What is the best book that has been made into a great movie?
My first best book was turned into a great movie – “Tess”, based on Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”. Nastassja Kinski is sublime in the role of Tess; and my mother, who could be very critical of me but secretly adored me, noticed how much I looked like her, so that was an added attraction. I cried so much at the end and was furious at the injustice of the patriarchal world that contributes to its tragic flaw. She was doomed. And pure. And finally a murderer. I loved it. I loved the film because I watched it on our small television, very close. My mother and I had already seen her at the theater while buying Jujubes during intermission. I see a blood soaked ceiling in my mind. And Tess lying as a sacrifice at Stonehenge.
What book would you most like to see made into a movie or TV show that hasn’t been adapted yet?
Of course, mine, “Mean Baby”. I’m 50 years old from her.
Of all the characters you’ve played in different media, which one did you find the richest – the most romantic?
My two tours with Todd Solondz. His writing is so clean, to the point, rich and understated. A sentence tells a whole story.
The most immersive and by far the richest experience was “Gruesome Playground Injuries”, by Rajiv Joseph. It was a two-handed movie that I did with Brad Fleischer at the Alley Theater in Houston a few years before my son was born. We’re in the Samuel French as original actors, which sounds like something. And it was a surprisingly heartbreaking and darkly funny production directed by Rebecca Taichman. Before and during the race in extremely hot and sticky Houston, Rajiv, Brad and I stood in the pool at our apartment complex and ran the room from start to finish every day. Committing to this piece was a huge and truly transformative task. Imagine lines from your favorite game, all reflecting your own life, like a mantra while splashing around in a pool day after day. It was an eye opener and utterly terrifying to experience what felt like my own life, from elementary school to womanhood. Each performance and rehearsal is a quietly unsettling novel of hope.
Which literary character would you most like to play?
Auntie Mame seems like a good start for me.
Do you consider certain books as guilty pleasures?
The Bible. Preferably the Old Testament. We don’t just pull out a Bible anywhere now… the guilt and the fun.
What’s the last book you read that made you laugh?
Melissa Rivers’ book about her mother, Joan Rivers. It was so good that I gave it to my own mother, a few years before my mother died. I think it was the last book that made him laugh out loud. It was excellent, we were both completely in agreement. I have to read it again. Oh, shit, my mom still has my copy.
The last book you read that made you cry?
I cried reading Molly Shannon’s new book, when she details the final moments of the tragic car accident that killed her mother and sister. Her mother’s last words were asking for her daughters. It just broke my heart.
The last book you read that made you furious?
Joyful Clemantine Wamariya “The Girl Who Smiled Beads” (written with Elizabeth Weil). Wamariya writes so purely about his incredible escape from the Rwandan Genocide and his trip to the United States. The strength and resilience of the author is so well explored. I felt a helpless fury in the face of injustice and cruelty but also comforted by the presence of the writer. Reading Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and Harriet E. Wilson’s “Our Nig: Or, Sketches From the Life of a Free Black” at age 14 were cousin reading experiences.