Emmy-nominated actress Maura Tierney is well-known to TV audiences from her work on ER and NewsRadio; come April 1, she’ll reach a whole new set of fans when she makes her Broadway debut as Alice McAlary, the loyal wife of famed tabloid journalist Mike McAlary (Tom Hanks) in Nora Ephron’s final play, Lucky Guy. Tierney has earned her keep on the New York stage in the off-Broadway cast of Neil LaBute’s Some Girl(s), as well as Three Changes at Playwrights Horizons and Three Hotels at the Williamstown Theater Festival. Broadway.com recently chatted with the incredibly talented actress about acting opposite Hanks, revisiting the ‘90s and prepping for her first big Broadway opening night.
You’ve done plenty of New York theater. Why make your Broadway debut now?
They invited me to participate, so I said yes! I really wanted to work with [director] George C. Wolfe and Tom.
What were your initial meetings like?
George is a delightful person and incredibly smart, so it was fun right from the beginning. It was also curious. George and I got together at his house a week before the whole company started rehearsing, and we had some really interesting conversations about the play and Nora and about his initial ideas thematically about what the piece was going to be. Tom and George are both really fun guys and they like to have a good time.
How have audiences been responding so far to Lucky Guy?
They’re so excited to see Tom, so it doesn’t feel like you get a bunch of skeptics with their arms folded saying, “Prove something to me.” They’re on board, and I think it’s a real compliment to him—people just love him. All of us are riding those coattails because they are lovely.
It’s a testament to the entire cast.
Oh, I think everyone is great in the play, but let’s be frank about who’s selling the most tickets!
How did you research the role? Did you get to talk to the real Alice McAlary?
George was not wild about us meeting our real counterparts at the very beginning, and I agreed with him. We rehearsed for five weeks and created the characters based on the script, and then I met her when I didn’t have a fear that it would affect any of the work we had done. I’m not playing her, I’m playing what Nora wrote.
Do you identify with the character?
I have to tell you, not so much. This is hard for me because she was a stay-at-home mom who lived in Belport, Long Island; she had four children. I’m not married, I don’t have kids and I live in Manhattan. In terms of that day-to-day stuff, I don’t know about that, but I do know what it’s like to love somebody, and I think she had a deep love and respect and loyalty for [Mike McAlary]. So, that part I can relate to.
What’s your dynamic like with Tom? Do you act like husband and wife off stage?
No, I think we probably goof around off stage more. What I have noticed about him is he’s very present as an actor and he’s an actualized human being. We got to do a lot of work very quickly because he’s really frank, so it cuts out a lot of the work—to have to forge a relationship—when people are open and candid. I like to think I’m the same way. Because he is so available, I think that it expedited the whole process. And he’s so charming!
How do you describe this show?
I don't, to be honest with you. I say to my friends, “I'm really curious to see what you think,” because it’s difficult to describe. The audience is involved almost immediately and included in the theatricality of the piece. That is the marriage of Nora and George together, because there’s the direct address in the script and he just lit a fire under it. It’s not so "out there," but it’s not conventional.
Have you done much narration before?
I did a Nicky Silver play, and he often breaks the fourth wall in his pieces. As George would say, once previews happen, our final scene partner comes in, which is the audience, I feel that to be really true in this case. They are our partner; other times I've done it, it hasn’t been as equal.
Do you get nostalgic, flashing back to the 1990s in the show?
That’s when I came to New York City—so did George; we all did. I remember the Tawana Brawley case and I remember Mike McAlary and I remember New York in those days, and it was different. Everybody does romanticize it like “back before New York was a mall, before Giuliani,” which is true. Before fascism really sunk its teeth into the city.
Do you feel like your character has a lot of the “meat” of the show?
I think that the emotional life is a little bit on my character’s shoulders because the guys are such guys. But I would say Courtney [B. Vance] and I both do that. We both have a crack inside Tom’s character and call him on his sh*t.
You deliver a very moving monologue about McAlary’s cancer diagnosis. Is that scene difficult for you? [Tierney completed breast cancer treatment in 2010.]
It’s difficult for me when people ask me if it’s difficult. Of course I understand, but the thing is, I would like to think that I’m acting. Any kind of performance that anybody does is informed by their life experience, so of course I can’t deny that something is probably going on. But what I’m trying to do to the best of my ability is tell the story. That moment for that character is the only time she gets to not be tough, so that’s what I’m thinking of mostly.
Why does this show strike such a chord? The entire cast is in tears at the end.
It’s very poignant. At one point George was like, “Y’all can’t cry!” and then he said, “Okay, you’re allowed to show whatever you’re feeling.” I think it varies, but it’s so f**king sad, and everybody is sad about Nora and McAlary. There’s a lot going on that’s moving.
Have you found it difficult to maintain Nora’s vision for the show without Nora?
I’m sure there were challenges, but none of [the actors] were made to feel that way. George worked on the script with Nora for six months. He had a really deep and thorough understanding of what she wanted to do. If we would come up against something that didn’t make sense or wasn’t working, he would go home and pull through another draft. If it’s hard, George or Tom didn’t let on.
How does it feel to finally be on Broadway? Were you always a big Broadway fan?
It’s extremely thrilling. And yes, always! I went to Godspell when I was 10—my mother took me, and that was the first play I ever saw. That was it for me.
Do you remember your first onstage experience?
I was like three. I had to say a poem in the Christmas play at my Montessori school. I don’t remember if I nailed it or not. I just remember my mother sewing my costumes.
How have you been handling the stage door?
You mean the crazy people? The crazy crowds, I should say. I don’t have to handle it! I walk and go “It’s not Tom!” and they go, “Ohhh, okay.” Chris McDonald told me that there were people outside with bathroom lighting fixtures waiting for Tom to sign them. People are weird.
There are only three women in this cast. Do you feel like you’ve cracked the boys’ club?
No, I don’t. I love all the guys and I love backstage. It’s really fun passing everybody when we make our entrances. But did we crack the boys club? I don’t know if that’s yet possible.
What’s next for you? More Broadway?
I don’t know. I would like to get really comfortable in this saddle. I’m not quite there yet. I’m still working through it and I have to say, it’s really, really, really exciting.
Lucky Guy opens on April 1 at the Broadhurst Theatre.