Oscar-Winning Actress Marcia Gay Harden: "There's Nothing Like Comedy”

Marcia Gay Harden has spent decades taking on Hollywood's most hard-hitting roles. We spoke with the seasoned star about her foray into comedy and what you'll catch her in next.
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Oscar-Winning Actress Marcia Gay Harden: “There’s Nothing Like Comedy”

Marcia Gay Harden has spent decades taking on Hollywood’s most hard-hitting roles. We spoke with the seasoned star about her foray into comedy and what you’ll catch her in next.

-Diana Denza

Marcia Gay Harden

From a devoted wife in Pollock to an undercover FBI agent in Law & Order: SVU, award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden has delivered –and then some– in the array of roles thrown her way. And now, the respected 53-year-old star is showing off her comic genius in Joan Carr-Wiggin’s dramedy, If I Were You, which is slated for a limited release on March 15, 2013. We chatted with Harden about her starring role (she plays a woman who accidentally befriends her cheating husband’s mistress and joins an amateur production of King Lear in the process), how she chooses her roles, her advice for up-and-coming female professionals, and her big future plans.

Betty Confidential: What drew you to your role in If I Were You?

Marcia Gay Harden: I think Madelyn represented what a lot of women go through at a certain age. Her relationship is failing, she’s caring for her mother, she doesn’t know what’s going on in her life, her aspirations have blacked out, and a crisis occurs that shakes her up, and I like that. And then it was comedic and there was physical comedy involved, so I thought, this is something I want to do.

BC: There are a lot of comedic elements in the film. Is that a nice break from the more serious roles you’ve taken on and would you ever consider sticking with that?

MGH: Well, if I had the choice to stick with it, I’d tell you that I’d love to do comedy. It’s fun, especially when you can base it in truth, and I think it’s resonant. I wish I did have the choice. I tend to get cast a lot as darker and dramatic and I love those roles, too. I think it’s healthy that I get to do a smattering of all different kinds of roles. It was a blast to make people laugh in the play, God of Carnage –the characters are furious, they’re angry, they are furious, but it’s funny. And in this case, it was the same. She was really hurt and really mad and really lonely but because of Joan Carr-Wiggin’s directing and storytelling, you just kind of laugh at it and I feel like a lot of women will be able to relate to the myriad of emotions she’s feeling. There’s nothing like comedy.

Marcia Gay Harden

BC: How do you come to decisions over which roles to take on and which to pass up?

MGH: Well, I’ve got three kids and I’m a single mom, so if a role comes my way and requires three months and you can only visit your kids on weekends, that’s going to be hard to do. If it was an absolutely great role that I couldn’t pass up, I would figure it out. It’s such a complicated process and it’s lovely to think that all of it’s about choice, that you can choose from among A,B,C, or D, but sometimes it’s just A. It’s right there on the table and you’re like…okay, I’m going with A, or I’m not going to go with A and trust that something else will come along. Sometimes, I’ll read things and think, you know, another actress can do this a thousand times better than I can and I’m not going to find the depth that somebody else will. Or sometimes, I’ll have done it a hundred times and think it’s not something I want to do again; I want to do something different.

BC: How did you prepare for your role and did you find that a lot of it came naturally?

MGH: I just went with it. I didn’t really even look at King Lear because my character’s not supposed to be an actress and do King Lear very well. But it really depends on the character. If you’re playing a real person, you have to find a way to get your body and your face and your voice and your walk in there, so it feels like them. Not mimic them, but grab the essence of them. I just did something called Parkland; it was about the final few hours of JFK’s life in the hospital and we had to do a lot of medical types of things. The medical jargon had to be really easy for me to say. The director would be like, ok do what you’d do in an emergency room and I’d be like, are you kidding? I don’t know what I’d do in an emergency room! If I Were You was closer to real life for me and people I know; it was just about letting the truth come out and finding the humor in it.

Up next: Harden opens up about her character in ‘If I Were You’, Hollywood, and previous roles. 

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