It seems safe to say that Joan Allen has a pretty good handle on screen acting — she’s been nominated for three Oscars, after all. But on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast, Allen revealed that it took a long time for her to get comfortable in front of the camera.
“I found film completely opaque,” Allen recalled. “I [didn’t] understand how you have an emotion and do it out of sequence, and there’s all this chaos, and there are marks that you have to hit, and how do you not look down and hit your mark? … I would say it took me a good four or five years before I really felt, ‘Oh, the penny’s dropping. I think I understand this better now.'”
Allen took several years off from doing theater after her breakout Broadway roles in “Burn This” and “The Heidi Chronicles,” but she’s now back onstage in New York as part of the starry cast of “The Waverly Gallery.” The well-received production centers on an older woman, Gladys (played by Elaine May), gradually deteriorating due to Alzheimer’s, with Allen starring as Glady’s daughter. Audiences might think the show is tough territory for actors to visit every night, but Allen says it’s not that simple.
“I had lived through something like this and I thought, ‘Oh gosh, do I want to go there every night?'” the actress explained. “But ultimately, when you are in a situation like that, you really are troubleshooting a lot. Even with my own mother, we weren’t sitting there crying all the time, wringing our hands. It’s very active, actually. ‘What can I do? Maybe I can get her a cat.’ Or ‘I can’t fix that, but I can make dinner.’ You’re really looking for proactive things to do. And sometimes it is actually very funny. You have to laugh at the situation. I almost think that in some ways [the play] is maybe more difficult to watch than to be in.”
She also discussed the evolution of the kinds of roles she’s played across her film career — from meaty “wife roles” to political candidate to CIA team leader — and made her pick for the one movie of hers that she considers “close to perfect.”
New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on iTunes, Stitcher, or anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.