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With two Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Play under her belt (1983’s “Steaming” and 1985’s “Hurlyburly”), Judith Ivey adds yet another must see performance to her impressive repertoire as she brings Amanda Wingfield, Tennessee Williams’ iconic mother character in “The Glass Menagerie,” to Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum this month.

Though the stage is where Ivey’s career began, and continues to flourish, audiences may recognize the actress from her many film and TV roles including Keanu Reeves’ evangelical Christian mother in The Devil’s Advocate, or as Texan B.J. Poteet on the final season of “Designing Women,” and most recently, in an Emmyworthy performance as Edie Falco’s terminally ill friend, Nurse Paula, on Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie.”

Venice Magazine recently sat down with Ms. Ivey, fresh from a dress rehearsal of “The Glass Menagerie.”


Your acting career has been this fascinating mixture of TV, film, theater, commercials, recorded books — and also, directing for the stage. Was there a game plan when you first started out?

Judith Ivey:

I never even thought about being in movies. I did theater. Then, I did a play on Broadway called “Steaming,” and as a result I was asked to screen test for David Lynch’s Dune. It was for the role of The Queen. David said to me, “You may be too young for this, but I just have to see.” So I did it and he was like, “Oh my God, I’ve just found her!” And then I didn’t get it. But I never thought about movies until that happened, and that event kind of teased me. And out of “Steaming,” I landed my first films which were Harry and Son with Paul Newman, and The Lonely Guy.

I saw The Lonely Guy recently. You and Steve Martin were such a great couple in that film.

[Laughs] Oh my God. After three weeks of shooting, Steve Martin said, “I think her hair should be curly.” So they permed my hair, and then they had to somehow match the hairdo I had in the earlier scenes with “the ’80s kinky-curls” of the later shoots, and they did a pretty damn good job, but all of a sudden I have a different hairdo in it.

And around that same time you played Gene Wilder’s wife in The Woman in Red

Charles Grodin was also in “The Lonely Guy” and at the time Gene Wilder was looking for someone to play his wife in The Woman In Red and Charles said, “Hire her.” And Gene did! Just off of Charles’ recommendation. I didn’t even audition. So within one year I did three major films.

And all those opportunities came out of “Steaming.” Interesting how your theater work led to your feature film break. Maybe there’s a lesson in that for actors.

I’m not sure it’s still the same though. This was 150 years ago. [laughs]

And now you’re playing Tennesee Williams’ Amanda Wingfield.

I love her. I’ve wanted to play her since English class. I actually had my own mother as my high school English teacher, and she taught us “The Glass Menagerie,” and the way she taught it was to have it read out loud, and I read Amanda. I had no plans on being an actress, I was originally going to be a painter. But after I read that part, I thought, “Someday I want to play that part onstage.” She’s been played by so many actresses over the years. I tend to focus on the positive side of her.

Los Angeles is the third city for this production of “The Glass Menagerie,” and the cast has remained the same except for the role of The Gentleman Caller (played here by Ben McKenzie).

Right. It’s become like a metaphor. We’re always looking for a gentleman caller. [laughs]

Do you channel people or women you’ve known when you play Amanda?

The constant talking and the cheeriness is my mother. The voice and that crackle in Amanda’s throat is my grandmother. And there’s a wonderful family friend named Imogene, and Amanda’s loud nervous laughter to fill the spaces sort of comes from her.

Is there a line or monologue that Amanda says that resonates with you as the heart of that character?

Well, I think that speech to her daughter about dependency is an amazing moment for her. That to me is the driving force behind Amanda Wingfield – to not be dependent. When you think about it, she came from enough money to have servants, and here she is counting the coins.

Things took a painful turn somewhere.

Real bad turn. [laughs]

But we benefit from that bad turn as an audience. Kind of twisted. There’s a line that Amanda says that resonates with me. It’s about things turning out badly.

(in Amanda’s southern drawl) “Things have a way of turning out so badly.”

I love that line!

For me, the Amanda line that resonates is “Rise and shine.” My own mother always used to say that to me.

So you’re still mixing it up with film, theater, and TV.

Well, trying. You know you become that woman of a certain age and the acting parts become more scarce.

You’re a woman of an awesome age.

Yeah, well, they’re still not writing enough parts for us women of an awesome age.

You also have an impressive array of directing credits.

Thank you! Part of the reason I started directing is people would say, “You see the big picture. You should direct.” And I would say, “No, just because you’re good at acting doesn’t mean you’re good at directing, and vice versa.” These guy friends would say, “I have this theater in L.A. Would you direct here?” And I did. I lived in Los Angeles for nine years, but I live in New York now.

What’s on the horizon when “The Glass Menagerie” concludes?

I have too many projects lined up after. [laughs] I’m doing a workshop for a play I’ve been nurturing called “A Short History of Women.” Then I go into rehearsals with Gordon Edelstein (director of “The Glass Menagerie”) to do “Shirley Valentine” at the Long Wharf in Connecticut. And then I go to Atlanta to direct a new play called “Carapace,” and then there’s a chunk of, hopefully, rest period [laughs], and then way down the line in May I’m going to direct Darrell Hammond (from SNL) in “Tru,” a one person show about Truman Capote out at Bay Street on Long Island. Pretty busy!

And you have a birthday this month (September 4th)…

Yes, I do. I remember I was doing two Broadway shows on my 47th birthday, and after the evening show, I had an inspiration to go to the sound guy and ask him if he’d play Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard For The Money.” I gave him the cassette tape to play to the house. After our bows, I said to the audience, “Today is my birthday,” and they all clapped. Then I said, “And since it’s my birthday, and I did two shows today, what I want is for everybody to join in a conga line and we’re going to go all around the theater.” The cast didn’t know I was going to do this. We came down into the audience in this huge conga line when the music started. It was a blast.

So opposite of what Amanda says in “Glass Menagerie, “Things have turned out not so badly here.”

I have two beautiful children, and a great husband. Not bad at all. 􀀀

“The Glass Menagerie” runs through October 17th at the Mark Taper Forum in downtown Los Angeles. For more info and tickets, check out:

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