"Call Me Adam" chats with Broadway couple Chris Henry Coffey and Jennifer Mudge about starring on Broadway in the same season in two different shows. Chris is starring in Broadway's Bronx Bombers at Circle in the Square while Jennifer stars in Broadway's Rocky at the Wintergarden Theatre.
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer?
Chris: I originally thought I was going into broadcasting or broadcast journalism. I’ve always been interested in current events, issues of the day, and what makes people tick. And the idea of telling those stories of the day for a living sounded interesting to me. But when I stepped on stage, and literally into someone else’s shoes for the first time, I knew I had found the missing link: the psychology of why and how people live, and the permission to investigate that from the inside, out. The rehearsal process has always been a favorite part of the process whether it’s my curiosity about a subject I know little about, or the desire to understand why a person behaves the way he does.
Jennifer: I never really wanted to do anything else... I was a big reader as a kid, and when I discovered I could basically "read out loud" as a job, I was hooked. I also think I felt more comfortable onstage, in other worlds, than my own.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to?
Chris: I’ve been very lucky in my career having worked with some giants of the theater. (Arthur Miller, for instance.). But there’s a long list of people I hope to work with some day—actors, writers, directors, designers. In terms of actors, the first person to pop into my head is Mark Rylance. I’d love to watch his process, learn from him. And then ACT with him. Richard Greenberg is a playwright whose work I’ve always admired and would love the opportunity to collaborate with him. I’d also love to be in the same room as the director Sam Gold, actor/director Terry Kinney and the actor/writer Tracy Letts, to name just a few. And, well, if I could go back in time it’d have to be with Shakespeare of course.
Jennifer: Wow - that is a big list - not to mention all the wonderful people I'd like to work with again...but I would eat my own shoes to be in anything with Emma Thompson or Didi O'Connell or Richard Jenkins, and I would love to be able to create a role in a Caryl Churchill or Edward Albee or Annie Baker play.
3. Chris, you are currently in the new Broadway show, Bronx Bombers and Jennifer, you are currently in rehearsals for Broadway's Rocky. What made each of you want to audition for your perspective shows?
Chris: For me, Bronx Bombers actually began as a workshop through Primary Stages in the mountains of Colorado (Perry-Mansfield) back in June of 2013. This gig is a great example of how, as an actor, you just never know where your next job is going to come from. Though one could argue that essentially I auditioned for the role through the development of the play in workshops, I do find it ironic that my Broadway debut came out of a project I never had to technically "go in for." The play developed through that original workshop, then readings, followed by an Off-Broadway run at Primary Stages and now at Circle in the Square.
Jennifer: ha! Well - like everyone, I thought "Rocky, a MUSICAL?" And then of course was sent a script by the amazing Tom Meehan (who created my role for the stage version), and saw that the music was by Ahrens/Flaherty, and that of course I would get to be in the room with Timbers.....And I realized it was something unexpected and awesome.
4. Chris: What do you identify most with about playing "Joe DiMaggio?" Joe DiMaggio was a man of great talent, integrity, and discipline. He lived his life the way he played baseball – highly competitively, and with hugely high standards – always searching for a certain sense of perfection. He wasn’t known to have many close friends, and he was a man of few words in the public eye. I get the sense that he was a loner, and not the happiest of people in a general sense. But he was also fiercely loyal, and people always gave him the respect he craved and deserved. I can identity w/ pieces of all those traits, and though I’m probably more accessible as a person than he was, I’m sometimes accused of a certain aloofness in social situations, similar to what I’ve heard and read about DiMaggio.
4a. What is like to portray such a well-known public figure? There's a certain standard of DiMaggio that I feel compelled to live up to both on stage and off. Also, because Bronx Bombers is playing here in NYC, I'm constantly meeting people who knew him when he was alive. So I feel a strong sense of responsibility to getting his essence right, or at least my version of what I understand that to be. Hopefully it translates well to the audience, the response has been very positive. It's a great challenge and a great honor to step into his shoes for a time.
4b. Jennifer: What's it like to be in a show, based upon one of the most popular movies of our time? Well, I think what we are really focusing on is the fact that when Stallone made it, he was an unknown underdog trying to get his voice heard and find his place in the world (as "Rocky" and as Stallone). So approaching it with the respect and integrity of the original film, but with the added drama of music and (live!) boxing....I won't lie, everyone's faces light up when the "Rocky" theme plays. I do have the advantage of having a "new" role, so I don't have the same burden of expectation, but it's still a process to figure out how she fits in that world.
Chris: Incredible. First of all, what a gift it is to be able to work together, literally across the street from each other, in Broadway shows. How rare that is, and a first for us. Jen and I got engaged in December in Puerto Rico right before we both started rehearsals for our respective shows. We’ve been together for a number of years through thick and thin, and through all the ups and downs, the celebrations and the defeats, we’ve stuck together and supported each other, held each other up. I think we’re both entering new phases in our lives now and I wanted to acknowledge that by offering my commitment to her in the biggest gig of all, spending our lives together. And she agreed.
Jennifer: Yes! and I want to add - the proposal itself was really a total surprise - we had talked of getting married, and maybe when and where - but I really didn't expect the old-fashioned, on the knee (in the Caribbean!) proposal. It was very romantic, and actually, classic Chris Coffey. Also, the night I booked Rocky (Chris already knew about Bronx Bombers), we had the most surreal hour or so of disbelief, and excitement - but really kind of overwhelmed by the sheer crazy coincidence of being half a block away, in sports plays! It's a good story - and we both feel lucky - we've been in this business long enough to know that you really have to relish the good things when they come.
6. With your busy schedules, how do you find the time to see each other?
Chris: We have our mornings together, and generally evenings together as well, whether it’s at home or out socially w/ friends or colleagues. Occasionally we’ve been able to commute to work together in midtown as well, which is a real treat. Once our shows are both open, we’ll have our days to be together and work on other projects together as well.
Jennifer: I also text him lots of pictures of our kittens.
Chris: It can be tough finding a balance there, but that’s one of the reasons we’re together and always will be. We both know the ups and downs so well, and can really hold each other up when the other needs it. We do well with that. We love each other and also need each other too, so there’s a shared agreement I think to really be the support the other needs, even if it’s sometimes hard to do. And I also make excellent martinis or manhattans after a long day, and that certainly helps sometimes.
Jennifer: He makes Excellent drinks....Also I think we're both pretty on board with the idea that what is good for one, is good for both. We also have similar goals in terms of life/work balance - and we are so very fortunate to have incredibly great friends and family. Who love his drinks.
8. What's the best advice you've ever received?
Chris: I’ve received a lot a great advice from mentors, parents, friends and teachers...but I have to say, the one that first popped into my head just now is that great speech "Polonius" has in Hamlet to his son "Laertes." The line I remember is: "This above all: to thine ownself be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
Jennifer: "You can do it." - my Dad. Also, I've discovered when people say cruel or disheartening things it is NEVER about you. I take them as compliments or blessings now. Like "Lady Violet" on Downton Abbey.
Chris: I’ve learned a great deal through performing. It’s a window into the world, and a window into myself. I learn about myself through every job: my strengths, fears, apprehensions, fortitude...my ability to overcome adversity as well as my endurance through it all.
Jennifer: I really love our profession - the community, the fellowship, the struggle. I've learned how to be a better person - a better listener and friend (I hope) from the extraordinary people I've met in this industry. I very, very often think of Nina's lines from Seagull (which I worked on in grad school but never being the classic ingenue, it was not, alas, meant to be anytime else): "I know now what being an actor is. It's not about the fame or glory....but enduring." That is a probably badly recalled quote from a translation - but I guess it is telling that that is how I remember it!
10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose?
Chris: I’m not sure this is a super power, but I do wish I had the ability to be two places at once. Along those lines, I daydream sometimes when I look up at beautiful old buildings and gorgeous architecture here in NYC and wish I could go back in time to other eras.
Jennifer: He stole mine! I love time travel....But if we are a band of caped crusaders and everyone must have a different power, I guess mine would be bringing people back to life.
Most recently Chris was seen in A.R. Gurney's The Dining Room at the Westport Country Playhouse, directed by Mark Lamos and in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Water by the Spoonful at Second Stage, directed by Davis McCallum. Most recent film and TV credits include The Little Tin Man (which will release 2013) and Epilogue (which premiered at Tribeca FF 2013). Also Neil LaBute's BFF and David Schwimmer's feature Trust. Recurring roles on Law & Order: CI, guest-stars on The Good Wife, Cupid, Law & Order, and others. Chris is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama.
On Broadway The Philanthropist and Reckless. Her additional New York credits include Fault Lines, The Big Meal, Don’t Go Gentle, Ooh-Rah, The Pavilion and The Stendhal Syndrome. Her film and TV appearances include Law & Order, The Good Wife, The Big C, You Don’t Know Jack, Boss, and the forthcoming film My America.