The 66th annual Tony Awards will be presented this Sunday evening, and among those up for awards is the brilliant Linda Emond, who is nominated for her wrenching performance as Willy Loman's wife Linda in Death of a Salesman. (The stellar cast also included Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield, who are also nominated for awards.) Before the show ended its run on June 2nd, we spoke at length with Emond about this powerful revival of Arthur Miller's masterpiece, which not even a ringing cellphone could ruin.
Do you ever do two performances in one day? Yeah. Yeah, this week we do it twice. The performance schedule changes a little bit from week to week but this week we did two yesterday and we will do two again on Saturday.
How do you manage that? Is it really draining? Yeah, it is. It's brutal, frankly. You take one scene at a time, honestly, that's how I do it. If you think about the whole day, you'll just get overwhelmed by it. When the fatigue starts to settle in and you're in that second show, life out there on the stage starts to become kind of surreal. Because, you know, we're all kind of hurling ourselves around that stage emotionally, and you just have to try to stay very present and do the thing you're doing and not think beyond it, honestly.
How early do you show up before a performance? Earlier than I ever have in my life. It's kind of freaky. I don't know, I started doing that early on and then I just didn't change. I thought, "Oh, I'll change it later." I currently leave my apartment about three hours before, so I am there about two and a half hours before. And I don't immediately start working on the script itself, but it's good just to be there. I'm in my dressing room, I bring a sandwich or something. I play scrabble with [actor] Dennis O'Hare. Dennis is one of my best pals.
And then, you know, I start looking at the script or I start reading various things that Miller wrote; I have some great essays and also his autobiography is really great, it's called Timebends. And that kind of gets me into his world, you know. And then I'll move to the script itself a little bit. Sometimes it's just bits and pieces, just looking at something in particular. Because you never stop working on plays. We certainly don't. You know, you're always working, adjusting, making it better, hopefully, richer more specific. And then I physically warm up a little bit, you know, vocally warm up and do my hair. Well, they do it, you know; wig and costume.
And then we're really lucky because we have a curtain in this show, obviously. And so that allows us to go down early, which is really great, especially with this show, to not have a black out, run on stage, jump in bed, you know, and lights up. It's really great to have that time. The whole Loman family, in fact, is all out there pretty early and milling around. We don't really talk at that point, but sort of in the house, you know, moving around and stuff. And then the curtain rises.
And then what happens? Yeah, exactly. And then Willy Loman crosses the stage with two suitcases and then, as Arthur Miller said, it's all over. It's over right when it begins.
What does that mean? He has written that he always knew what the first lines of the play were going to be. He knew that from pretty early on. Although the first line is literally Willy sort of muttering, "oh boy, oh boy," and Linda saying, "Willy," the first real line of the play, as it were, is when Willy says, "It's alright, I came back." And Miller has said that it's over at that point. 'Cause it's not alright that he came back.
He said something great, in fact: that it's equivalent to (although much worse, frankly) an actor right before they go on stage, turning to their scene partner and saying, "It's alright, I can't speak." Because, you know, he's a traveling salesman, I mean, it's what he does and he can't do it. He's come back! "It's alright, I came back." And so, he knows it's over, which is one of the tricky things, which frankly speaks your question about what time I get there. The reason I think I go so early is because, unlike any play I've ever done, this play starts at such a peak—even though it doesn't necessarily seem that way. It's not like we're screaming, but it's already an emergency situation.
The man is suicidal, it's horrible. He's lost his job practically at that point even, you know. So it's bad, and then he comes home in the middle of the night. So it's really bad! And if you think about it, most plays build through. Like in the first act you have a big scene at the end of the first act, there's a sort of climax. And this play really starts from such a place of intensity, that, for me anyway, and I think for all of us, it requires... You gotta really be in the right space to step onto that stage, you know, to start it right. It's unlike anything and it's what he wanted to do. Miller called it emergency speak. He was trying to write the play, especially from the beginning, in something that he called emergency speak. People are just talking but you also have that sense that it's horrible, what's happening. It's horrible.
And it doesn't let up throughout the play. No it doesn't! It doesn't, John. Throughout the whole play. Yeah.
I really loved it. I never saw it performed live but when I was a kid I watched the Dustin Hoffman, John Malkovich version a lot on video, and I really liked that. It's impossible to see this production you're in and walk away from it and not think about your own life and your family and not want to call one of your relatives or something, you know? That's really cool, I love hearing that. I think we all love hearing that. I think it's a testament to the power of the play and I'm really, terribly proud. I think we all are aware that it's having the impact that it is and that's palpable, it's so palpable in that house. You know, I don't remember ever experiencing audiences like we have in there. You can feel that really strongly and from the beginning, I mean, that thing I'm talking about, that emergency thing, you really can feel it! That audience, in those first scenes, they're just, like, it's so quiet out there. There's a stillness.
You know, Miller did something really right and hopefully we are doing something right that's making that sort of happen, and then you can really feel the audiences struggling at times in it. I mean, like, not wanting to go with it, in places. 'Cause it's hard, right? It's hard, it's dreadful, it's just dreadful, right? And then, ultimately, it's not uncommon to hear even sobs, certainly tears and it's a real privilege for me to be in that last scene. Kneeling down there at the edge of the stage. Because I'll tell ya, the power of feeling from the audience is really intense and a testament to Miller's greatness.
The night I saw it everyone around me was completely riveted, and then you're in that final scene, giving that final monologue, and in the last few sentences a cell phone went off. Is that a rare thing and how do you react to something like that? That was the only time that's happened and we certainly have, sadly, cell phones that go off. That's just unfortunate, but no matter what they do, on occasion they go off. But you sort of move through it. That was an extreme. Someone sent me the—was it you who wrote that thing?
Yes. Yeah, I thought it was great, really. And funny, it did make me laugh, which was good because, quite honestly, I broke down in tears, I just broke down in tears. It was really hard for me to come out for the curtain call. Right before the curtain even was coming up, you know, Phil is on one side of me and Finn on the other and they were holding my hands. And it wasn't because like—I want to be clear—it wasn't because of some poor-pitiful-me thing.
It was really that, we've all worked so hard—see I'm getting like choked up even talking about it. [Pause] We've all worked so hard by that point to bring the audience to a particular place and that's a cathartic last few moments of the play. And to have that intruded upon in such a ridiculous way because, as you said, it was like, "What the hell was that?" What the hell was that thing too, it was like some kind of space alien something, right? I mean, it couldn't just be like even a regular ring, it has to be something so bizarre, that it felt like I'd failed.
And I knew I hadn't I'd been intruded upon, but it felt like a failure. It felt like we didn't finish the play. Granted, I know some other people who saw it that say nevertheless, it was still an amazing, amazing event and that makes me happy. But in the moment, in that moment it felt like we didn't get to finish the play and that was crushing.
How did some of the other actors react when you got offstage? Very sweetly that night in my dressing room, both Phil and Andrew came in. I have a ludicrously large dressing room—only because Phil didn't want it—so it has like an interior room, my dressing room, and then it has like a living room, an anteroom. And when I came out of my interior dressing room they were both sitting there on the couch. Just sitting, kind of waiting. And that was just a sign of their love, really. They were just making sure—but I think it was because I had started crying, I had sort of broken down.
And I think we all felt like what a bummer, but honestly, really, you take a big breath and you say, look, the play still worked for Pete's sake. You're a testament to that, right? And these things happen and it's fine, and you move on. And frankly, then you don't want to give it that much power and have it be... Although again I did find your article funny. I thought it was pretty funny, it made me laugh which is good. But just in that moment, it was sad.
My colleague and I spent about 10 minutes in shocked rage and then once that passed I spent another 15 minutes standing by my bike just thinking about the play and my family. And that is exactly what we realized. So in that moment, I'm pretty raw at the end of the play anyway, look we all are. Every night when we finish that requiem, I'm being walked off stage by Andrew, who plays Biff, holding me as I sort of cry off stage. And literally something like 5 seconds later the curtain is coming up for a curtain call! It feels crazy everyday. So it's always weird and hard—that day it was just weirder and harder.
But the number of people who have come back into my dressing room... I have to literally sit down and let them just have a cry. It's that powerful a play. And it effects people a lot of ways and I think, as you said John, for some people it, well I think for almost everybody it brings up things about their family, it brings up really personal things, too. Yes it brings up larger issues, and the world we live in, and the choices people make and notions of celebrity and being well-liked, but you know, at the end of the day it's also just about a family.