Actress Lois Smith’s long career has been marked by a remarkably consistent run of work across stage and screen, stretching all the way back to her 1952 Broadway debut in “Time Out for Ginger” (followed soon thereafter by her film debut in “East of Eden”). Since then, she’s collaborated with some of the theater world’s most legendary figures — and she revealed what she learned from them in the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast.
Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:
Among those greats was legendary acting instructor Lee Strasberg, recalled Smith, now on Broadway in “The Inheritance” (and also appearing in the upcoming Wes Anderson film “The French Dispatch”). From Strasberg, she learned to get as much out of watching other actors perform as she did out performing herself.
“I found it hugely informative, learning to both take responsibility for being up there [onstage], and to learn partly by watching others, and learning to incorporate that,” she said.
With “East of Eden,” she worked with another stage giant, the director Elia Kazan.
“He was such an actor’s director,” she said. “He had such an energetic and vivid way of asking for very specific things. When I watch [my] scene in ‘East of Eden’ I’m just amazed at how beautifully directed it is.”
Smith also cited one of her college acting teachers at the University of Washington as one of her biggest influences, adding she learned the most about acting and developed her work ethic from the university theater activities that kept her consistently performing week in and week out.
Asked about her part in “The Inheritance,” she admitted with a laugh that it’s a pretty cushy gig. She plays a major featured role that doesn’t appear onstage until late in the play’s two-show, seven-hour running time — which means her schedule sees her performing only three times per week.
“I think to myself, ‘Now what’s going to happen to me?'” she said. “This may be the end of me. Suppose somebody asks me to do eight shows a week, what am I going to say? It’s hard to imagine at this point!”
There are also benefits to being the lone female cast member among an ensemble packed with men.
“I have the best dressing room!” she laughed. “I have my own bathroom. It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s very nice.”
New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to Stagecraft on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and anywhere that finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.