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The Assembled Parties - Broadway

Judith Light stars in the world premiere of Richard Greenberg's new play.

The Assembled Parties’ Jessica Hecht on Favorite Roles & Strong Male Co-Stars, From Liev Schreiber to Bryan Cranston

The Assembled Parties’ Jessica Hecht on Favorite Roles & Strong Male Co-Stars, From Liev Schreiber to Bryan Cranston
Jessica Hecht
Jessica Hecht on creating chemistry on stage and screen.

If there was a theatrical equivalent to baseball’s All-Star team, Jessica Hecht would be the starting shortstop. Her range encompasses comedy (Harvey, TV’s Friends), drama (Julius Caesar, a Tony-nominated performance in A View From the Bridge), supporting roles (the short-but-sweet revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs, Sideways) and star turns (regional productions of Talley’s Folly and A Streetcar Named Desire). Now starring in Manhattan Theatre Club's Broadway debut of Richard Greenberg’s “beautiful” family drama The Assembled Parties, Hecht chose five plays and a semi-surprising TV appearance for her Role Call.

Role That Required the Most Strength
“I joined A View From the Bridge [2010, as Beatrice Carbone; Best Featured Actress Tony nomination] a week after Brighton Beach Memoirs closed unexpectedly. I usually spend months researching a play, but in this case I had to rely on my gut instincts and on [director] Greg Mosher and [co-star] Liev [Schreiber], who had passionate ideas about the person they needed me to be. Often it was a battle of wills, and the intensity of our process was exactly what the characters went through. Early on, I saw [Bea] from an emotional place, longing for the love of her husband and looking at Catherine [Scarlett Johansson] in a maternal way. But I had to supplant the softness of those feelings; it was a mental exercise in overriding my sensitivity. My character had to get really strong and say to Liev, ‘You are not going to take control of this family.' The whole experience was pretty profound.”

Role That Was a Lesson in Screen Acting
“Working with Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad [as Gretchen Schwartz, 2008-present] has been totally thrilling because he is so clear in his approach. I played the wealthy ex-girlfriend of his character [teacher-turned-drug lord Walter White] in the first two seasons, someone who remembers him before he became subhuman in his behavior, and my character comes back for the very end of the show. I have kind of a lyrical quality as a person—I can veer away from what some might define as a straight path—but Bryan is a totally direct and open actor. He can play angry or romantic or whatever the scene is, but he is always focused on you in a positive way; his whole energy is about making the scene go well. He told me he learned that [approach] from another actor I love working with, Alfred Molina. That’s what I aspire to have: the ability to clear away the crap that makes you anxious as an actor and focus on having a rapport with the person in front of you.”

Role That Was a Dream Come True
A Streetcar Named Desire [2011, as Blanche DuBois, at Williamtown Theatre Festival] was a magnificent experience. The run was only two weeks, but Sam Rockwell [Stanley] and I thought about the play and worked on it for about a year beforehand, which was so fulfilling. It felt like something actors used to do: working on a character just for yourself, and then showing it to people for a couple of weeks. I saw Blanche as a deeply capable person who just had a really crappy string of luck. Her life seems pathetic when she enters that world [in New Orleans], but she is still strategizing her escape. Working with Sam and [director] David Cromer was so rich and meaningful; we’re praying to do it again in another place, although the clock is ticking.” 

Role That Was My Theatrical Debut
“I got my Equity card in A Midsummer Night’s Dream [1989, as Helena] in a production designed by Julie Taymor and magnificently directed by Jeffrey Horowitz at Theatre for a New Audience. I auditioned the week I was leaving for graduate school at La Jolla Playhouse. When I got the part, I came home from San Diego and never went back! Julie created masks and puppets and fairy-like costumes; you definitely felt like you were in the presence of some sort of genius artist, and the fact that I felt funny on stage was a really affirming experience. When I was at NYU, my dream was to do the classics, and that production made me think, ‘Oh my god, I can totally live in New York and do theater.' After a couple of years, I realized how hard that is!”

Role That Was the Most Physically Difficult
“I was pregnant with my first child during Stop/Kiss [1998, as Callie], and for whatever reason, the fact that I was so physically uncomfortable allowed me to be freer in the role. Diana Son’s play is about two women who are deeply close as friends. One night as they’re walking in the West Village, the dynamic changes, and they share a kiss. [Co-star] Sandra Oh is immediately the victim of a vicious attack because we’re kissing, and in the process of nursing her back to health, I deal with my guilt and confusion over whether I am gay. The play goes back and forth in time, and I loved immersing myself in that tricky structure. When I finally told the cast I was pregnant, Kevin Carroll said, ‘I am so thrilled to hear that—I thought you were a drug addict. You used to fall asleep backstage, and you were so loose, I thought, ‘What is she on?’”

Role in a Great Ensemble
“I’ve played Olga in Three Sisters twice, first at Williamstown [2008, pictured] and then off-Broadway with [director] Austin Pendleton [2011], a great interpreter of Chekhov. That play taught me so much about truth and honesty and chemistry—the chemistry of the cast defines every successful production. Michael Greif’s Williamstown revival gave you a sense of what the world was like for these women, with Olga desperately trying to maintain the dignity of a life that was fast decaying. She’s the most romantic person in the play. When I did it the first time, I developed this fantasy that Vershinin, the character my sister Masha is in love with, is also in love with me. Austin’s production was radically different because Peter Sarsgaard [Vershinin] is married to Maggie Gyllenhaal [Masha]. Their passion was undeniable, so my idea was completely absurd! I had to create a new way of existing, so it was a transformative experience.”

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