Amy Morton (Martha)is an actor, director and member of Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. As an actor, she has appeared in over 30 productions for the theatre, and has appeared on Broadway in August: Osage County, (receiving Tony and Drama Desk nominations for Best Actress), as well as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Film credits include: Up In the Air, The Dilemma, Rookie of the Year, 8mm, Falling Down, and the soon to be released independent feature film, Bluebird for Killer Films. She appears throughout Season 2 in the Starz series, “Boss.” Prior to joining Steppenwolf, Amy was a member of The Remains Theatre Ensemble for 15 years.
Interview by Andy S. Drachenberg
You’ve previously directed Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Have you approached the material differently as an actor than you did as a director?
Acting and directing are two entirely separate disciplines. As an actor, I’m in charge of one track; I have to make sure that Martha is holding up her end of the story. As a director, you’re overseeing everything. You’re casting a much wider net as a director. As an actor approaching this, it’s a very large role and it’s a very difficult play to do, so you just kind of start with page one and memorize it. It’s very difficult language to memorize, too. You treat it as you do any other play; you just sort of try to psychologically piece your way through it. You try to have it make sense from one moment to the next.
How do you prepare to perform such an emotionally and physically draining play eight times per week?
I don’t do much during the day, quite frankly. I sleep a lot. I eat a lot of protein. It’s not like I can go museum-hopping during the day and then do the show. It really is about conserving your energy because you know that for three hours it’s going to be incredibly concentrated and you’re going to have to be very focused. It’s physically and psychologically taxing, so I just store energy all day.
How has your experience with this production differed from your past Broadway experiences?
It’s more difficult. August: Osage County was the same routine because that was also a three-act epic in which I was on stage a lot. Not as much as I am in Virginia Woolf, but it was still a very difficult role, physically and emotionally. I learned from August how to conserve the energy. This is the hardest role that I’ve ever done, but it’s not all that dissimilar from August in terms of what I have to do during the day to make sure I’m up for it that night.
How did you personally connect to Martha’s psyche to understand her better as a character?
This was not an easy role for me to do. It just wasn’t easy to connect to emotionally and psychologically. It didn’t really click until a month after we opened in Chicago. She leads her life in a very different way than I do. She’s very sexual, whereas that’s not something I ever put on display in the way I move through the world. That’s just one example of having to wrap my head around a woman whose M.O. in the world is very different than mine. It took a very long time for me to get confident in the role.
You’ve spent a good deal of time with this production through its many incarnations since it premiered in Chicago in 2010. How have different layers of the play been unveiled to you over time?
When Jeffrey [Richards, producer of the Broadway production] told us that he would love to take this production to Broadway but not until the fall of 2012, we knew that would be a lot of time off. We were worried that we would lose it, so we got together every couple of months or so just to run the lines because we didn’t want to have to start all over with rememorizing the play. It turned out that the time away was kind of great. When we went back into rehearsal, all of us were more confident and it was a deeper experience doing the play. I think that it’s a very different experience for an audience watching the play between Chicago and now.