Christine Lahti on Sexism in Hollywood, Her Play ‘F—ing A’ and Her New Book

Christine Lahti
Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock

After recent TV stints in series including “The Blacklist,” “The Good Fight,” and “Hawaii Five-0,” Christine Lahti’s latest gig is an Off Broadway play with an unprintable title. In Signature Theatre’s revival of the 2000 Suzan-Lori Parks play “F—ing A,” Lahti plays an abortionist in a blunt, Brechtian, politically charged fable (with songs!) that feels remarkably relevant for a play written more than 15 years ago. She sat down with Variety to talk about it.

Why this play?
When I first read it, I was so perplexed by it. I thought “Oh, this seems so stylized, and I’ve only done kitchen-sink, realistic theater.” But every time I read it, I got more and more intrigued and moved by how complex and epic it is. It’s “Mother Courage” meets “The Handmaid’s Tale” meets “Medea.” It’s Shakespearean almost, or Greek tragedy.

A lot of the issues it touches on feel really topical today.
Completely. The class issues in this play are palpable, and of course that’s what we’re dealing with now. And the gender issues are really striking, and obviously really relevant.

You sing in the play. Have you always been a singer, and we just never knew it?
No! I mean, I guess I sing, but would I call myself a trained singer? No, no, no, no. But I was told from the beginning this play is not a musical. It’s truly a play with music. I think of it like I’m acting a monologue, I just have to hit a certain note.

You’re very politically active, as a board member of Equality Now and a member of the advisory council of the ERA Coalition. Is it important to you that your activism be reflected in your work?
I have always felt, for better or for worse, that as an artist I have to be accountable. I’m not going to participate in putting out images that are demeaning to women. Because of that, I would pass on all these projects, and my agent would sigh and roll her eyes. I felt they were misogynistic or sexist. It’s important to me to play women who are complex and three-dimensional. They’re easier to find now — not in film, but in television.

Would you say that, overall, things have gotten better?
In some ways, it’s worse for women. You think about the number of women behind the camera — it’s deplorable. The good news is there’s an awareness of it now, and some people are really actively making it a mandate to hire 50/50. I’m optimistic, but there are still so many women on film who are eye-candy, or waiting at home in see-through negligee, while the man is out having incredible adventures.

It’s a topic that sounds like it ties in to the book you wrote.
It’s coming out in the spring from Harper Collins, a collection of personal essays called “True Stories From an Unreliable Eyewitness.” I developed them as monologues at first, and performed them at various tiny little cabarets and theaters in New York and L.A. That’s how I started writing and shaping and editing them — as an actor.

Do all the essays share a theme, or touch on similar subjects?
The subtitle is “A Feminist Coming of Age.” A lot of the stories are through the lens of trying to be a feminist, and often a stumbling one. Trying navigate through a ’50s upbringing that was really patriarchal and really suburban, and then trying to navigate through the sexism of Hollywood. A lot of them are about embracing my imperfections. And a lot of them are really funny!

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