With Byron Jennings in
The Man Who Came to Dinner
Photo: Joan Marcus
NR: You also worked with Nathan Lane in The Man Who Came to Dinner. What was that like?
HH: Heís wonderful. He was so sweet to me and so generous. I thought he was great in the play. It was a joy to watch him work. This isnít news to anybody but he really is brilliantly funny. Heís funny in rehearsal, heís funny as heís making remarks about things. Heís just a deeply comic person. Itís fascinating and wonderful to watch how he thinks and works. Heís such a craftsperson. Some things he works on and refines and some things, the very first time you see them, you donít understand how they can possibly get any better. Sometimes they maintain that very high level, and sometimes he exceeds himself. Heís so quick and so witty. Itís really fun to be around him.
NR: People started giving him a hard time near the end of The Producers when he was having vocal problems.
HH: I saw him do that and he was spectacular. I was so thrilled with his performance. I couldnít believe how good he was. I donít think that people were intended to do that role eight times a week. If anybody could do it, Nathan would be the person, so I donít know if it can be done.
NR: Now Brad (Oscar) gets a chance to find out.
HH: I bet heís going to be terrific because he was so good in his other part, but I think itís very different when you create something. Just getting this show up [Thoroughly Modern Millie], which is such a joy to do, is such hard work to rehearse it and get it to the point where youíre open. Youíre exhausted. When you open, youíre so thrilled, particularly when itís going well, which (knock wood) so far this show is. Youíre so grateful to have the opportunity and so grateful to have a job. Everybodyís so wonderful but it doesnít mean that youíre not really tired and really scared and really nervous. (laughs) Itís that whole anxiety about, ďIs the soufflť going to fall, when itís taken months and months to get it ready?Ē
NR: Itís taken this show a long time to get here. I know you werenít in the company the entire time.
HH: No. I did one of the first readings. My friend Edward Hibbert did one of the readings too, playing my part, or what might have been his part. When Edward and I were in Los Angeles doing Jeffrey, Richard Morris, who wrote the original screenplay for Millie, came to see Jeffrey. He suggested to Dick (Scanlan) that I might be the right person to play Mrs. Meers. That was how it began. I did the very first workshop around five or six years ago and that was really, really fun. At that point, I enjoyed it so much that I hoped it would happen but it didnít pan out. All these years later Iím getting to do it and Iím thrilled.
Francis Jue, Harriet Harris and Ken Leung |
in Thoroughly Modern Millie
Photo: Joan Marcus
NR: Youíre not generally a singer, but now youíre standing there, center stage, belting away. What is that like?
HH: It was terrifying - just the idea. I kept thinking, ďSomeoneís going to tell me to forget it - youíre not going to be able to do the songs.Ē But my gosh, you canít be in a musical and not sing! That would just be horrible. People were very nice and I kept saying, ďDonít you want me to go to a coach?Ē They said, ďNo, you sound great. Donít worry about it.Ē I think now that weíre open Iíll go get a teacher. In order to get another job doing this kind of thing, I think I should probably be better trained. This was just lucky. Itís a good thing I didnít have to audition for it!
NR: You got a love letter from John Simon the other day.
HH: Well, thatís nice.
NR: You didnít read it?
NR: He called you a ďcomic genius.Ē
HH: Somebody told me that. People call you all sorts of things at different times in your life. (laughs) You never know. You canít get stuck on any of them. I think we got a whole bunch of good reviews and Iím real happy about that. Itís a great show and a great cast.
NR: Are you thinking about possible Tony nominations?
HH: I donít know. We were doing the cast recording the other day and I just thought, ďI canít believe Iím in this situation.Ē I canít believe Iím in a Broadway musical. I canít believe that Iím doing a cast album like I used to listen to when I was a little kid. Itís just absurd. My gosh, Iím going to be able to send this to my niece and sheíll be able to put it on her CD player and listen to her aunt in this musical.
I donít know whatís going to happen. I think itís great that the show got so many Outer Critics Circle nominations. If we get some nominations, itís great, but even without them, there are 1600 people who stand every night. This is wonderful. If there are other things that come ... I certainly think Sutton (Foster) will get a nomination. I think the show should get one. I have no idea how any of that works. I wish the ensemble was eligible for a nomination. Theyíre fabulous.
NR: Tell me about previews. I understand you were making a lot of changes.
HH: My song changed SIX TIMES! The melody changed, the lyrics changed. There were many versions.
NR: It has to be difficult rehearsing new things all day and then trying to do them before an audience at night.
HH: There was one day when they changed the song. I was supposed to do it that night and it was brand new. I went up. What are you going to do? Itís embarrassing but itís not like I had a chance to rehearse it. Itís not like it sank in overnight, but it was necessary for them to see it, to see if they were on the right track with it. Even though I went up in it, they said, ďThat was great. Weíre closer.Ē I thought, ďWeíre closer???Ē I was terrified.
NR: Plus you were probably exhausted.
HH: Yeah, but it sounds so contrary to complain about being tired when youíve got the coolest job there is. I feel like all of us here have the absolute best job we could possibly have, and possibly the best job we may ever have. This is such a fun show, but it really is like staying up all night after a party. You are tired the next day. Just because it was a great time, it doesnít mean you donít pay for it someway, but it really is fabulously fun.
NR: Before I let you go, I wanted to ask you about Memento. The concept of that film is so fascinating. Can you tell me a bit about doing it?
HH: I only worked two days on it and I was astonished by it. It was so peculiar reading the screenplay that it really did tax you. My reaction was that if it was a play, it would be excruciating, but as a movie, itís going to be fascinating because of the point of view. I like that movie as much as any other movie Iíve seen in the past five or six years. I was so proud to be part of it.
I thought Chris (Nolan) just did an amazing job. Heís a wonderful director. Heís really fun to work for and very clear. It was very low budget so we couldnít do a lot of takes. We pretty much got whatever he used in two or three takes. One of the scenes that Stephen Tobolowsky and I did, Chris said, ďI should have written this but I didnít have a chance to get around to it. This is the idea. Why donít you all do something and show me?Ē So, we did this thing and he said, ďYeah. Thatís what I would have wanted anyway.Ē I donít want to make it sound like we wrote a scene - it was all Chris. He gave us the idea and the scenario. I thought Guy (Pearce) was just stunning. Heís so talented.
NR: Anything you havenít done? It doesnít seem like it.
HH: Oh yeah, there are tons of things. There are lots of different kinds of parts Iíd like to do. Until recently, I havenít been right for them, and suddenly I am. I think when I was a younger actress, I worked a lot, but I had to play really eccentric parts. (laughing) Now that Iím older Iím playing really eccentric parts again but theyíre more fun. The Six Feet Under episode I got to do just a little while ago was wonderful because she was a very off-centered woman. I like playing people that have problems. My friend Lisa Banes in California likes to play heroes. Weíll read things and Iíll say, ďOh, Lisa, this is so your part.Ē Sheíll say, ďHarriet, look at this. This is such a loser. You should play her.Ē Of course I always think, ďLisa, youíre right. This is a great part!Ē Then she sighs and says, ďThink of what youíll have to wear.Ē I think those parts are the most interesting. It would probably be good for me to play a hero although ... (laughs) I donít think I have one in me!
NR: Hopefully youíll be in this show for quite awhile and you wonít have to worry about that just yet.
HH: I hope so. I love this. Thanks so much.
I wish Harriet the best of luck with her Tony nomination. Her scenes as Mrs. Meers are clearly audience favorites in an extremely impressive musical debut. Itís hard to imagine anything this woman canít do.