Advice for an actor — Don’t show it, be it

Kate Mulligan of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival will be playing Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast” next season. Mulligan, with her husband, Brent Hinkley, came to OSF from Los Angeles after longtime affiliations with Tim Robbins and The Actor’s Gang. I visited with Mulligan at Mix Bakeshop in Ashland. It is surprising that this trim, young, attractive woman is such an accomplished character actor. This is the first of a two-part column. The second will be published on Nov. 14.

EH: As an actor, what was your attraction to theater?

KM: I was drawn to the danger of live theater: You don’t get to stop and take another take; things go wrong all of the time, and, “How do you tap dance around it, to make sure that nobody sees all the disaster that’s occurring?”

Doors started opening, and I walked through all of them. I learned what I love, what I was good at, how I could improve, and to have great respect for all aspects of the job. I’ve learned how to take criticism well because I’ve gotten a lot of it.

EH: Do you have a theory of acting?

KM: I worked with this incredible acting coach named Peggy Feury. She taught me, “Don’t show anything: Be that. Don’t show me you’re sad, be sad. Don’t show me you’re angry, be angry.” We all have that inside of us. If you don’t try to manufacture it, if you don’t try to mimic somebody you saw, but if really comes from you, the audience is going to believe it, because it’s true. Then, you find a way to channel that through these different people that you’re playing. The authenticity of those feelings and emotions will read to an audience as a true person.

EH: How do you channel those extreme characters, such as the alcoholic mother in “Roe” or Blanche in “Streetcar Named Desire”?

KM: I would observe people and how they treated one another. You meet horrible, huge, larger-than-life people and wonderful people. As an actor, not only do you have access to it, because you’re looking for it, but then you have the ability, at some point, to find a way to transfer that knowledge into action, to create a human being that somebody is going to look at and say, “I know her.”

Blanche Dubois was the most challenging role I’ve ever done. I can’t imagine anything topping the challenge of playing an incredibly broken, fragile, woman who is desperately trying to succeed and survive. You have to go there in your body, on a cellular level — fight or flight, “I am terrified; I am angry” — and you feel those things. While you are playing these people, you have to convince yourself that you are powerful and strong and can do the lifting of a three-hour play. Then you have to find a way to strip it off at the end of the day.

EH: How do you strip it off?

KM: I’m not Blanche. Blanche has the weight of the world of the world on her shoulders. I don’t. I get to brush that off at the end of the day. At the core of my life, I’m a very happy person. I’m very lucky. I’m very grateful. I get to do things that are really fun with people that I love.

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