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Blythe Danner Looks Back on Early Acting Days in Play ‘The Infantry’

Blythe Danner, who’s receiving accolades for her performance in comedy-drama “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and will play the wife of the corrupt financier in the TV miniseries “Madoff,” is perhaps best known for being a mom — to Will Truman in “Will & Grace,” to Teri Polo in the “Meet the Parents” trilogy, and to Gwyneth Paltrow in real life. Celebrating her 50th anniversary in the entertainment industry, Danner earned her first mention in Variety for her part in 1966 play “The Infantry,” three years before her Tony-winning turn in “Butterflies Are Free.”

How did you land the role in “The Infantry?”

It’s a funny story. I auditioned for the part of this starving German girl, and I had to speak a few lines in German. I had come back from being an exchange student in Berlin the year the Wall was built. I was supposed to be starving, and everyone else that auditioned had been much heavier — at least that is what they told me. I got the role sort of by default.

What was the highlight?

It came and went so fast, and it was not a big role, I must have been onstage for five minutes. What I did was go to another repertory company, and did some Chekhov and Shakespeare there, and then came back and auditioned for things. “Butterflies are Free” came fairly quickly after that.

What did you take away from the experience?

Just to hang in there. I was with a really good group of actors. I was learning. No role was too small; and when you are training and learning, everything else just comes along. Work begets work. It was a great way to get my foot in the door.

What was the best part about that time in your life?

Having the energy and the curiosity to explore everything that came my way. I did such a variety of roles, and one of the great things about acting in general is it offers such a variety of character roles. I’m kind of glad that I’ve been a supporting actor my whole life, because you are given the opportunity to explore so many different roles.

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