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26 April 2009 @ 02:28 pm
Carla Gugino goes for power and passion in 'Desire Under the Elms'  
Carla Gugino isn't whistling a happy tune. That is, when she's in character for "Desire Under the Elms." "I generally make a sort of playlist for my iPod for whatever project I'm doing," she says.

Since the Eugene O'Neill revival, opening Monday at the St. James Theatre, charts the horrific consequences of a lusty affair between Gugino's Abbie and the son (Pablo Schreiber) of her older husband (Brian Dennehy), the songs aren't toe-tappers. One "Desire" tune is Bonnie Prince Billy's haunting hymn "Cursed Sleep."

Gugino, 37, who turned heads last month in the popcorn-flavored flicks "Watchmen" and "Race to Witch Mountain," talks about turning up the heat - and tuning into her dark side - for her latest star turn on stage.

Your theater roles have been the unstable Maggie in "After the Fall," the unhinged Catherine in "Suddenly, Last Summer" and now the horny, homicidal Abbie. I'm noticing a trend.

Right. I like to choose the "light" material. But I balance it with "Witch Mountain." Abbie is brutal and tricky and complex. When I started rehearsals, the director Robert Falls said, "Nothing hurts like O'Neill." It took a couple weeks, but I realized he was right.

Did you watch the Sophia Loren-Anthony Perkins film to prepare?

No. I stayed away from it. The tone is so tricky in that. I did read the O'Neill biography "Beyond Mourning and Tragedy." There were passionate love letters in it that O'Neill wrote to an early girlfriend named Bea. When you read those letters - they were filled with lines like "I exist because of you" - you realize that the play reflects some of his experiences of love. Very passionate.

Speaking of passion, you have intense sexual scenes with Pablo Schreiber, Liev's brother. Did you know him before you were getting busy with him on the kitchen table?

No. I knew Liev a bit because we did a movie where we play lovers just before this. Pablo and I had an immediate natural chemistry, which was essential. There's a lot of physical and emotional violence in the play.

Brian Dennehy is an O'Neill aficionado - was that intimidating?

No. He's been a gracious, generous, caring actor. He's always so worried he doesn't hurt me, and that I'm standing in my light.

You and your boyfriend, filmmaker Sebastian Gutierrez, divide your time between L.A. and New York. Where do you live?

Chelsea, which is great. I love it because I'm a huge walker - 40 blocks is a good stroll for me. I love to be able to walk to the theater every day and also to be able to go to SoHo.

Haunts, hangouts or hot spots you'd care to share?

I love that walk along the Hudson River. One place I adore is ingeniously called Tablespoon [17 W. 20th St.]. It's next-door to this great little cafe, Spoon, that has fresh salads, soups and great baked goods to go. Now you order in line, but there's a place to sit.

Another thing I love about New York, more than most cities, is finding out what's behind closed doors. You can be in the crappiest neighborhood with ugly-looking buildings, but then you walk in and see the most phenomenal apartment you've ever been in. I feel that way about roof decks, too. For me, I love entering into another world. There's something magical about that.

You play Elektra Luxx in Gutierrez's film "Women In Trouble," which could describe all the ladies you play on stage. What's she all about?

Sebastian wrote me a [bleeping] great role. It's a day in the life of these 10 characters. I play a porn star who finds out she is pregnant. She can't accept that at all. Things go terribly crazy from there.

Have you decked out your dressing room in leading-lady style?

I was doing a full month of press for "Witch Mountain" and "Watchmen" all over the world, so I literally arrived the day before tech. I have to shop for pillows and throw blankets. A little ABC action is in order. Or Bed Bath and Beyond.

Source: Daily News