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11 April 2009 @ 04:06 pm
The New York Times - Article  
Giving in to 'Desire' Works for Her

2009_04 NY Times
ON the sidewalk outside a Manhattan restaurant one recent afternoon two men were staring through the window at a woman in a fitted green dress, posing for a photo shoot. One of the men said, "Amazing." A moment later the other man replied, "Amazing." A few beats later the first offered this up: "Amazing." Finally some variety set in. "That is one knockout model," the second man said.

The woman in question, Carla Gugino, was once a model, yes, but she now enchants to more complicated ends in film and television, as alpha female characters whose flaws are explored with absolutely no pity. She is perhaps best known as the female barracuda in a shark tank of men on HBO's "Entourage," staring down Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold and bedding Adrian Grenier's Vincent Chase, and from the action movies "Snake Eyes" and "Sin City." She plays a sexy superhero in the recent movie "Watchmen" and a porn star named Elektra Luxx for the forthcoming film "Women in Trouble."

Ms. Gugino is far less known in the theater, but that may be about to change. After well-reviewed lead roles — on Broadway in Arthur Miller's "After the Fall" in 2004 and Off Broadway in Tennessee Williams's "Suddenly Last Summer" in 2006 — Ms. Gugino is playing Eugene O'Neill's sultry Abbie Putnam in "Desire Under the Elms," which begins preview performances at the St. James Theater on Tuesday.

The producers' decision to transfer "Desire" quickly from the Goodman Theater in Chicago (where it closed on March 1) and reopen it in New York on April 27, three days before the cutoff for eligibility for the 2009 Tony Awards, is in large measure because of Ms. Gugino's performance. Abbie is one of O'Neill's meatiest female roles. The clawing new wife of a tyrannical patriarch (played by Brian Dennehy), she has a smoldering affair with one of her adult stepsons (Pablo Schreiber) and takes bone-chilling action to protect it. Mr. Dennehy, Mr. Schreiber and their director, Robert Falls, all said her work is Tony caliber.

"The last few scenes of the play — especially when Abbie reveals what she has done to the men around her — Carla is terrifying and so smart in these huge emotional moments," said Mr. Dennehy, who won Tonys for O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and Miller's "Death of a Salesman." "It's pretty scary, and I've been doing this for a while."

For Ms. Gugino, 37, the role appeals to her deepest instincts as an actress. "Letting go of control in a controlled environment," she said, has thrilled her since she took her first acting class at 13.

"The idea that, as an actor, what was required of me was a certain sense of abandon and risk in pursuit of a larger cause has been so freeing for me," she said over a plate of garlic spinach at the Park restaurant in Chelsea, where her photo shoot had just concluded. "I was so serious when I was young. My mom would come home and say, 'Carla, stop studying.' Or, 'The dishes are clean enough.' I felt that to be successful I couldn't drink, I couldn't smoke. But acting taught me to have a life that could feed my work."

Ms. Gugino's girlhood desire for control — which has its echoes in Abbie's desperate desire to be in charge — was partly a reaction to her somewhat chaotic childhood. Her parents divorced when she was a toddler, and she split her time between her mother in California and her father in Florida. When she was 4, she had a life-threatening illness that required surgery to save one of her kidneys. Her mother wanted Carla to recover in total tranquillity, so she moved them to Paradise, Calif., where they lived in a tepee for six months.

A few years later they moved to Big Sur, spending a brief period between houses living out of their van. "I spent time swimming in the river, reading. We rarely had a television. I had a happy childhood, but I think it also pushed me to try to create my own sense of stability and made me very intense for my age."

It was Carol Merrill, her aunt and the longtime spokesmodel of the Monty Hall game show "Let's Make a Deal," who encouraged Ms. Gugino to try acting and modeling. If her brief time working as a model was forgettable, she said, two film projects as a teenager gave her direction. She played Robert De Niro's daughter in the drama "This Boy's Life," which also starred Leonardo DiCaprio, and she had a role in the comedy "Troop Beverly Hills," starring Shelley Long.

" 'This Boy's Life' gave me a chance to work with the kind of people that I wanted to be working with, and it was a time — shooting in Vancouver — when I got into yoga and meditation, which helped connect my human side to my acting," she said. "And 'Troop Beverly Hills' was very meaningful because it allowed me to support myself for the first time, which gave me increased confidence as an actor."

Balancing acting with high school — she was an A student and class valedictorian — she decided to emancipate herself legally from her parents when she was 16. "I didn't want people to have to be on set with me," she said. "I felt bad for the adults in my life. It allowed me to be more responsible about making my own choices. It was a huge moment for me."

Mr. Falls, who spent months working on "Desire" with Ms. Gugino by phone and then in rehearsals, said he believes that her experiences in her youth have deepened her connection to her character.

"Carla has a ferocity, a hunger, a yearning," he said. "It's rare to find someone who has what she has. I think in Carla's own life there is a reflection of Abbie. She has had to fight for what she's gotten. She is sort of a survivor."

Other than a role in a stage production of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" in Rochester, Ms. Gugino had no professional theater experience in 2004 when she began auditioning with Roundabout Theater for the role of Maggie, the glamorous singer struggling with addiction in "After the Fall." Maggie is said to be based on Miller's second wife, Marilyn Monroe, although Miller denied that.

"There we were, looking among the usual suspects for our leading female role, and here comes this woman that we know from a couple of minor movies, and she blows everyone away with the pain and emotion that Carla could convey," said Todd Haimes, the artistic director of Roundabout. "Arthur thought she was definitive in the role."

Ms. Gugino said the part was "hugely transformative" for her, personally and professionally; she decided that she wanted to perform on the stage regularly. And while she has done that, to strong reviews, her career has otherwise had some false starts in recent years — she played the title role in the ABC series "Karen Sisco," which generated early buzz but was quickly canceled — and took on projects that raised her profile but did not showcase her abilities, like the three "Spy Kids" movies, featuring her as a spy turned mother. (Her personal life has been more stable. She and her companion, the film director Sebastian Gutierrez, have been together almost 12 years; they live in Los Angeles and have an apartment in New York.)

"I think she's often been a little better than the material that she is in," Mr. Falls said. "I think she has been taken for granted because she's not only drop-dead gorgeous, but also someone whom directors can count on to give a great performance."

Mr. Piven, who had some of his most entertaining face-offs with Ms. Gugino during her stint with "Entourage," said she easily slipped into the all-male ensemble and "instantly raised everyone's game."

"The first thing I think of about Carla, whatever she does is rooted in such sincerity, and it comes through in her eyes," he said. "Even when she is furious, her eyes are focused and sharp and wet and glistening. She combines the physical and intellectual sides of performing in a stunning way."

Despite the talent her fellow actors and her directors immediately mention when discussing her, Ms. Gugino has not yet emerged as a darling on the acting awards circuit. She said in the interview that she picks projects based on the strength of the material, rather than on any strategic plan to heighten her public profile. She added, however, that she feels this year represents "a real moment for me."

"For a long time I played such different roles. People might have though, 'Wait, she's the mom in "Spy Kids" and Maggie in "Suddenly Last Summer" and the agent in "Entourage"?' It isn't like there's a clear line connecting my career choices."

While the physicality of "Desire Under the Elms" took a toll on her in the Chicago production - "I'm manhandled quite a bit in the show, and the bruises went away just now," Ms. Gugino said - it is Abbie's emotional complexity that has particularly challenged her. Mr. Schreiber said that Ms. Gugino worried early on about how to play a character that can come across as wholly unlikable, "but like any good actress, she had to let go of that, and she did."

She said there was risk in her approach - again playing a character without pity - but added, "Anything worth its salt requires taking a bold jump into the unknown."

"I believe that if you know exactly how to play a role, you should let someone else play it," she continued. "The best creative work is about asking the questions and not coming up with all the answers. Really, jumping off the cliff is just about my favorite thing about acting."

These are a few pictures from the production at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago (click to enlarge):

2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 01 2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 02 2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 03 2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 04
2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 05 2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 06 2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 07 2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 08
2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 09 2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 10 2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 11 2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 12
2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 13 2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 14 2009 Desire Under the Elms Production 15

Plus a 'Behind the scenes' video that was taken, like the photos above, at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago: http://rapidshare.com/files/186742102/Dute_production.flv
ellegirly on April 11th, 2009 07:17 pm (UTC)
She's soo cute :) I love her.
But I'm pissed cause I can't download that video! it won't play :( Ugh.
I really wanted to see it.
Lemon: RTWM PClemon_tree_x on April 11th, 2009 08:02 pm (UTC)
But I'm pissed cause I can't download that video! it won't play :( Ugh.
I really wanted to see it.

You have problems to download it, or you can't watch it?


You're very welcome ♥

Nice icon btw :)
Lemonlemon_tree_x on April 11th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
I've to go now, but the dll works for me, so you probably have problems with the "flv" file.

Here are two (free) players:

VLC media player - this software plays actually everything


FLV Player - especially for flv files, it's the best solution for this kind of video files

mrmidwestmrmidwest on April 11th, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC)
Is this the same Behind the Scenes video that was on the Goodman Theater site?
Lemon: Desire Under the Elmslemon_tree_x on April 12th, 2009 10:59 am (UTC)
Yes! We've got a lot new members since I posted it last, and I know that the most don't check the older entries. Therefore I posted it again.

I will edit the entry and add a notice.
Snarctastic & Brutally Honest: CarlaCsunkrux on April 12th, 2009 12:59 am (UTC)
"For a long time I played such different roles. People might have though, 'Wait, she's the mom in "Spy Kids" and Maggie in "Suddenly Last Summer" and the agent in "Entourage"?' It isn't like there's a clear line connecting my career choices."

This is why I love her. She refuses to let Hollywierd pigeon hole her into a "stereotype". Good on her. I would LOVE to see her on stage. Alas, doubt I'll ever get to.
Lemon: Desire Under the Elmslemon_tree_x on April 12th, 2009 11:00 am (UTC)
I would LOVE to see her on stage. Alas, doubt I'll ever get to.

Same here. But I don't give up hope. If she ever should do a play in the UK, I'll fly over.
Snarctastic & Brutally Honest: CarlaCsunkrux on April 12th, 2009 05:49 pm (UTC)
The only way I'd ever get to see her on stage is if she did something in the LA area and I could afford to pay for the ticket. LOL