On Sunday, June 9, Broadway theater will celebrate itself at the 67th Tony Awards. Kurt Andersen spoke with Fiona Shaw, the star (and sole performer) of The Testament of Mary, which is nominated for Best Play; Tracy Letts, up for Best Actor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf; and Tom Hanks and George C. Wolfe, nominated for Best Actor and Best Director respectively in Lucky Guy. The last play by Nora Ephron, who died last year, Lucky Guy is also a nominee for Best Play.
Hanks told Kurt that he had resisted the role of Mike McAlary, a real New York City tabloid reporter who struck him as "kind of a jerk," Hanks admits. "Can you say asshole on public radio?" He had done essentially no stage acting throughout his career, and accepted in part for the chance to work with Ephron. "Nora was a good hang. She was a fun person to spend time with – you always ate well, you always laughed, you were always constantly talking about the pulse of the nation and the world."
Wolfe says that Ephron decided to write about McAlary many years earlier. "She read McAlary's obituary [he died in 1998] and went, 'This will be a great play,'" Wolfe recounts. "McAlary was on his way to interview Abner Louima" – for Daily News reports that stunned the city and received the Pulitzer Prize – "when he was on chemo. Nora, about the time that she started to work with me, started chemo."
Ephron, who was as beloved as she was admired, kept her illness a secret from the theater community. "I would give her tons and tons and tons of notes and I would say, 'Take your time.' Then she'd be back a week later, or a week and a half later, with a new draft. I was sort of dazzled and sort of frustrated," Wolfe says. "She was sick and I didn't know it. She was working at a very different time table. There was a ferocity and discipline and rigor as she approached the work that was just astonishing."
Bonus Track: George C. Wolfe
Listen to all of Kurt Andersen's conversation with George C. Wolfe, recorded at the WNYC Producer's Circle Reception on May 14, 2013.
More 2013 Tony Nominees on Studio 360
Tom Hanks talks more about his experience working with the late Nora Ephron on Lucky Guy.
Total Play Nominations: 6
Tim Minchin plays songs from his nominated score to Matilda the Musical.
Total Play Nominations: 12
Fiona Shaw talks about how she brought attitude to her portrayal of the mother of Jesus in The Testament of Mary.
Total Play Nominations: 3
Tracy Letts explains why he believes a love story is at the heart of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Total Play Nominations: 5