Linda Lavin Doesn't Give Advice, But Shares Her Experience

Photo Source: David Sheward

Linda Lavin is having a resurgence of late. After moving to North Carolina a few years ago, she is the toast of New York again. Her caustic performance as the monstrous mother Rita in Nicky Silver's "The Lyons," which played Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre earlier this season and is now at the Cort on Broadway, has brought her a Tony nomination and an Obie Award. (She previously won a Tony for "Broadway Bound" in 1987.) She took the role after appearing in earlier versions of two other productions that are in current Tony contention as well: "Other Desert Cities" and "Follies." Backstage chatted with Lavin at this year's Drama Desk Awards and asked her suggestions for new performers.

What advice do you have for actors starting out?
Linda Lavin: You know, I don't give advice. I share my experience with people. I share my hope and my story. What I learned early as a young actor was to do just about everything I was offered and to go after everything-unless it was morally reprehensible to me. I worked in nightclubs in Greenwich Village because I could sing. I auditioned for chorus jobs. My first Broadway show was in the chorus. I wanted to be a serious actor, but I could sing, so that got me in those doors. So I don't give advice, because I don't think you should tell somebody what they should do. I can share what I did, and if it's right for you then you can try that. But I do think work brings work. It's important to work and do whatever is out there.

What was it about the role of Rita in "The Lyons" that made you leave "Other Desert Cities" and "Follies" to do it?
Lavin: It's a leading role. It has a beginning, middle and an end. For me, it's a fuller part, a more realized part than the one I played in "Other Desert Cities," which was a supporting role and a lovely role. Once I read "The Lyons" and Rita's first monologue, I saw where she was living and where her heart and pain was. I knew that I had to do it. It was Nicky Silver's writing that really did it.

What are the differences between playing "The Lyons" on Broadway and Off-Broadway?
Lavin: The differences are obvious in the number of people who get to see you each performance. It's about 10 times the amount and the sound of the laughter is greater. I'm told that it's a more profoundly deep experience by people who have seen it in both places. They feel it more deeply than in the smaller theater. For me, it's just about the same. I guess I have to be a little louder because the theater is larger.