×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Audra McDonald on Diversity, Marriage Equality and How to Be Meryl Streep

Audra McDonald is not only the winningest actress in Broadway history (with six Tony Awards and counting), she’s also a vocal activist and a new mom. A Variety Power of Women New York honoree for her work with homeless teens charity Covenant House, McDonald spoke to Variety about some of the issues closest to her heart.

Last season was the most diverse Broadway season in recent history. What kind of progress do you think has been made on that front?
I think there’s been a shift, at least in consciousness. People are much more aware. And every once in a while you’ll have a year that’s an anomaly where you have lots of diversity, and the next year you’re like, “Where’d everybody go?” But I think now, in the years that we have a “where did everybody go?” season, everybody’s aware that there’s a lack of diversity. I lucked out when I first started. At least Nick Hytner [who cast McDonald in her breakout role in “Carousel” in 1994] was thinking about it. If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have had my start.

You’re also a very active and vocal supporter of marriage equality. Why is it so important to you?
Some of the closest people to me in my lift are LGBTQ. I have family members that are LGBTQ. That they don’t have the same rights that I do is heartbreaking to me, and wrong. I just feel it in the very core of my being, the injustice. I think about the fact that it would have been illegal for me to be married to Will [Swenson, her husband and fellow Broadway actor] just a few decades ago. I can’t be silent. These are my friends. These are my family.

Popular on Variety

What issues in particular do you think we need to be vigilant about during Trump’s presidency?
All of it. All of it. We’re turning into an era with people in power who aren’t about taking care of others, or being their brother’s keeper, or sharing. It’s a very selfish time that we’re steamrolling into. We have to take care of each other. That’s everything to me, especially being a mom.

How do you fight against that selfishness?
Stay loud. Stay active. Keep also reaching across the aisle. That’s very important too, to make sure we recognize that there’s more commonality than we realize.

You just appeared in the mega-hit Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast,” and now you’re off to do “Lady Day” on stage in London. How does your screen work influence your stage work, and vice versa?
When I do the screen work, I go back to the stage with more focus on specificity, because stage things can often be big and broad since you’re having to hit the back of the house. But commitment to character, you get all that from theater. I find there’s more focus on 100% diving into something in the theater, and then I can take that back to screen work. Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to marry the two perfectly, so I’ll have really subtle, specific stuff with full 100% commitment. Then I’ll be Meryl Streep.

More Legit

  • Bess Wohl

    Listen: The Impossible Plays of Bess Wohl

    The playwright Bess Wohl is always chasing a wild idea — and she’s found that rather than scaring away her collaborators, it just makes them more eager. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I started my career thinking, oh, I’ll just write a play that’s really easy to do,” Wohl said on the latest episode [...]

  • Roundabout Theatre Company: Three New Plays

    Roundabout Theatre's Off-Broadway Season Adds Three Shows From Female Playwrights

    Roundabout Theatre Company, led by artistic director and CEO Todd Haimes, announced Tuesday that three female-written plays will be added to the 2020-2021 Off-Broadway season. Sanaz Toossi’s “English” will make its world premiere in fall of 2020, while Lindsey Ferrentino’s “The Year to Come” and Anna Ziegler’s “The Wanderers” will make their New York debuts [...]

  • Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant,

    Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant, Dies at 73

    Gregg Smith, a dancer, casting director and assistant choreographer who had a long association with director Kenny Ortega, has died. He was 73. Smith died on Jan. 1. The industry veteran worked as a performer in the national touring company of the musical “Hair” and in a Los Angeles production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He [...]

  • Frozen review musical

    Warmth and Humor Pervade Pantages Production of 'Frozen' the Musical

    In 2013, Disney’s “Frozen” hit screens like a 100 mile-per-hour snowball, sparking a pop cultural phenomenon in which little girls and boys pranced about dressed in Anna and Elsa and Olaf costumes while belting aloud “Let It Go,” Elsa’s feminist anthemic response to ice powers rendering her a societal outcast. The animated movie won two [...]

  • My Name Is Lucy Barton review

    'My Name is Lucy Barton': Theater Review

    Laura Linney is in love. Just watch the radiant expression on her face as she wraps her arms around the character of Lucy Barton, a role she played in two separate engagements at the Bridge Theater in London, and is now reprising on Broadway in “My Name is Lucy Barton.” The feeling is obviously mutual, [...]

  • 'Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal' to

    'Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal' to Air Weekly, Syndicate Nationally (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal” will become nationally syndicated, marking a first for a program about the Great White Way. Beginning in fall 2020, the monthly show will increase frequency to air weekly. The show is hosted and executive-produced by 12-time Emmy Award winner Tamsen Fadal, a news anchor at WPIX, the channel that initially [...]

  • Laura Linney My Name Is Lucy

    Listen: What Laura Linney Learns From Bad Shows

    For Laura Linney, every stage experience is a learning experience. “Even the bad ones!” she cheerfully declared on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “Even the ones that are really bad, and I’ve been really bad in some things,” continued the Emmy winner, currently back on Broadway [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content