Jan Maxwell: I played a monstrous woman. And I was in heaven.

Author's Note: Back in October, there was an entry about Jan Maxwell, a theater actress, written mostly in first person as the blog writer's 'discovery' of her. As a theater nerd, I love hearing when other people first saw other actors and actresses. But for Ms. Maxwell, I wanted to come back and write a more complete entry about her career.


Jan Maxwell jokes that she 'found religion' in order to make it to New York.

Having grown up in Fargo, North Dakota, she attended community theater performances with her father, but wanted to see work produced in New York, so when she saw a campus ministries flier posted at her university about a trip to New York for fifty dollars, she jumped at the chance.

Her self-education in the New York theater scene drew her back east a few years later. One class away from graduating, Maxwell took the money her parents gave her for enrollment and used it move instead. According to her American Theatre Wing Downstage Center interview, Maxwell said: “I came out here blind.” She stayed with a friend, bought Backstage, and went to auditions. For a girl from North Dakota, she says the culture shock was very intense.

Maxwell was an understudy in the Broadway musical, City of Angels, and she eventually took over dual roles of Alaura and Carla, which were originated by Dee Hoty. She was also part of the American cast that replaced the original Irish cast in Dancing at Lughnasa. And in 1997, she played Kristine, the best friend of Janet McTeer's Nora in A Doll's House.

But as with most actresses featured on this blog, her career didn't really take off until she was in her 40s. She received her first Tony Award nomination (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) for her role of Baroness Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This role seemed to allow her a lot of creative input, as she came up with a couple comic moments for her character that weren't in the original script. In one scene, the Baroness is polishing a gun, and Maxwell had the idea for it to go off and accidentally kill someone, after which she declared, “Oopsy daisy.”

The characters she embodies are often darker: the Baroness in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a child trafficker in Coram Boy (which earned her a second Tony nod), even Kath in Entertaining Mr. Sloane is hardly an easy character to empathize with, but Maxwell enjoys the challenge and seems to delight in it. “I enjoy being the salt in all that sugar,” she stated in her Downstage Center interview.

Even in plays not as well received by the critics, Maxwell is often praised. In Sixteen Wounded, a short-lived production (Maxwell jokingly refers to it as 'Sixteen Performaces'), in which she played Sonya, a Russian prostitute, The New York Times critic Ben Brantley credited her performance with: “an inkling of complexity in her character....But it's an idea that registers fully only when Ms. Maxwell is around” (The New York Times, April 16, 2004).

In 2010, she became only the fourth actor to receive two Tony nominations in the same season. One for Best Actress in a Play for her role as Julie Cavendish in The Royal Family and another as Best Featured Actress in a Play for Maria in Lend Me a Tenor.

Maxwell often speaks of how great an experience The Royal Family was. Rosemary Harris, who played the role of Julie in the 1975 version, moved up to the family matriarch role as Fanny in the 2009 version. Maxwell stepped into the role of Julie, but says Harris never told her how the role should be done and let Maxwell make it her own.

“I think for me, one out of ten theatrical experiences is fulfilling,” Maxwell said.

Even if that's the case, Maxwell looks as if she's enjoying herself on stage, especially in her most recent role as Phyllis Rogers Stone in Stephen Sondheim's Follies.

Although Maxwell jokes about her musical ability: “If they want someone with a five note range who is more of an actress, they call me”, if Follies earns Maxwell a fifth Tony nomination for her performance, she will be the second woman (after Angela Lansbury) to have been nominated in all four of the Tony actor categories.

Regardless of whether this milestone occurs or not, it sounds like Maxwell will be on the stage for a long time to come.  

Source: American Theatre Wing Downstage Center podcast (Jan Maxwell, November 2008)

Anjelica Huston: Age is not enviable in America.

"Age is not enviable in America. It's not applauded all that strongly. You have to take it all with a grain of salt."
 -Anjelica Huston

Let's try and ignore the fact that Anjelica Huston comes from a film family dynasty. Although, her family history and childhood are two of the things that make her seem so enigmatic and worldly.

With her father, John Huston being an actor and director, and her mother, Enrica Soma, a ballerina, Huston spent most of her childhood living in England and Ireland. She returned to the United States when she was a teenager, soon after her mother died in a car accident. At 5'10'', Huston took up modeling for a few years.

Marie Clare (1973)

In the early 1980s, she began to seriously study acting, and in 1985, her father cast her as Maerose, the daughter of a Mafia don in Prizzi's Honor. Huston played opposite Jack Nicholson, her boyfriend at the time. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role (her father and grandfather have Oscars as well.)

Huston worked steadily in the 1980s and early 90s, earning another Oscar nomination, this time for Best Actress, for her role as Lilly Dillon in The Grifters. Other notable parts were in Francis Ford Coppola's Gardens of Stone and her father's adaptation of James Joyce's The Dead.

Never one to take commercial parts, Huston hooked up with another director, Wes Anderson, in the early 2000s and has been an essential part of his ensemble films, including The Royal Tenenbaums (playing matriarch Etheline Tenenbaum), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited.

More recently, Huston has made the transition from film to television, appearing as the Broadway producer Eileen Rand in NBC's new series, Smash.

At the start of the series, Eileen is going through a tumultuous divorce. Having high hopes for anything Huston is in, it was a bit disappointing to watch her throw her martinis into the face of her ex-husband for the first couple episodes. It seemed Eileen was going to be stuck in the 'sassy older lady that the audience sees too little of' box, but it seems that's starting to change.

Eileen seems to be a strong and well-known producer in this televised version of Broadway, but we see as her storyline unravels that her relationship with her husband was the prime source of her monetary connections—both in her personal and professional life. It's an interesting take on a 'career woman' character. Over the past couple episodes, Eileen has started to come into her own, managing to find money (or at least interest) in the musical she is producing, based on Marilyn Monroe's life, as well as step out of her husband's shadow and move into a new apartment on the Lower East Side.

She's also taken to spending time at a local watering hole which is quite different from her usual table at Sardi's. Eileen also seems to have caught the eye of the bartender, Nick (All My Children's Thorsten Kaye). Meryl Streep's daughter, Grace Gummer, even showed up in the last episode, to portray Eileen's wayward daughter.

With those two promising additions to her character, it will be interesting to see where Eileen Rand lands by season's end. Hopefully sipping martinis and celebrating her new found independence and success.