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Actors Allen Leech and Ginnifer Goodwin. Photo by Luke Fontana.

When the Stars Align

An Interview with Actors Ginnifer Goodwin & Allen Leech

Actors Allen Leech and Ginnifer Goodwin. Photo by Luke Fontana.

A romance based in theoretical physics and the idea of multiple universes and anchored by its heart and universality, Nick Payne’sConstellations follows quantum physicist Marianne and beekeeper Roland through many different moments as their lives overlap. With a cast of two, the play requires dexterity, chemistry and immense trust on the part of its actors. After the first day of rehearsals with director Giovanna Sardelli, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ginnifer Goodwin (Marianne) and Allen Leech (Roland) to chat about how they got involved with the play, their initial sense of how to approach the characters and why they like coming home to the stage.

How did each of you get connected to the production?

Ginnifer Goodwin: I stalked everyone at the Geffen, and that is the truth. I was going through an “I have to find a play next” phase, so I talked to a friend of mine who’s a director and he asked, “What plays do you want to take part in? What stories do you want to tell? What characters are you looking for?” I realized that I was completely out of touch with contemporary theater, and there were a lot of great classics I had missed along the way. So I called the Drama Book Shop in New York City and ordered boxes of plays to read so I could answer his question — I thought that would be a good place to start. I fell hard for Constellations, and then happened to be reading the Los Angeles Times and saw the announcement that the Geffen was going to be putting on Constellations. I called my reps and said, “how can you get me in the room with that director? I have to play this part.” I was in Canada at the time, and we found out when Giovanna [Sardelli] was going to be in town — I mean, I literally stalked her. I had the day off that she was going to be in town, so I flew to L.A. and pretended that I happened to be here, but I wasn’t. I tried to act not as desperate for it as I was, but then proceeded to snail mail her and email her after our meeting — and it worked. So I was cast last fall, and then waited and waited to see who my co-star was going to be and [to Leech] you should tell the next part of the story.

Allen Leech: I know one of Ginny’s co-stars [from the television series Once Upon a Time], Jennifer Morrison, and we were having lunch, and I was talking about how I hadn’t really got into the L.A. theater scene in any way. She said, “Ginny’s actually doing a play — she’s doing Constellations and I don’t know if they’ve cast the part opposite her. Why don’t you tell your people?” And then very kindly Jen said that [to Goodwin] you said you wouldn’t be too appalled, so —

GG: I think I said something like, “that’s a f**king great idea!”

AL: So I got to sit down with Giovanna and we had such a great conversation. I love this play and I’d seen it in the West End. And I was lucky enough to be cast after that, which I was very grateful for. And now we’re here!

Ginnifer Goodwin and Allen Leech outside the Geffen Playhouse. Photo by Luke Fontana.

What was it about the play that grabbed you?

GG: I have read this play more than I have ever read a script — just over and over and over and over again — and I still can’t answer most of my own questions. My reaction from the get-go to today is always extremely emotional. I think it’s because I’m terrified of it that I wanted to be part of it.

AL: I think it’s that balance that Nick [Payne] has done brilliantly — it is terrifying but it’s also so hopeful.

GG: I’m also obsessed with quantum mechanics on an amateur level. I’m not an expert — I just love reading about it, which was part of the whole “I have to be part of this play” thing. And I even knew that if I didn’t get the part, there’s a world in which I do get to do it, so I’m fine either way.

The scope of the play is at once incredibly intimate and expansive. When you’re playing someone at so many points during a life, how do you approach grounding the character?

AL: That happens over the next couple of weeks as we discover who they were and who they are, entering into these moments. That’s the wonderful thing about this play — it’s so many different vignettes of their lives at different points. One of the challenges, I think, is to find that thread of who these people are. After our first read-through, Giovanna said something about “the heart and soul of these characters,” and that’s what we have to hold onto.

GG: And the writing kind of does it for us. Because I do also feel that somehow these people are usually the same characters.

What is exciting and interesting for you about doing a play versus the other mediums in which you work?

AL: It’s a lot more visceral, it’s real, it’s tangible.

GG: It’s live and alive.

AL: Having recently both come from mainly stuff where we get to have multiple takes, I love the process that you get to have in theater — the joy of sitting in a rehearsal room for four weeks and hammering it out and making mistakes and failing and learning. And then finding the bits that the audience gets to see. It’s a process that you’re denied so often in film and television.

It seems like this story could be quite intense to play every night. What are your strategies for building that emotional endurance on stage?

GG: I think, in real life, people try not to feel emotions. Most people do everything they can not to be overwhelmed. So, I know it sounds weird and backward, but I try not to feel. I also was once told in theater school — and I love this — that every tear I cry I’m taking away from an audience member. I think that people like watching the attempt to hold oneself together. But I still lose it every time I read the play.

AL: I don’t mind sharing that it just happened to both of us in the first read-through. So, are there tricks? Sometimes life gives you the tricks you don’t want, and you have to imitate things in art that happen in life.

Ginny, it sounds like you were aware of theoretical physics beforehand — what preparation did you do for the play?

GG: I got some of the books that Nick references in his acknowledgments, but I didn’t focus on the physics because that has been pleasure reading for me in the recent past. I consulted specialists whose work lines up with the play. I’ve been working with a dialect coach for five months. I watched loads of documentary videos. I stalked the playwright, too. And I just read the play — and read it and read it and read it. Usually my preparation involves problem solving and background writing. I thought I was going to show up today with a lot of information about my character. The truth is, I have a notebook full of questions that I cannot answer.

Allen, what are your feelings on bees?

AL: I love bees. The most important thing in nature is the life cycle of a bee. I think they’re amazing creatures — an unselfish working animal.

GG: Einstein did say something about, “when the bees go, we’re all going to go,” right? They’re actually the center of everything. And did you hear Giovanna when she brought in that piece of honeycomb — that it looks like a multiverse? Isn’t that cool?

By Rachel Wiegardt-Egel

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