‘THE HUMANS’: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SARAH STEELE
‘THE HUMANS’: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SARAH STEELE
‘THE HUMANS’: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SARAH STEELE
June 21, 2018ALEX NAGORSKI
(Please Note: This interview was originally published in April 2016 when The Humans was playing on Broadway. The Tony Award-winning play is now playing with Sarah Steele reprising her role in Los Angeles through July 29th at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre located in DTLA.)
At only 27, Sarah Steele already has decades of accomplishments under her belt.
After her breakout role in the film Spanglish, Steele has gone on to nab appearances on television shows like Gossip Girl, Nurse Jackie, Blue Bloods, and Girls. Her recurring part as voice-of-reason Marissa Gold on The Good Wife has made her a fan-favorite throughout the acclaimed series, and her scene-stealing turns in films like Adult Beginners, Margaret, Please Give, and the upcoming Viena and the Fantomes have made hers a true name to watch.
Currently starring on Broadway in the acclaimed The Humans (which we reviewed here), Steele spoke with me about the play, the fast-approaching series finale of The Good Wife, and much more.
NAGORSKI: What initially attracted you to The Humans?
STEELE: Well, (playwright) Stephen Karam is a great friend of mine. We’ve been friends for years. I did his first play in New York, Speech and Debate, when I was 19 and a freshman in college. He kind of wrote The Humans with me in mind, which I was aware of for a couple of years. Then I became attached and did a bunch of readings of it starting around 2013 or 2014. So I’ve just been with it since the beginning.
What is it about his writing that made you want to go back and collaborate with him again?
His writing is super naturalistic and I just really understand it. After reading his first play, there was something about it that made me just think, “I get this, I know how to do this.” More so than any other writer even. There’s just something about him that I understand. And actually, with the first play that I did of his, I sent it to a friend of mine and he read it and said, “This almost sounds like it was written for you.” Stephen and I didn’t know each other yet, but something about the cadences of some of the female characters that he writes just really come sort of naturally to me. I can feel how they’re supposed to be done. We have a lot in common and now that I know him better, I feel like it all sort of makes sense.
Before transferring to Broadway, the show played an acclaimed off-Broadway run. How, if at all, did it change when you moved into the Helen Hayes Theater?
We were lucky in that it didn’t really change much at all. The script didn’t change, but the space is way better for the show. It sort of hugs the show in a way and the acoustics are better so we don’t have to yell at all. That’s really helpful since it’s such a naturalistic play, so to not have to balance being natural and projecting our voices at the same time is great. I think if anything, it got a little bit more naturalistic and a little bit faster, but that’s about it. Other than that it’s really been very much the same.
While The Humans is laugh-out-loud funny, it also tackles some very serious and heavy topics. It’s difficult to label it as simply either a comedy or a drama. How would you describe the tone of the show?
I think I would describe it as just very life-like, you know? If you’re just watching a family, it is going to be funny. You can tell when people’s buttons are being pushed and that’s funny. But I think that the laughs are really laughs of recognition and laughs of relating to what’s going on on stage. So to me, it just seems like very life-like and accurate in that sense.
One of the things that I found so endearing and loved so much about the play was that despite the fact that there are some shocking revelations, the Blakes never seem to turn on one another in their times of need. What is it about their dynamic that you think makes them so unbreakable?
That’s interesting. In plays, we’re very used to seeing high drama. But I think that with something as realistic as this is, it’s important to see that the family really loves each other and that they really want everything to work and be okay. Any fighting is coming out of places of “let’s really solve this problem” and “how do we solve this problem and still be together and still love each other?” as opposed to flying off the handle and not trying to fix it. When the revelation happens at the end, they’re trying to fix it. They’re not just flipping out at each other and I think that’s just because they’re a family that really loves each other. Mistakes are made, but they want everything to be okay. And they’re putting that before anything else.
In the show, Brigid talks about how much she’s struggling to balance her bartending job to pay her bills with her dreams of pursuing a career as a musician. If you could give her advice on this topic, what would it be?
Well, one thing that she’s particularly struggling with at the moment of the play is getting this recommendation letter from one of her professors. She’s sent out a bunch of applications that contain this recommendation letter than she didn’t know was so bad. And I guess I would just say to her, “You can’t really worry what anybody thinks of your work. You have to just put your head down and keep doing your work and working hard.”
Despite the fact that they seem highly skeptical about Richard, Brigid’s parents are anxious for her to get married. Why do you think that is? And do you hope to/plan on get married one day yourself?
I think that the wanting her to get married has more to do with the fact that she has moved in with this man. I think they don’t necessarily want her to marry Richard, but they don’t want her to live with someone to whom she’s not engaged. So I think it comes more out of that, which is extremely frustrating. Brigid is of a different generation and she feels like she should live with someone before deciding to live with them forever. So I think that’s very frustrating for her. For myself, I think that I would like to get married someday. But I do agree with Brigid that I would never do it unless I had lived with that person and sort of knew what I was getting into in that regard.
What are Thanksgiving dinners like at your home?
Much more peaceful! Oh they’re great. There’s usually a lot of extended family at my Thanksgivings and that is sort of a whole different set of drama. You’re not just dealing with your immediate family, you’re also dealing with your extended family’s problems with their individual families too. That can always get dicey, but when it’s just me and my immediate family, it’s the tops!
What can you tease about the upcoming final few episodes of The Good Wife?
So sad! Not much, actually. The only sort of interesting thing that I could tell you is that I have no idea how it ends.
Yeah! A lot of us have no idea how it ends. That information was kept very tight and many of us are going to be experiencing it just like the viewers will be.
Where do you see Marissa Gold ten years from now?
What a question! Oh gosh. Well, maybe this is a little bit of a tease. She sort of decides at the end that she wants to maybe become a lawyer. So I’d like to think that she is sort of someone like Diane eventually in her life, you know. That would be very cool.
Recently, I interviewed Alan Cumming, who plays your father on The Good Wife. I asked him what his campaign slogan would be if he were running for President in 2016. His response was, “Shut up, stupid people!” So now I ask you the same question. What would your campaign slogan be?
Oh my god, I have no idea! I think Marissa’s would just be like, “Everybody relax.” Everybody’s always flipping out around her and she’s always the one to be like, “Let’s just all relax and think rationally for a second.”
You’ve been acting for most of your life, having made your film debut in 2004’s Spanglish alongside Adam Sandler. What made you realize you wanted to be an actress?
You know, it’s funny. I was 8-years-old and I had been doing all kinds of different things. I’d been doing sports, I’d been doing ballet, and none of it really felt quite right to me. Then one day at recess, I remember this one kid said to me, “Oh I’m taking acting classes in the city.” And I remember feeling extreme jealousy and having this revelation in that moment. I was like, “That‘s what I’m supposed to do. I’ve been wasting my time with ballet and sports and other stuff. And that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.” It’s not like I had acted ever before, but I really just had this deep feeling. I just knew.
You made your Broadway debut in The Country House alongside Blythe Danner in 2014. Which do you find to be a more gratifying and/or a more challenging medium, the stage or the screen? Why?
That’s a good question. I prefer the stage. They’re very different challenges because acting on TV and film can for theater actors feel nerve-racking and sort of boring at the same time. There’s a lot of waiting around, but it’s a high stakes job. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really fun and I love it, but there’s something about theater that’s much more freeing and active. So I do prefer the stage – but then again it is difficult to do eight shows a week for months and months and months and keep it fresh. So they both come with different challenges, but at the end of the day, I really do prefer the stage. There is no way that I would do this for a job without theater.
Piggybacking off of the previous question, what are your dream roles both on stage and on screen?
It’s funny, someone actually asked me this recently and I had no answer. My mind just doesn’t like to think that way. I guess I’d love to do some of the Shakespearean roles where you’re pretending to be a man for a while. And I would like to do something where I legitimately played a male role, like Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar or something. I’ve always wanted to do that. There are a lot of great male roles out there. But I struggle to think of existing female roles that I’d really want to play. I do so many contemporary plays so I don’t think that I really come at in that way of thinking of pre-existing parts.
In the movie The To Do List, you sing the classic song, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” Any chance that your next Broadway endeavor could be a musical?
I would love that! I started off in musical theater and I’m always kind of trying to get my foot in the door there. So I hope so! I do some work with Shaina Taub, a composer who was just in Old Hats. I’ve done workshops of some of her musicals. I’m hoping that if one of those goes, maybe I could be in one of them!
The finest new play of the Broadway season. The Humans is a major discovery, a play as empathetic as it is clear-minded, as entertaining as it is honest. A bright light shines forth from it, the blazing luminescence of collective artistic achievement. CHARLES ISHERWOOD THE NEW YORK TIMES
It is the most, well, human play I’ve ever seen about fear and disappointment and the attachments that transcend them. JESSE GREEN THE NEW YORK MAGAZINE
It’s hard to think of another play that has dealt with the realities of life with such compassion. Truly remarkable and exceptionally moving. Few writers of Karam’s generation have achieved anything quite like The Humans. CHRIS JONES CHICAGO TRIBUNE
What Broadway needs more of: extraordinary Humans. The Humans is the sort of impeccably constructed play that should be a regular inhabitant on Broadway, not the occasional, surprising guest. PETER MARKS THE WASHINGTON POST
The best play of the year. The Humans resonates long after the actors have taken their bows. DAVID ROONEY THE HOLLYWOOD
NOW PLAYING AT DTLA’S
AHMANSON THEATRE THRU JULY 29
Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell reprise their Tony Award®-winning performances in The Humans, exclusively at the Ahmanson. Stephen Karam’s The Humans is an uproarious, hopeful, and heartbreaking play that takes place over the course of a family dinner on Thanksgiving. Breaking with tradition, Erik Blake has brought his Pennsylvania family to celebrate and give thanks at his daughter’s apartment in Lower Manhattan. As darkness falls outside the ramshackle pre-war duplex and eerie things start to go bump in the night, the Blake clan’s deepest fears and greatest follies are laid bare. Our modern age of anxiety is keenly observed, with humor and compassion, in this new American classic that won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Play. Led by two-time Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantello, the cast also includes previous Broadway company members Cassie Beck, Lauren Klein, Nick Mills, and Sarah Steele.
Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he primarily focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. After growing up in Poland, Germany, and Russia, Alex spent several years living in New York before moving full-time to the Berkshires in Massachusetts. To read more from Alex, check out his blog, Headphone Infatuation, and follow him on Twitter @AlexNagorski.