Laurie Metcalf on Her Musical Theater Dreams, Being a Kid and the Tony Awards

Laurie Metcalf on Her Musical Theater Dreams, Being a Kid and the Tony Awards

Laurie Metcalf, it seems, has done it all. From her early days at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre to her highly lauded role on “Roseanne” and her triumphant successes on Broadway, Metcalf’s career spans four decades and encompasses a slew of iconic roles. But what remains on the actress’s bucket list?

“It’s my dream to be in a musical,” Metcalf (who claims to not have a good voice) said during a recent interview for “And the Tony Nominees Are…” “I’d love to know what that feels like to do that 11 o’clock number and have a big orchestra kick in underneath you.”

The actress is no stranger to the accolades of the stage. In the past two years, Metcalf has won back-to-back Tony Awards for her performances in Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” in 2017 and in the 2018 revival of Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women.” And now, she is up for a Tony Award for her role in yet another production by Hnath: “Hillary and Clinton.” The play, mounted at the Golden Theatre, goes behind the closed doors of Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign to examine the fictionalized interior of her world.

“It’s a theater actors dream to be on Broadway,” Metcalf said. “And then to be recognized on top of all of that — especially as somebody who didn’t grow up knowing anybody remotely in the field.”

Metcalf (and her beloved dog, Danvers!) sat down with ALL ARTS ahead of the Tony Awards to talk about how her theater roots stretch back to her childhood, how acting helped her overcome shyness and more.

Read the transcript from that discussion below, and check back for forthcoming episodes of “And the Tony Nominees Are…” with Peter Nigrini, Jennifer Tipton, Paul Tazewell and more as ALL ARTS counts down to the Tony Awards on June 9.

Laurie Metcalf and her dog, Danvers.

Laurie Metcalf:

We had a swing set in the backyard, and I would set up lawn chairs and charge admission for the neighbors to come and see me swing in time to music.

People paid. No idea what it was based in or why I thought people would want to see me do something. But I think I also, early on, felt a — I was very shy — and I felt a comfort in hiding behind a character. So it was a way of kind of cutting loose without being myself. And that felt good.

I was born in Carbondale, Illinois, and then moved to Edwardsville, Illinois, where I basically grew up — so, two Southern Illinois cities. And then I went on to Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.

I ran into a lot of kids who had a very, very strange accent, and I couldn’t figure out where they were from. And it turns out they were all from Chicago. Could have could have been a foreign land to me.

 I think we had two soundtracks. One was of “Gypsy” — can’t remember what the other one was. But I remember doing a lot of lip-syncing to those in the living room, where there was a picture window that had curtains on either side — sort of like a stage.

I knew even then that I didn’t have a very good voice. It’s my dream to be in a musical. I would have to, like, scream-shout something. Yeah, I’d love to know what that feels like to do that 11 o’clock number and have a big orchestra kick in underneath you. And I know it’s a lot of work. Nathan Lane always tells me, you know, it’s like 100 times harder than a regular play. And I believe him. But I still would really love to have that experience.

I went maybe once to see a play in St. Louis on a school trip. But when I was a junior in high school, for some reason, I got the nerve up to audition. And I got a very small, maybe three-line, role. I got weirdly hooked. I thought, “Oh, this would be a really great hobby to have.” I put that aside and then went to Illinois State University and majored in German. I did like language, and I did like interpreting, literally.

I fell in with a group at ISU, and we formed Steppenwolf Theatre. And it was still a hobby for the first couple of years. I thought it would last a summer, and I think it’s in its 40-something season right now.

We all grew together. I don’t think that I would have done it on my own. If I had launched out on my own I would have gone to an audition in St. Louis and not gotten it and then quit and been a secretary. But pick a show, pick a show, pick a show, you know. Just keep working. Keep amusing each other. That’s basically what it was. Make each other laugh. When it is years together, it really cements those familial feelings.

Being acknowledged by this group of theater people that I’m slowly starting to get to know and feel a part of because I was very late in coming to New York. And it’s a theater actor’s dream to be on Broadway. And then to be recognized on top of all of that — especially as somebody who didn’t grow up knowing anybody remotely in the field.

Want to see my dog? This is Danvers. My daughter is obsessed with “Supergirl,” and Supergirl’s alias is Kara Danvers. And so this is Danvers.

Top Image: Laurie Metcalf in "And the Tony Nominees Are..."