The actress gives Katie Couric the latest update…
You likely know Mary-Louise Parker from her iconic role as Nancy Botwin, the suburban-mom-turned-drug-kingpin on the hit Showtime series, Weeds. But Mary-Louise is also an accomplished stage actress, who won a Tony award back in 2001 for her role in “Proof.” Now, she’s returned to the stage, starring in the dark and gripping new Broadway drama “The Sound Inside.”
After I was lucky enough to see her stunning performance, Mary-Louise and I spoke about how she deals with critics, how her family will be celebrating Thanksgiving, and whether there’s any truth to those rumors that Weeds is making a comeback…
Katie Couric: In this show you play Bella, a creative writing professor at Yale who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. You seem to literally become Bella onstage, but in reality you two have little in common. What parts of her do you relate to?
Mary-Louise Parker: Her love of words! And how passionate about them she is. I’m a writer as well, but I never really talk about it. I wrote a book, Dear Mr. You, a few years ago, and I wrote for Esquire for about 15 years. But I discovered early on that because it was a men’s magazine, people would often ask me who actually wrote the piece for me. Whenever I talked about my writing, I felt like I had to defend it. So I kind of just stopped talking about it.
When I wrote my book, my literary agent sent it out without my name on it — so that we could get a real response to the writing itself, without it being colored by my acting career. When the feedback was good, it was one of the most validating moments of my life. I tend to dwell on criticism. But that time, I really let myself take that in. I needed it.
Bella is obsessed with books… she cites “Light Years” by James Salter as her favorite but mentions dozens over the course of the play. Is there a book that has really moved you, or that you find yourself coming back to time after time?
I am most passionate about poetry. In my bedroom, I have an entire wall of books, and I had one shelf built just for books of poetry. I am a crazy freakish nerd person about poetry. My absolute favorite poem is by Stanley Kunitz — “The Long Boat.”
On the topic of reading… do you ever read reviews of your performances?
I try not to. Maybe I’m too thin skinned. Whenever I do, even if there’s something positive, sometimes it’ll draw attention to something I don’t want to be aware of. But you have to be very disciplined about it, which is hard. When I was younger I would say, “Oh I don’t read reviews!” And then I’d be in the waiting room at the dentist or the gynecologist’s office, and there would be a copy of The New Yorker. And I would sneak a look at it, and it would always be something devastatingly horrible.
I don’t want to break with your tradition, but the New York Times gave your performance in this play an absolutely glowing review — which is funny because in the show, The Times’ review of Bella’s book is pretty mediocre. What do you think Bella would say about your performance of her being described as “riveting and sublime”?
I was having dinner with a really well known and successful writer once, who you would assume would be incredibly confident and thick- skinned. She had just had a book published, and she’d read a review. And it wasn’t even so much that the review was positive, it’s that it was accurate. She told me that after she read it, she felt so seen that she cried. I think that Bella would feel… I mean, I haven’t read it, so I don’t know. But I think if it were accurate, I think she would be moved.
To feel validated is moving, but opinion is a slippery thing. Just the other night, I was at my daughter’s parent-teacher conference. I sometimes feel shy in those situations — I’m a single parent, so I was standing there by myself. A man walked up to me and said, “Am I allowed to tell you I liked you show?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, thank you.” And then he goes, “You know what? I really didn’t want to like it.” I was like, “What do you mean?” And he said, “Well, I’ve seen you before. And I just never really liked you.” You know that feeling when your face gets kind of hot? I think I just started babbling and turned around.
If you put things out there in the world, like a book, or a performance, people think you should expect to hear their opinion. I’m guilty of this myself sometimes — I’ll realize that I’m wielding my opinion as though it matters, and then I feel embarrassed. Because it can be really hurtful. I once wrote something snarky about somebody in a magazine, and when I saw it in print I was mortified. I vowed I would never again refer to any human being without at least a modicum of respect.
On another note, you brought your kids to the premiere. What was it like having them there, and what did they think of your performance?
My kids have only been publicly photographed a few times in their life, because I never wanted that for them. But I brought them to the premiere because I felt like it was time — so it didn’t become some kind of “thing.” I wanted it to feel normal. But my son at that point had already seen the show six times. He loves to be in the theater — he actually came again yesterday. But my daughter — it was the first time she’d seen it, and she loved it. Afterwards she told me, “you know what, I teared up at the end, Mom.” My family’s opinion has always been the biggest validation for me. My dad’s not here anymore, but when he would come backstage after a show, or when I would see my mom stand up at a curtain call, or when my kids tell me they’re proud… there’s nothing that will top that for me.
With Thanksgiving coming up, are there any traditions you and your family have?
We have the best Thanksgiving tradition. We all write haikus! My older brother Jay, who is the academic of the family, loves Japanese literature. We’re kind of a “nerdy wordy” family. So he got me and our family into the whole Haiku thing a long time ago. When my kids were really little, I made it an official Thanksgiving requirement, and I would write theirs down for them. We also all get leaves and we write things that we’re thankful for on them, and we hang them on a tree throughout the day. Then, during dinner, we pass the leaves around and read them out loud, and then we read the haikus and try to guess who wrote them. I’ve saved all of them. The haikus are my favorite part of the whole day.
That sounds lovely. But lastly: Rumor has it that “Weeds” is getting a reboot — anything you can tell us about that?
I hope it happens! I hope people would want to watch it. I love those actors — I miss them all so much. But as far as the story, I’m curious as to what people would want the new show to be, because I don’t think it’s even been written yet. Now that marijuana is legal most places, you take away that tension. It kind of destroys the plot, right? So they’d have to replace it with something else, or somehow make it even bigger. I think maybe she could be a narc. We’ll see.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This article originally appeared on Medium.com