- Cover Story
Twenty Questions with Tony Winner Blair Brown
June 2, 2022
In 2000, Blair Brown won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Margrethe in Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen. Brown first appeared on a New York stage in the 1975 New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Comedy of Errors and boasts an impressive theatre resume including the 1989 Broadway production of Secret Rapture, the 1995 Lincoln Center Theater production of Arcadia, two runs as Frau Schneider in the 1998 and 2003 productions of Cabaret, and the 2006 production of The Clean House. She can currently be seen at Studio 54 as Ms. Innes in Tracy Letts’ The Minutes, playing through July 24th only.
On Screen, Brown appeared in the 1973 Oscar winning film, The Paper Chase, as well as in The Choirboy, Altered States, One Trick Pony, Stealing Home, and A Flash of Green. She received a Golden Globe nomination for her leading role opposite John Belushi in Continental Divide. She received a second Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in the TV miniseries Kennedy. She had a 5-year run on the television comedy-drama, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, where she received 5 consecutive Emmy Award nominations. In 2008, Brown appeared on the Fox television series The Fringe, and was featured as Judy King in 3 seasons of the Netflix comedy-drama series, Orange is the New Black.
We were fortunate enough to speak with Blair and get Twenty questions with a Tony Award Winner.
1. What were your first thoughts upon being nominated for a Tony Award?
Why wasn’t there an ensemble award? There still isn’t. I was in a three-character play, Copenhagen, and Michael Cumpsty and Phil Bosco and I were totally dependent on each other for our performances.
2. What were your first thoughts upon winning?
It’s just nice to win a prize even though we know it doesn’t really matter.
3. Do you have any fond memories from the night of the ceremony?
My son in a tux as my date. I got a chance to thank the brilliant wig maker, Paul Huntley, whose artistry in helping actors create characters was largely unrecognized, and I got to sing and dance Irish music on that huge Radio City stage in that gargantuan house. A nice night!
4. What is the biggest change you experienced after winning?
You get better billing. That’s it really.
5. Where is your award now?
In a cabinet mixed in with small ceramics my son made as a child.
6. Who has been a mentor in your career?
I never had a mentor but there were two actors that I wanted to be like: Marian Seldes and Roger Rees. They both brought such genuine joy and enthusiasm to this work they loved. I try to remember that.
7. What is the best advice you have received in your career?
One day in rehearsal at the Guthrie Theater playing Portia in The Merchant of Venice I was having a crisis of confidence. Michael Langham, the director, took me aside and basically said “You expect people to pay money to watch you think and feel so get on with it”. He said it in a slightly nicer way but that’s what he meant and it’s true, we do!
8. Do you have any preperformance rituals?
I make up different rituals for every show.
9. What is the last book you read?
I Just finished rereading A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders. A wonderful look at Russian short story writing that can inform what actors do creating characters.
10. What is a dream role of yours?
I wish I’d done more Shakespeare, more Shaw, more Restoration comedies. I was in the wrong country.
11. What previous role of yours had your favorite costumes?
My Favorite, most favorite costume was a gown designed for Camino Real by Michael Krass that was based on a 1950’s Dior petal dress. I shed sequins and petals wherever I walked. Divine!
12. Which of your previous roles did you feel most similar to?
I always felt Gretta in James Joyce’s The Dead was someone I could have been.
13. Which of your previous roles did you feel most different from?
When I was in drama school I was cast as a termagant in John Osbourne’s Live Like Pigs because I’d been complaining about playing ingenues. I had to look up the word and I was ridiculous as this older hardened prostitute!
14. Is there a role that you would like to revisit?
I’d like to revisit playing Prospera in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was such a rich and interesting experience to switch that protagonist’s gender, fascinating to feel the story play out differently. I’d like another shot at it with Emily Mann directing again.
15. What has been a challenge you’ve faced in your career?
The biggest challenge for me was trying to balance raising my son with the work I loved doing but also needed to do to support us.
16. What is a song that always makes you smile?
“Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” by Cole Porter always gets me smiling.
17. What is your favorite cocktail?
Danny Meyer’s Tabla on Madison Square used to make a Citrus Ginger Snap cocktail. Delish!
18. What is a place you would like to visit?
I want to see more of Scotland, those wild islands.
19. What is your favorite show tune?
No single show tune stands out. It’s a crowded field. Anything from Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. Or The Threepenny Opera. Or The Band’s Visit.
20. What is your favorite part of theatre?
My favorite part of theater is rehearsal and tech when the play emerges. Thrilling! My 2nd favorite is the moment after the Sunday matinee when you’ve run the 8-show gauntlet and you breathe a sigh of relief and accomplishment.