Entertainment » Theatre

Judith Light :: On Broadway (in Lombardi) & passionate as ever

by Jim Halterman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Dec 13, 2010

Whether you know her from her infamous stint on daytime's One Life To Live, Angela on the long-running sitcom Who's The Boss?, Jeanne White in The Ryan White Story or Claire Meade on Ugly Betty, one thing is constant with actress Judith Light - her long-lasting support of the LGBT community. Light has always been there for the gay community even back in the days when it wasn't socially accepted and could spark career suicide and, in talking with her as EDGE's Jim Halterman did recently, she's still as passionate today.

When the ABC series Ugly Betty unexpectedly came to an end earlier this year, one would expect to find the always in-demand Light pop up on another TV series, perhaps her recurring role as a judge on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. However, Light has taken an unexpected path and is currently appearing on Broadway playing the role of Marie Lombardi, wife of famed Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi in the Eric Simonson play, Lombardi.

While there may very well be gay football fans out there, the question that still comes to mind is what are Light's devoted gay followers going to find interesting in a play revolving around a real-life football coach no matter how inspiring the story may be? According to Light, plenty. Besides explaining her reasons for thinking the gay audience will definitely connect with the play,

Can gay audiences connect with Lombardi?

EDGE: Let’s start with the obvious first question - what is there in Lombardi that gay audiences will really connect to?

Judith Light: As far as I’m concerned, this show is about humanity, courage, inspiration, love and being the best person you can possibly and I can’t think of another community that would relate to that more because that is who they are. I just had a lot of my friends come to the show who are gay and they said ’We thought it was going to be all about football.’ There is a lot of football in it and a lot of them are football fans but they said they were really surprised at the level of the relationships and the complexities of the relationship that Vince Lombardi had with his wife, who I play, and also with his players. They found that incredibly interesting and I think a lot of people will too. People are fooled because they just see the title and they think it’s only about this iconic mythic hero but it’s about this human being and this man and what he went through and what his wife and children had to deal with because of his one-pointed vision of really bringing people up to a kind of level of their uttermost best and what it cost him to do that and have that vision.

EDGE: Since this is a real-life story, does that change how you approach your research and preparation for the role?

JL: Most definitely and that’s such a good question because there’s a lot available on Marie. Most of the information I took was from David Maraniss’s book When Pride Still Mattered: The Vince Lombardi Story. David had won the Pulitzer for his reporting on Bill Clinton. He’s such a wonderful writer that this book was really our Bible. In fact, our playwright, Eric Simonson, extrapolated pieces and stories and information from David’s book in order to write the play so I had a lot to go on from the book. Then they gave me a video and a tape of Marie and I started listening to it and I said ’Oh my gosh, I’m going to be in trouble. If I end up listening to this, I’m afraid I’m going to do an impersonation of Marie Lombardi and I won’t be doing the character and the essence of her.’ So I said ’I’m not going to listen to it and I’m not going to watch it.’

Eric Simonson is such a good writer that when he wrote the play he gave us Marie and I knew I could draw on that. I also knew that I had the brilliance of our director, Tommy Kail, who would be able to guide me if I was going in the wrong direction. I’m working with some of the top actors in the country right now. Dan Lauria (best known for playing the Dad on The Wonder Years), who is an old friend of mine from years ago, I’m working with Christopher Sullivan, who was just nominated for a Jefferson Award in Chicago, Bill Dawes, who is not only an extraordinary actor, he’s also a stand-up comic and Keith Nobbs, who was in the HBO special The Pacific. The work of the men that are around me are really helping me do Marie so in that way it’s a very different kind of approach for a role for me.

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Watch this preview of Lombardi

Watch this interview with Judith Light on the Wendy Williams Show:

A New Jersey accent

EDGE: I saw a clip online from the play and Marie has quite the accent. How has that been to master?

JL: Yes, the first line when I’m introduced is that ’Marie has a regal, New Jersey accent.’ Thank God for Stephen Davis, the dialogue coach who worked with us and guided us through those accents. They’re very tricky. Everybody has different accents and everybody sounds just a little bit different.

EDGE: You’ve always been supportive of the LGBT community but back in the 80s when it wasn’t as hip and cool - or safe - to lend a voice, did you ever have anybody tell you to stop?

JL: Nope. They knew that it was true for me. I think people knew if anyone said anything to me I would say ’That’s your opinion, thank you for sharing.’ I did get letters from people who said they would never watch me again. After I did ’The Ryan White Story’ I got this one letter from a woman who said ’I will never watch you again because you did this movie. I used to love you, I thought you were fabulous and I’ll never watch you again’ and I thought ’Oh good! That’s great!’ I thought ’Her bigotry, her divisiveness, her anger toward me, I always thought that anyone else who felt that way toward me was their problem [and] at the end of the day, that was that woman’s problem. It was not my problem. It was not my issue. I believe that we are here for one another and that we are to be brothers and sisters for each other and if she doesn’t feel that way I really do believe that that is her problem.

EDGE: Once Ugly Betty ended and you were thinking about what you were going to do next, was a Broadway play part of the plan?

JL: You know, I used to do that all the time. I used to think ’Ok, here’s the plan. I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that’ and it was like the John Lennon quote ’If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’ Now, I am by nature very controlling and it’s something that I work on all the time. I really do try to open myself up to see what is coming to me from the Universe and what the Universe is providing. I like to call it Divine Choreography. It’s not that I’m without goals or without vision or without desires or active choices to things that come my way but trying to orchestrate it, I always fell flat on my face. Or I would think something was a really good idea and then it would all fall apart. So when things come my way I see if I want to do them, if I’m available to do them, if they’re right for me to do them, and that’s a much gentler process for me than trying to say ’I must do this. I have to do this.’

Best tv roles

EDGE: You know your role as Karen from One Life To Live is still out there, right? It’s always seen as one of the best scenes when they do the best soap opera moments.

JL: I actually did Good Morning, America a couple of weeks ago and they showed the clip of the trial [where Light’s character admits to having been a prostitute]. I hear that from people all the time and it was in TV Guide as one of the 100 top moments in television. I am aware that it’s there and I’m very proud of that. I really am. I’m very honored that people would still remember me from that. People were here [at the play] this afternoon and they were all like ’Oh My God! We go back to One Life To Live!’ I love that and I love that I have that kind of longevity to my career and that people still remember me for that and that they appreciated that. It was a lot of hard work and it means a lot to me.

EDGE: Soap fans are the most passionate I’ve ever seen.

JL: They totally are and you know why? They’re also very intelligent, they’re very schooled and they know how difficult that job is. They have respect for that. We are also in your living room every day so we feel like family to them in a lot of ways and so their connection is fierce and strong like family. I have a lot of respect for them.

EDGE: You’ve done a little of everything in your career. What do you get recognized for the most? Is there one thing more than others?

JL: It would probably be Who’s The Boss? and One Life To Live because those are the longest stints I had but I get a lot of people recognizing me for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, I get a lot of people come up to me for Ugly Betty. I did this play Wit for six months in New York and then I was on tour with it for six months after that and I have people who come up to me and say ’I saw that performance.’ A lot of people talk about the movies of the week that I’ve done. I’ve done 15-17 movies of the week so a lot of that as well.

EDGE: What else is coming up for you outside of the play?

JL: I just did a Nurse Jackie episode that I’m really excited about where Swoosie Kurtz and I play two women who have been in a long-term relationship and we’re about to break up. We’re married and we’re about to get a divorce and our son is Coop (Nurse Jackie regular Peter Facinellli) so he’s all upset with us. It was wonderful. This is also the season of Broadway Cares and after each performance we will be staying on stage and asking the audience to contribute because this is the season from Thanksgiving to the holidays. What’s really important for people to know is that AIDS is not over and that we’re still living with it and it’s important for people to remember that. Also pieces that are on the internet like the It Gets Better campaign. It is so important to know that it does get better and that their lives and the community that they come from are special and important and inspiring and that they have a glorious and powerful history. Hopefully they’ll know it and read about it and take honor in who they are so it’s very important for me that they know it and what an inspiration your community ahs been for me. It’s very important for me to say that to them. You’ve all been there supporting me in very important ways and have changed my life.

Lombardi continues at the Circle In The Square Theatre in New York City. For more information, visit http://www.lombardibroadway.com/.

Watch this clip of Judith Light on One Life to Live

Watch Judith Light on The Today Show in November, 2010:

Jim Halterman lives in Los Angeles and also covers the TV/Film/Theater scene for www.FutonCritic.com, AfterElton, Vulture, CBS Watch magazine and, of course, www.jimhalterman.com. He is also a regular Tweeter and has a group site on Facebook.


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