The scene: a rehearsal space at downtown Manhattan’s venerable Public Theater. The cast: five actors who have forsaken Hollywood salaries to work eight performances a week on Broadway. Laura Linney, 38, a 2000 Oscar nominee for You Can Count on Me, just won a Tony nomination for a revival of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible with Liam Neeson. Chris O’Donnell, 31, has temporarily transplanted himself, his wife, and two young children from Los Angeles to Manhattan and won unanimous praise for his stage debut in another Miller play, The Man Who Had All the Luck. Billy Crudup, 33, the ”golden god” of Almost Famous, is up for a Tony for his inventive, demanding work in The Elephant Man. His competition when the awards are telecast on CBS June 2 will include Jeffrey Wright, 36, who, under the direction of Mike Nichols, is re-creating his Tony-winning role in HBO’s adaptation of Angels in America by day and starring with Mos Def in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Topdog/Underdog by night; he and his wife, actress Carmen Ejogo, are also new parents to 6-month-old Elijah. And bravely stepping into Dustin Hoffman’s scuba gear, American Pie’s 24-year-old Jason Biggs, acting alongside Kathleen Turner, has helped turn The Graduate into one of New York’s hottest tickets. EW gathered them for a chat about the ups and downs of stage and film. Life being a little more like a high school cafeteria than you might suspect, stage vets Crudup, Linney, and Wright sat at one end of the table, and comparative newcomers O’Donnell and Biggs at the other. But all five were quickly engaged with one another.
EW You could all be doing movies right now. Why work on stage?
BILLY It’s hard to imagine in this country that there could be priorities beyond money. But we’ve all established enough security for ourselves that we’re comfortable doing theater. Sometimes I think theater gets the rap of being the wicked stepsister….
LAURA There’s a sense from the film community that you’re only in theater because you can’t get film. That’s hard for me to swallow.
JEFFREY I’ve had people ask me, ”Well, are you going to stick with this theater thing?” as if there’s no joy in craft. And it makes no sense. I find in theater that your previous work comes along with you in your present and future work — some sense of one ongoing character that you add layers and complexity to as you go. For me, it’s as honorable a thing as making a million dollars.
BILLY Theater is a living art form for me. I get something fundamentally provocative out of it for my life. And I think for a lot of people, it’s a dying art form. They don’t have the opportunity to see what it’s like to have a vital theater in your community.
JEFFREY It has this dying veneer in some ways. But still, I’ve never been to a movie and seen a standing ovation before. In the theater, there’s a human connection that you can’t mimic with technology. And for that reason, it will always have vitality. It’s hard to think of a more exciting place for an actor to be than 7:25 or 7:35 on a Thursday night, walking through the theater