Since winning the 2012 Best Actress Tony for her sexy star turn in Venus in Fur, Nina Arianda has jumped from film to film, sharing the screen with Toni Collette in Lucky Them (debuting April 21 at the Tribeca Film Festival) and playing a crack-era gun moll from Queens with a talent for loading an Uzi in the just-released comedy Rob the Mob. On stage, Arianda is currently living in a very different era, post-World War I Austria, in Manhattan Theatre Club’s off-Broadway premiere of Tales From Red Vienna. In David Grimm’s Ibsen-esque drama, she stars as Helena, a young widow who turns to prostitution to maintain her place in society. How does this chameleon shift from comedy to tragedy, stage to screen and back? One step at a time, she tells Broadway.com.
You have so much going on right now, with two new movies and a demanding stage role. Is it hard to keep everything straight?
I’m just keeping my head down and trying to stay afloat [laughs].
How did it feel to get a glowing review in The New York Times for Rob the Mob, your first starring film role?
I don’t read reviews, but that’s great to hear. I haven’t even seen the movie yet on the big screen. I had two shows on that Sunday [of the premiere], but I look forward to seeing it.
Let’s talk about Tales From Red Vienna first. What drew you to the play?
The theme of survival is fascinating to me. I had grandparents who lived through that time, and I grew up hearing stories of being at rock bottom in a war-torn situation. It’s just a huge challenge to take on that kind of despair and grief. Not to sound corny, but [Helena is] incredibly brave. It takes a lot of courage to live in the unknown, to say, “I don’t know what I am going to do, but I have to do something.”
As in Venus in Fur, you have some intense sexual scenes in this play. What’s the key to feeling comfortable in front of an audience?
The most important thing is to have a partner you trust. The fates smiled on me with Michael Esper because he’s an extraordinary person to be on stage with, and a gentleman to boot. The second thing is to remember that it’s not about you, it’s about the character.
This is your first play since winning the Tony. What’s your biggest memory of that night?
Being very hot [laughs]. I honestly feel like I blacked out once I went on stage. I guess my biggest memory was having my parents there with me to share the moment. And, obviously, meeting [presenter] Christopher Plummer was pretty exciting.
Your program bio thanks your parents for being “supportive, loving and good looking.” What’s the most important lesson you learned from them?
To focus and stay on track. I don’t know if it’s a lesson, but I’m incredibly grateful that I was given what every artist needs—space and support—throughout my life. They continue to do that for me, and that’s why they are so attractive, loving and perfect [laughs].
You’re an only child who started auditioning when you were a kid. Were your mom and dad stage parents?
Oh, no. If anything, I was the stage parent, I switched roles somehow! When I was 17, my parents were in Germany because of my father’s job [in the Defense Department] and I came back to New York [to study acting]. It was tough, but my parents knew that I was pursuing something I loved.
You’ve also got Lucky Them coming up with Toni Collette—and you’re both on stage in New York now. [Collette stars in The Realistic Joneses on Broadway.]
I know! It’s so exciting. I played her sister on an episode of Hostages, and I play her best friend in this movie. It’s a dramedy, and the cast is extraordinary: Toni, Thomas Haden Church and Oliver Platt.
What going on with The Humbling, a movie you did with Al Pacino?
The filming is completed. Without giving anything away, I play a close friend of his. It was above and beyond the finest master class anybody could ask for, and an incredible honor even to be allowed to watch Mr. Pacino and [director] Barry Levinson work. I’m still processing that experience because it was life changing.
Is the Janis Joplin biopic you’ve been announced to star in still happening?
I hope so. It’s a monster process and has taken a lot of time. Everyone is very keen to make it as right as possible.
On an episode of Show People, you chatted about the possibility of doing a musical. Have you given any more thought to that?
All the time! I love a good musical.
How about Sweet Charity?
Have we hit the 10-year mark [since the last production]? Isn’t that the rule on Broadway?
Close! [Christina Applegate played the title role in 2005.] Any shows in mind?
I love Ain’t Misbehavin’, but that’s wishful thinking. I love Nine. I love the wife [Luisa]. “Be On Your Own” is one of my favorite songs. Yeah, let’s do a musical! Why not?
You’ve been called Broadway’s “It Girl” and compared to Meryl Streep and Judy Holliday. Does that create pressure?
I think so, and I think that’s why I don’t read anything [in the press]. I live under a rock.
How do you see career developing in the next five to 10 years?
Hopefully forward, and hopefully in New York, near my family. Forward and active—that’s how I would like my career to be.
How about personally? Are your parents trying to get you married?
Of course! I think all parents try to get their kids married. Luckily, they also get my career. But sure—I would love that. I try not to look too far ahead, but I’d love to actively pursue my job and actively pursue a personal life. That’s my goal: to find that delicate balance.
See Nina Arianda in Manhattan Theatre Club’s Tales From Red Vienna at New York City Center Stage I.