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Elizabeth Perkins on Her Early Film, Stage Roles

Since breaking onto the A-list scene in 1989’s “Big,” Elizabeth Perkins has starred in numerous comedies and dramas, receiving critical acclaim for her roles in such films as “Avalon,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” the live-action “Flintstones” movie and “The Doctor.”

Perkins has also found success on television, garnering Golden Globe Award nominations for her supporting role in “Weeds.” She continues to make guest appearances on several hit shows, including “How to Get Away With Murder,” “GLOW” and “This Is Us.” She’s co-starring in the HBO miniseries “Sharp Objects.”

Early in her career, Perkins worked on many stage productions in New York City, including the show “Life and Limb.” Her first appearance in Variety came on Jan. 2, 1985, in the cast credits of the show.

What were some of your early goals during your days as a stage actor?

At that point you’re just thrilled you’re paying the rent. You think to yourself, “I’ve got an apartment and I paid the rent through my acting.” You don’t think — I didn’t think, anyway — “What am I going to be doing 10 years from now?” I remember just thinking, “How long does it take me to get to the theater from my house, and can I walk or should I take the bus?” Being able to write a check and support myself through only being an actor was pretty much the only goal I had at that point. It never occurred to me that I would ever do film or television.

What was your first day as a film actress like?

I got into a car accident on the way to the set, and I was two hours late because the police showed up. But thank God our director was quite kind to me about it. The very first shot that we did was a scene that never made it to the film, where my character has sex with Jim Belushi in the back seat of a car.

Sounds abrupt.

I remember thinking as it was happening, “This can’t be moviemaking; there’s got to be more to it than this.” I’m literally in the back seat of a car with Jim Belushi, and we’re having fake sex, and I’m having to moan and scream after having a car accident on the way to work. So, it wasn’t great.

Do you have an early play audition that really sticks out to you?

I remember my audition for “Brighton Beach Memoirs” profoundly. The whole thing was very bizarre, because instead of just coming onto the set and saying my monologue, I made the very offhanded decision to — and the set was a two-story house — to run up the stairs, open every door, go into every single room and exit slamming each door behind me. I came downstairs, ran backstage, came out through the kitchen into the dining room, back through the kitchen door and back into the living room the whole time I was doing the monologue. I just kept running.

How did the casting folks respond?

I don’t think anyone had ever done that with the role, so they just got really quiet in the theater, and [director] Gene Saks said, “Why did you do that?” And I said, “Well, she’s really, really excited to tell people about her story, so I figured she’d want to tell everybody in the house.” He ended up keeping it in the play, and they offered me the role that afternoon.

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