I first had the privilege of interviewing Jan Maxwell in 2010 while she was in the Tony Award nominated revival of "Lend Me A Tenor" for which she received one of her two Tony Award nominations that season (her second nomination was for her role MTC's "The Royal Family"). Now to get the chance to interview Jan again is a true delight! Her kindness, smartness, and extreme talent really comes through in everything she does! Jan has kept herself busy since our last interview.
Jan starred in Second Stage's revival of Arthur Kopit's "Wings" and the Kennedy Center's revival of "Follies" which will be opening on Broadway September 12. Prior to "Follies," Jan can be seen in Potomac Theatre Project's (now called PTP/NYC) production of Howard Barker's "Victory: Choices in Reaction" at The Atlantic Stage 2. According to press notes "Victory: Choices in Reaction" is a comic, bawdy, passionate play set amid the chaos of the Restoration in 1660. Bradshaw, the widow of a Republican intellectual, discovering the fate of her husband’s body, sets out on a journey of personal exploration. Victory is a play about self-knowledge and personal survival in a disorderly and scandalous epoch of English history. "Victory: Choices in Reaction" plays at The Atlantic Theatre's Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street) from July 12-31! Click here for tickets!
1. What attracted you to PTP's production of Howard Barker's "Victory: Choices in Reaction?" Howard Barker has always been one of my favorite playwrights. VICTORY is a play I've wanted to do for a long time. Barker writes very strong, unsympathetic women who struggle with their personal and political lives -- and I find that very rare in playwrighting and that type of role attracts my sensibility.
2. What is it about PTP that has made you want to perform with them so many times? I have done two plays with PTP of Barker's (THE CASTLE, SCENES FROM AN EXECUTION), and also CAMILLE and have had the most rewarding experiences each time with director Richard Romagnoli and the theatre students of Middlebury College. It is remarkable that there is a company like PTP, who do plays they want to do, that are not mainstream, often political. And they have done it for 25 years! It is an incredible feat.
3. What do you get from performing in a straight play that you don't get from performing in a musical? Well, very funny you should ask at this point in time! Here's how it works with me: If I'm doing a musical, I complain that I want something deeper. If I'm doing a play, I complain that I want to have more fun. So I've decided that what I'm best at . . . is . . . complaining.
I guess I find musicals a bit harder; so many people depend on you doing the same thing at the same time every time (because of singing and dancing). In plays I can mix it up a bit -- try different things every night, different line readings, different emotional moments, throw things away. But in a musical, nobody's gonna let you change the tune or kill a crescendo or come up with your own moves -- so I find it a bit more confining. That being said though, in FOLLIES -- James Moore has been a miracle in that he lets me change things every night and follows me with a 28 piece orchestra! I adore him and feel so lucky to have him as our music director and conductor.
4. What's the best advice you've ever received? Oh, I've received a lot of great advice. My parents have given me great advice throughout my life. Sometimes I seek it out myself. I have always had a private line I say to myself before I go on stage. I'd tell you what it is, but then I'd have to kill you.
And lately I've been pushing myself in different aspects of my life because I don't want to stop learning. I was feeling a part of me wanted to just relax for awhile and try to do less, but more lucrative work. I had to shake myself out of that mindset, so I started looking for quotes on the word "plateau." Bizarrely, I found a quote that I liked from Bruce Lee, of all people -- "There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you.”
So I've been saying to myself a lot these days, "Go beyond it. 'If it kills you, it kills you.'"
5. What have you learned about yourself from being an actress and what is your favorite part about the profession? That I love to act and that theatre promotes empathy.
6. What keeps you grounded in a profession that sometimes takes others down a dark path? My family, my friends, other actors (we laugh at ourselves a lot).
7. What is your favorite part of the rehearsal/preview period in a show? I love rehearsals. The possibilities. There's a Duse quote about meeting with the cast for the first time that I love and rather agree with: In these moments, I feel I’m with my family. And sometimes I have the childish illusion that we are hidden there, in the half-light, as if for a conspiracy, a plot, something clandestine and pleasantly dangerous. All the rest is nothing more than noise, chaos, vanity, fatigue and bitterness.
8. Favorite place to practice/rehearse on your own? Upstate at a tiny cabin on a river.
9. Favorite way to spend your day off? Upstate at a tiny cabin on a river.
10. Superman or Wonder Woman? The Iron Giant.
11. What was the best part about performing in the Kennedy Center's produciton of "Follies?" Hanging with the cast and Michael Kaiser. Truly loving going to work because we had such fun, great people. The entire company, crew, orchestra were wonderful. If you ever get a chance to work at the Kennedy Center, grab it. What initially attracted you to the show? I didn't know the show when it was offered to me. Then I read it and, of course, and loved it. And knowing I was going to be able to sing "COULD I LEAVE YOU," a blistering song that affects me deeply -- I couldn't turn it down.
12. What's your proudest moment so far? Whenever I'm with my son, of course. Any moment with him. I don't know how it happened, but he's a really great guy! I love him truly, madly, deeply and I'm proud to know him.