Leighton Bryan is a rising actress who most recently understudied Scarlett Johansson in the Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Now Leighton is starring in M-34 Theatre's production of The Importance of Being Ernest Hemingway at Access Theater (380 Broadway at White Street) in NYC through September 1.
The Importance of Being Ernest Hemingway is a trivial comedy about pain, lies, violence and vengeance. Set in 1926 Paris with rugged Hemingway men in the roles of "Jack" and "Algy," this mash-up of texts from Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway outs the gay romance in Wilde’s best-loved work and collides it with Hemingway’s impossible machismo, exposing both artists’ desperate search for an Ideal Masculinity. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My mom. From the get-go, she exposed me to people with passion – Mozart, Van Morrison, The Beatles, Meryl Streep, Carol Burnett, Carly Simon. We did a lot of traveling back then, so we’d watch people walk by our gate in the airport and mimic their dialects, make up stories about them, even walk like them through the terminal…She stretched my brain out, and my imagination.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Mozart, Van Morrison, The Beatles, Meryl Streep, Carol Burnett, Carly Simon, and people in airports. Mark Rylance too. But that’s kind of like saying Mozart twice.
3. What attracted you to The Importance of Being Ernest Hemingway? The play is doing a pretty daring thing, combining these two writers, and "outing" a gay romance between "Jack" and "Algernon." I like that it sounds totally incongruous. But the moment you dive in, you see that both Wilde and Hemingway were searching for their own ideal – that their characters are doing the same thing – that we all are doing that. So then it becomes really simple and human. James always talks about how he’s fascinated by Baroque – I think the play is too: These things that seem really dissonant, and flourished, and intricate at first glance are actually bringing out an ordered, natural, and universal core. I think that’s sexy. And fun.
4. What do you identify most with about your character, "Laetitia Prism?" Hah! Well, like a lot of funny characters, she’s been through a hell of sorts. She’s spent years escaping from it – trying to re-do it so that it’ll suddenly, magically, have not happened to her at all. I did that once for a few years, and it was miserable. Things don’t get pleasant with her – or at least true – until she deals with her own hell.
5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? I always want people to have felt something or been driven to think in a new way. To me, that’s what "good" is. It’s really not relevant whether I "like" something or not, as long as I’m a little more human than I was 2 hours before. I LOVE watching the scenes I’m not in in this show, because these insanely talented actors make that happen! So that’d be a success, for me – if our audiences leave at least a little surprised by their own humanity.
6. What do you like about working with James Rutherford and Elliot B. Quick? They’re jolly and so smart, and they have such care for this work. I honestly still have no idea who our director(s) are/is, or if we have any, because they work so seamlessly together and just want to get this thing on its feet in the richest way they can. They’re passionate, passionate smartasses and happen to be two of my favorite people on the planet.
7. You were in the most recent revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, understudying Scarlett Johansson. What was this experience like...To be so young and to have the opportunity to understudy one of Hollywood's biggest names? After the initial start-struckness of meeting her, it was surprisingly normal! (Except for actually performing it for the first time – that was absolutely surreal). She’s a very driven actor, and I had so much respect for what a pro she was while working on "Maggie" that each run became another wonderful day in the "office." It was fascinating to see the techniques she used to fight for this woman, and to watch her open herself up to that ferocious vulnerability every night. I have a lot of gratitude for modern young women playing titanic roles, especially when they draw as large a following as Scarlett does. It’s the opposite of what reality-tv culture is grooming us, the 20-something-yr-old women, to be, and we need a stronger balance in that direction.
8. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? So far, that I’m actually living life when I’m actively and intentionally doing things that grow me and (often, consequently) terrify me.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? "Breathe now." Still working on that one.
10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Time traveling! Is that a super-power? I mean I’m pretty sure that’s why I got into acting in the first place. Or maybe Insta-Healing. Like, Powder-style. I should probably just take some Reiki classes.
More on Leighton: Leighton lived, acted and raised a kitten with a lot of these crazy folks in a giant undergrad house at Brown. She's a recent alum of NYU's Graduate Acting program. Broadway: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Margaret/Mae understudy (performed); Easter Bonnet 2013. Regional: Present Laughter, Joanna (Two River Theater). NYU: Safeword (dir. Tea Alagic), Henry Box Brown Play (dir. Mark Wing-Davey), Orpheus Descending (dir. Tazewell Thompson), The Emperor Antony (dir. Victor Pappas), Ruby Sunrise (dir. Pamela Berlin), Macbeth (dir. Janet Zarisch), The Rivals (dir. Alex Harvey), Dabda, PA (co-created with Rachel Mewbron, Colin Baker, Brendan Titley). RADA: Death of Kings (dir. John Adams). Brown University (undergrad): Much Ado About Nothing, City of Angels, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Psyche.