Now, the story of “Our Very Own Carlin McCullough” centers around the triangular relationship between Cyn (Mamie Gummer), her tennis prodigy of a daughter (Abigail Dylan Harrison at 10 and Caroline Heffernan at 17), and her daughter’s coach (Joe Tippett), who seeks to make her a champion. But in the beginning of her writing process, Peet was writing Cyn for her “old, old pal” Paulson.
“I was writing it for Sarah because she does a weird Georgian accent. And the character was a drunk, racist mom from Georgia in the original incarnation of the play,” Peet shared with Variety after the opening night performance at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.
After the script went through more rewrites and iterations, Peet envisioned Gummer for the role of the conflicted mother figure instead. “I’ve been a really big fan of Mamie’s for a long time, and I particularly felt like she was really good at both comedy and drama. So she was someone I thought about very early on for the part,” Peet said.
While Gummer and Peet only knew each other peripherally prior to their involvement with the show, Paulson, who was in attendance at the world premiere on Wednesday evening, connected the dots between the two thespians.
Gummer, who signed on for an early reading for the play, explained, “I got an email or a text or something about the reading that Amanda was doing, a full year ago now. And I just loved the script. I sank deep and hard into the story.”
The role of Cyn appealed to the “True Detective” actress for its seemingly deceptive qualities. “There’s so much to mine in it,” she said. “It’s interesting in that tennis is like a metaphor. Love is a sport of sorts as well. And you can try to strike a balance between ambition and hope and what you want for your child and what you’re trying to protect them from, but you can’t protect them from loving. Those seeds are planted early on at 10, 11, and 12.”
While the story circulates around a star tennis player, Peet was not inspired to craft the narrative based on her own athletic experience. “I didn’t play tennis growing up, but I was really into the idea of having a burgeoning adolescent daughter because I’m about to have one,” she continued. “I liked exploring the idea of it not being your turn, that idea of your fall from grace or how do you reinvent yourself. That’s probably interesting for me as a middle-aged actress.”
Peet first started working on “McCullough” three years ago thanks to a call from Mark Duplass, who also came to see the performance. “I started with this idea for Mark for his show ‘Room 104.’ He just wanted me to write something that took place in a motel room,” she said.
The suggestion for Peet’s next move ended up coming from none other than D.B. Weiss. “Mark had a tiny slot that I didn’t make it into, but then my husband’s [David Benioff] partner was like, ‘You should make it into a play,'” Peet shared. “And then I started obsessing about it, driving around town having these blackouts, where I’d think of ideas, like, ‘She was a prodigy and then she was famous.’ And this whole thing started coming to me.”
The “Game of Thrones” links don’t end there either, as the Geffen’s artistic director Matt Shakman, who directed fan-favorite episodes of the HBO series like “The Spoils of War” and “Eastwatch,” proposed Peet fill the vacancy at the Playhouse left open after Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig” was pulled from the lineup.
“Matt said, ‘You need to decide right now if you think you can do enough rewrites and if you can get it ready in time.’ And I’ve learned not to say no to these things,” Peet said.
Peet and Gummer joked that the rehearsal and revision process continued until minutes before the opening night performance. “But really, they got new pages yesterday,” Peet said. “As an actress, I would call it a new speech. And then what’s worse than that is, like, little bitty lines here and there throughout the play.”
“It’s exciting though,” Gummer chimed in. “All the changes were positive and came out of moments where there were ripples and tears and really just filled them in.”
As for Broadway aspirations after the show finishes its run on July 29, Peet could only say “dare to dream.”
Also in attendance on opening night at the Geffen were Benioff, Sara Bareilles, Jason Bateman, Jay Duplass, Holland Taylor, Leslie Grossman, and Pedro Pascal.