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Mamie Gummer Goes to School

The talented actress discusses starring in CSC's The School for Lies, ABC's Off the Map, and mom Meryl Streep.

Mamie Gummer in The School for Lies
(© Joan Marcus)
In David Ives' The School for Lies, now playing at Classic Stage Company, Mamie Gummer takes on the role of Celimene, the beautiful and sassy love interest to Hamish Linklater's sarcastic, world-weary Frank. The stage and screen actress recently spoke with TheaterMania about her work in Ives' adaptation of Moliere's The Misanthrope, playing doctor on the new ABC series Off the Map, and advice she's received from mom Meryl Streep.

THEATERMANIA: Is this your first experience with Molière?
MAMIE GUMMER: I did some scene work in school, but I haven't really done anything too extensive. It's definitely outside my comfort zone. It's the farthest thing from Chekhov or something where you're kind of able to work in between the lines a bit more and then use it with your own interpretation. With this, everything is in the words.

TM: How do you see The School for Lies as different from The Misanthrope?
MG: We're prancing around in period dress while saying "LOL" and "douchebag." It's just a modern kind of interpretation. I think it's also lighter than the original.

TM: Do you relate to Celimine at all?
MG: I think Celimene has gotten a bit callous. She's hardened by the loss of her husband and her heart, as she says. It's like when we were in high school -- when we used to just cut people down to make ourselves feel better because really everyone is in some kind of torment. I remember being tormented as a kid. I had a really awful haircut, I had glasses, I was fat. I did theater. There was plenty to work with! And then finally, I was in this position where I could dish it out. I had to check myself.

TM: What do you look for in a role?
MG: It just has to grab me. I remember not being able to put this play down. I think I read it in about an hour. I was just giggling to myself and I was impressed and tickled by the way David uses language in this play. It's just so clever. I got excited, and I thought, "Well, that has to be me!' Also, if I see something that scares me, if it's a challenge, then that's appealing as well, especially in theater. I feel more free to experiment in that way.

TM: What is your dream role in theater?
MG: I'd love to play Bananas one day in The House of Blue Leaves. That's a great part. I did it in college.

TM: What experience did you gain from your being part of Off the Map?
MG: It was fun living in Hawaii, and I really enjoyed working with my castmates. I learned a lot in terms of kind of rolling with the punches and just going for it in full. And now, from playing a doctor, I can put on BandAids and administer very basic CPR!

TM: In which ways did your mother inspire you to pursue a career as an actor?
MG: I think it was just being in the presence of it growing up. It's what I've always been familiar with, in the same way that someone might be inclined to become a lawyer if their parent was a lawyer. It was just the world in which I was raised. I wish I could draw -- maybe I would have been an artist!

TM: Has your mother had any advice for you?
MG: She has plenty of advice. Most importantly, she says to generally be a good person and not do stupid things. .