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Interview

Caroline Aaron: Back to the Source

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Not that long ago, had you told Caroline Aaron she would trade her cramped but beloved New York digs for a home in Los Angeles, she'd have called you crazy. But that's exactly what happened to the veteran stage and screen actor when she came to L.A. six years ago to perform in Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosensweig at the Doolittle Theatre.

"It's my husband's fault we're here. We lived in an apartment in New York the size of a toaster oven, and here I had a house like I was Gloria Swanson. The weather was beautiful, and he said, 'I don't want to go back.' It was my turn to be the grownup. So we stayed," recalled Aaron, who misses New York "like a limb."

Still, she admitted that she is actually enjoying her life in Los Angeles, especially when it comes to better acquainting herself with the world of film and television.

"There's a lot of incredibly creative and interesting people here in the industry, and I've learned so much since I've been here about the business of television and movies—stuff that I would never have had the opportunity to learn in New York in the same way," explained Aaron, whose Broadway credits include Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, under the direction of Robert Altman (who also cast her in the film version); The Iceman Cometh, opposite the late Jason Robards and directed by José Quintero, and Paul Rudnick's comedy I Hate Hamlet.

Aaron has also appeared in more than 30 feature films, including Crimes and Misdemeanors, Alice, and Deconstructing Harry, Heartburn, Working Girl, Primary Colors, What Planet Are You From?, Sleepless in Seattle, This Is My Life, Edward Scissorhands, Big Night, Anywhere But Here, and, most recently, Bounce.

Although theatre, to Aaron's surprise, is what accidentally brought her to Los Angeles, she hasn't done much onstage since coming to town with The Sisters Rosensweig—that is until now. Joanna Gleason, who first met Aaron when they co-starred in Mike Nichol's Broadway production of Social Security, is currently directing Aaron in Call Waiting at the Tiffany Theatres on Sunset Boulevard. Dori Fram's humorous one-woman show is set in the bedroom of an upper-middle-class housewife, who spends the entire length of the play (about 80 minutes) gabbing on the phone to friends and family about topics ranging from urinary infections to infidelity to sisterly strife. Through the course of her many interrupted conversations, Aaron's comically frustrated, insecure character finds catharsis.

Call Waiting is Aaron's first solo show, for which she had to memorize 75 pages of dialogue, which was changing every day through previews. As challenging as it is to learn all those lines, she doesn't really consider Call Waiting a one-character play.

"I don't think of this play as a monologue. I think of it as a dialogue with about 18 people, and I'm hearing voices," said Aaron, who initially became involved with Fram's play five years ago when she performed a workshop version at the Odyssey Theatre, followed by a well-received reading earlier this year in Los Angeles.

It's been two years since Aaron has performed in a fully staged theatre production—the last time being Eric Bogosian's play Griller at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. Aaron has limited the amount of stage work she has taken in recent years in order to focus more on raising her two children, ages 4 and 11.

She believes there's no one way to become an actor. In her case, however, the theatre was her best training ground and continues to be the place she grows most as a performer. While people often mistake her for a native New Yorker—because of her no-nonsense persona and deep, gravelly voice—Aaron grew up in Richmond, Va., and ardently associates herself with her Southern roots—something of which she often has a hard time convincing casting directors.

Her interest in acting initially took her to Washington D.C., where she earned a B.A. in performing arts through a program that no longer exists—a degree combining studies at George Washington University, Georgetown University, American University, and the Catholic University of America. Following college, Aaron joined the newly formed Washington Theatre Lab, an experimental company modeled after the Polish Theatre Lab and the teachings of Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, as well as British theatre director Peter Brook (who taught master classes at WTL) and Lee Strasberg. After a number of years with the D.C. stage company, Aaron made the move to New York City, where she then studied with Stella Adler and Uta Hagen.

For Aaron, learning never stops, and that's what she loves about acting. She recalled a valuable comment she heard from Grotowski during a visit he made to Washington D.C.

"The first time I met Grotowski, he was a guest of the Smithsonian," she said. "There was a question-and-answer session about his work, and somebody raised his hand and asked, 'What is your advice to the beginning actor?' and Grotowski said, 'Never stop being a beginning actor.' I've never forgotten that. You are always a student of this. There's no such thing as mastering a craft; it's just a question of continuing to work at it."

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