Film fans with a taste for quirky roles know Beth Grant as the pageant official in Little Miss Sunshine, the Sparkle Motion dance teacher in Donnie Darko, the town drunk in To Wong Foo and the West Texas matron who intoned, “It’s not often you see a Mexican in a suit,” in No Country for Old Men. Now the Alabama-born actress is raising hell at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Tricks the Devil Taught Me, Tony Georges’ portrait of a deeply unhappy small-town Texas marriage. Cursing a mile a minute, Grant’s character rails at her husband and grown son (who give as good as they get) while sneaking nips of bourbon and planning meetings of her prayer group. Broadway.com chatted with the live-wire actress about her excitement at returning off-Broadway after an absence of more than three decades.
You’ve done a ton of theater in Los Angeles. What took you so long to star on the New York stage?
That’s a good question! Don’t think I wasn’t trying. I came close on August: Osage County when Estelle Parsons got the part [of Violet Weston], but when I heard she was doing it, I said, “Well, she should have gotten that role!” I started here in Romulus Linney’s Holy Ghosts, straight out of college at East Carolina University [in 1973], and I’ve longed to come back ever since. My daughter is going to be a freshman at Juilliard this fall, so it’s perfect timing. And I’m having a blast.
Have you counted the curse words your character says?
That’s the first thing I thought when I read it: There a lot of cussing in this play! [Laughs.] But you know what I like about that? It becomes almost incidental after a while. It becomes like music, in a strange way.
Do you curse in real life?
I used to, until I was shooting To Wong Foo in Nebraska. My daughter was not yet two, we went in a toy store, and she walked up to a contraption and said, “What the hell is that?” I said, “I’ll be cleaning up my language now.” I quit cold turkey, and it wasn’t easy. But I had a therapist once who said [about profanity], “Sometimes there’s just nothing else that can be said. You have to let one fly.”
You starred in the world premiere of Horton Foote’s The Day Emily Married in California. What are your memories of him?
Oh, I adored him. I used to say to my husband, “[Foote] is so underappreciated,” and he said, “He’s got two Oscars and a Pulitzer Prize. What do you want them to do?” [Laughs.] This is a fun story: I’ve known Jake Gyllenhaal since he was three years old because he was best friends with my nieces. We were doing Donnie Darko in 2000, the summer I did the play, and the casting director asked if I could get Horton and Jake together because Horton wanted Jake to do a movie of one of his plays. So I put together a dinner party in 24 hours with Horton and [daughter] Hallie Foote, Jake Gyllenhaal and Maggie Gyllenhaal. When I opened my door and Horton Foote was standing on my front porch, I thought I had died and gone to heaven!
What about Kristin Chenoweth, with whom you shared a crazy scene in Pushing Daisies?
What a darling, sweet girl! My daughter’s favorite musical is Wicked, which she has seen hundreds of times—she even worked as an usher at the Pantages so she could see it over and over. Her dream is to play Elphaba. Kristin said to her, “You go to college and get that training, because you are going to need the muscles and the endurance to do eight shows a week.” I was so grateful to her for saying that, because these kids start so young now; they think, “Oh, we’ll just go be on American Idol.” Kristin is precious. She's doing that new show, Good Christian Belles, with Darren Star, who was my intern when he was a senior in college.
He'd better write a part for you!
He said he was going to, but I came to do this play. I’ve never had a problem getting work, but how often do you get a role like the one I’m doing now? There is nothing like going on a stage. You are in the saddle and you’ve got to ride that horse, and there’s nothing more thrilling and exhilarating.
Do people do a double take when they see you on the street?
I get recognized all day, every day. It’s one of two things: They think I went to church with them, that I’m the soccer mom, or there is a specific movie they love. The fans of Speed are very different from the fans of To Wong Foo, which are different from Donnie Darko. Look at the classics I’ve been in: No Country for Old Men…Little Miss Sunshine…Rain Man was my first big studio movie! How lucky is that?
With parts in more than 80 movies, you must have a gigantic clip reel.
My agent says, “We’ve got to take some of this stuff off your resume,” but it’s so hard. Every character I’ve played is like family to me.