, as Li'l Bit, a teenager who is taught to drive while being seduced by her uncle (played by Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz). She recently spoke with TheaterMania about the show, her own body issues, and fan reactions to Twilight.

THEATERMANIA: What was your first experience with How I Learned to Drive?
ELIZABETH REASER: I remember I was in school when it premiered. But I didn't want to go see it, because I thought it was about something bad, and I didn't want to go there. I didn't realize it was this really funny, moving, theatrical, amazing play. I was a fool in that sense. So then when I got the offer, I completely flipped out and said yes immediately!

TM: What are the challenges you're finding in returning to theater after so many years in film and TV?
ER: Coming back with a great play is half the battle for me, because it is a hard thing after big movies. As a film actor, you barely need to be heard. You can mumble and look the other way and no one cares. It was a big deal for me to remind myself that I was doing a play, and that I need to be heard, seen, and understood, but those things came back rather quickly.

TM: You get to play all different ages throughout the play? How did you get in the mindset of the different teenage years?
ER: Those were the most intense years of my life between 13 and 19, so I just instinctually connect to those ages. It's been so fun to jump into those years and fall in love for the first time, or be uncomfortable, or be silly. Norbert and I jumped in and we started playing around. The words shaped what I was doing, and actually made it clear what age I was and informed how I moved and spoke. My parents had gotten divorced when I was 12, and that was a tricky time; I was just starting to go through puberty, and I was feeling really isolated even though I have a wonderful family. I just felt like shit all the time. The highs were really high and the lows were horrible, and as a teen you feel like you don't belong and every day is terrifying and heightened. I was also a bad kid at those ages. In high school I started to skip class, and had older boyfriends, and would tell my parents to f**k off.

TM: One of the central themes of the play is body issues. What did you hate most about your body when you were a teenager?
ER: I always thought that my legs were fat, which is the dumbest thing, especially when I look back on my tiny little body. It's the silliest thing ever. It's such a shame that you waste those years thinking you're not good enough.

TM: Li'l Bit has a few quite funny, yet disturbing, chats with her family about the birds and the bees. What was the most awkward conversation you ever had with your family?
ER: My family was really weird. My mother was Swedish, and in her eyes, you just don't talk to your family about sex at all. The most mortifying experience of my life was when I first got my training bra, because my family was teasing me about it. They were getting a kick out of it because I was so little. I was about eleven and it was hilarious to everybody but me. It was terrible.

TM: How did you learn how to drive?
ER: I would have sleepovers with friends, and then steal their parents' cars or their brothers' friends' car in the middle of the night and drive around the back roads of Michigan. We were really bad. I got in trouble for stealing my dad's girlfriend's car at one point when I was about 14, and I actually got busted because I got in a car accident -- no one got hurt -- so I wasn't allowed to get my license right away. I was going crazy chomping at the bit. I was a total natural when I did finally get it.

TM: What is the most memorable thing that has been said to you about your role as Esme in Twilight?
ER: A lot of kids say that they want me to be their mom. Then there are people who like sexy moms. It's all very flattering and sweet.

TM: Did you have a favorite book series when you were younger?
ER: This is going to sound so horrible, but when I was depressed I would smoke a ton of pot and read a ton of Sweet Valley High books. I loved those characters. I stopped smoking pot a long time ago!

TM: Any chance you'll reprise your role on Grey's Anatomy?
ER: I would love to go back and see what Karev is up to. Any time it's on, I will immediately get sucked in, even if I don't know what's going on, I just love it. People need to pressure Shonda Rimes to have me back!