Aurora theatregoers are in for a treat as Carolyn Cook, winner of 2013’s Suzi Bass Award for Lead Actress in a Play, graces the stage as Marie Lombardi. Beginning January 16 and running until February 9, kicking off the second half of the 2013–2014 season, Lombardi brings to life two of the most intriguing characters of the 20th century—one being Vince, the other being Marie.
Ms. Cook took some time out to talk with us about her upcoming role, her thoughts on the play, discovering the real Marie Lombardi and her love for the theatre.
Q: What attracted you to the role of Marie?
A: I like her dry wit and her toughness. Also, I wanted the challenge of playing someone so different from my usual roles. I do a lot of Shakespeare (at Georgia Shakespeare) and when I do contemporary roles (usually at Horizon Theatre) they’re often serious, issue-driven characters who are changing the world. I absolutely love those characters, but it’s great to step into something totally different—a 1960s football wife, wearing high heels and sipping a martini. It’s fun.
Q: How do you approach playing a character who was a real person, rather than a fictional character?
A: I read biographies. If there are letters or journals, I definitely look at them. Nowadays it’s fun to look for video of the person online just to see how they moved or what they sounded like. But I also believe it’s important to play the character as she is written in the play. The playwright has chosen what aspects of Marie to show and I need to embody those parts of her and let history deal with the rest.
Q: How is the character of Marie different from Carolyn?
A: Well, I didn’t marry a football coach and I don’t think I could ever live in a place as cold as Green Bay! But besides that I guess the biggest difference is the time when each of us was born. As a woman, I’ve had many more choices than Marie had. In her life, marriage was a career; she was defined by being Vince Lombardi’s wife. I have a great marriage but I also have a career in my own right. And she was a shopper; she loved clothes and shoes and all the trappings, whereas I could easily live my life in blue jeans and never set foot in a mall. I do love dressing up as my characters, though!
Q: In your blog, Lifelong Metamorphoses, you state that you blog about various things—one being the human experience. If Marie were a blogger, what do you think she’d have to say about her 30-year experience as wife to such a legendary figure in professional football?
A: I don’t think she’d blog about her marriage. I think Marie might blog about fashion and shopping! She loved to shop in all the cities where the Packers played. There’s a great story about her going shopping with Vince’s brother in San Francisco instead of going to the stadium. She was a New Jersey girl and loved to shop in New York. I can imagine her writing a great “what to wear” blog.
Q: While researching for this part, what did you discover about Marie Lombardi that you may not have expected to find that may be particularly challenging to bring to the stage?
A: There’s a sadness in Marie that she kept hidden pretty well. I’d love to find a way to layer that into my performance without detracting from the excitement and passion of the Lombardi story.
Q: In what ways does Marie influence what the audience will think of Vince?
A: I think the audience will get a clearer sense of Lombardi the man (as opposed to Lombardi the hero) by seeing his interactions with Marie. They’ll see an imperfect marriage, a lot of frustration and arguing, but also a fierce loyalty between the two of them. And they’ll hear Marie “interpret” Vince for Michael, the reporter. Her perspective is vital if you want to cut through the publicity and see the real man.
Q: Football fans love Coach Lombardi, but what would you say is a compelling reason for a non-football fan to see the show?
A: I’m not all that into football, but I think the play is a terrific story about ambition, relationships, families, fathers and sons… there’s so much there. It also highlights a turning point in American sports and in the American way of life—when players were beginning to organize and football was on the verge of becoming big business. It provides a fascinating perspective on how we changed as a culture during the twentieth century.
Q: We’ve talked about Marie Lombardi, let’s talk a little about the actress behind the character. What is it about theatre acting that makes it the right career for you, Carolyn?
A: I have loved theatre since I was a child. I like the combination of disciplines—great writing, design, sound and lighting, and the excitement of live interactions with other actors and the audience. I wasn’t always sure it would be my career, but once I made the decision to pursue it in my late 20s, I knew I was hooked!
Q: You recently won the Suzi Bass Award for Lead Actress in a Play for your performance as Sarah in Time Stands Still. Congratulations! What was it like finding out you’d been nominated and then ultimately taking home the prize?
A: I was honored to be nominated and really grateful to get the award. I loved Suzi Bass. Overall, though, I was just happy to be a part of an exciting evening where we celebrated great Atlanta theatre. There are a lot of really terrific theatre artists in metro Atlanta. I loved seeing so many of us together, cheering for each other.
Q: Please tell readers a little bit about your affiliation with Théâtre du Rêve and how it began.
A: I founded the company. I wanted to do theatre in French, because I was a professional actor with a French degree and I was eager to combine those two passions. I feel extremely grateful that I was able to run the company for ten years and then pass it on to a very able colleague (Park Krausen) who has taken it to a whole new level. If any Aurora patrons are interested, they can learn more about the company at here and come see us perform this spring!
Q: What would you like the Aurora Theatre audience to walk away from the theatre thinking/feeling about Marie Lombardi?
A: Hmmm… I’m going to let them draw their own conclusions. I just want my work to serve the larger story that the play tells. That’s the most important thing.
In addition to her performance as Marie in the upcoming stage presentation of Lombardi in 2014, Carolyn will be working with playwright Steve Yockey on a new play called Blackberry Winter this April. There’s a great video about the project here.