Kimberly Gilbert is starring in David Adjimi’s Marie Antoinette, running through October 12th at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Alan Katz had a chance to talk with her a few days before opening night.
AK: I’m going to start this off the way I start off all of these interviews; who are you and what have you been up to?
KG: I’m Kimberly Gilbert. Right now I’m working on Marie Antoinette at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. And we’ve been in tech rehearsals all week and today is my day off. And I’m very happy about that. I knew that this show was coming up so I took everything else off my calendar for the two months or so that I’m working on this. I’ve really been eating, sleeping, walking and rehearsing.
AK: You’re playing Marie, so it’s a huge role.
KG: Huge. Usually during tech rehearsals, I find it luxurious because we’ve been trying to manipulate and mold and massage the story for 3 weeks in the rehearsal room and then we have a week in the main space and that’s the time for the designers to do their manipulation and molding. We’re just standing there patiently going over our lines or doing the crossword or whatever, but for me, I never leave the stage. So I’ve been on the whole time, for the 8 hour rehearsals and the 10 out of 12s. So it was an exhausting week, but it’s totally worth it. The work’s really paid off, when you’ve put a lot of energy and focus into the rehearsal process, then the luxury when the director says “Now get out there and have fun.” There were a couple points at our run last night when I felt really “in the world.” I felt “I’m in her right now.” And it felt great. Now the last ingredient is the audience.
AK: Like a second wind for a runner.
KG: The adrenaline shot is the audience. Especially for this show because it’s so dynamic. It’s one of the most dynamic shows I’ve been a part of. Eric Shimelonis, our sound designer, gave a great analogy: this show is like one of those great records, you know what’s going to happen after this awesome song you’re listening to is also going to be awesome but you have no idea what it is going to be. The imagery that Yury [Urnov, director of Marie Antoinette] has weaved in with David’s [Adjmi, writer of Marie Antoinette] text is nice. Yury’s brain is a beautiful brain and trying to decode it is impossible, you just have to run with it and then it makes such amazing sense.
AK: Have you worked with Yury before?
KG: We did a show together in 2012 called You for Me for You, a beautiful, crazy play by Mia Chung. That was a great taste for me to see how he works with the macrocosm of spectacle that he has in his brain that he puts onstage and balancing that with the microcosm of the moment to moment of the text.
AK: What about David Adjmi, have you worked with him before?
KG: I’ve never worked with him before but I’m so excited for him to see this. He did this play at Woolly called Stunning in 2008 and it was just so beautiful. When I saw it I that that this was the kind of text and rhetoric that an actor just gobbles up because it’s so razor sharp, and it is difficult in this wonderful, amazing way. So when I saw this opportunity come up, I pounced, man, pounced.
AK: When I read the script, his humor seemed really quirky and offbeat, something different.
KG: And that’s what we need. Out here we need plays that aren’t dictated by these masks of comedy or tragedy or farce or commedia. Those are pure genres, pure art forms, but the wonderful thing about this show is that it weaves all of them together in very specific ways. I’m really excited to see how the audience reacts. Because that’s life, isn’t it? Life isn’t all sad or all happy or goofy. Who could bear it if it was?
AK: I’d like to talk a little about Marie. Who is Marie?
KG: Truly, right now I feel like Marie is, and could have been, anybody. There’s a great biography of Marie by Stefan Zwieg called Portrait of an Average Woman, and I think his point for that is while, of course, she was feisty and she was beautiful, but mainly she was average. Anybody could have been in her place. So, for me, right now, Marie in this show is me. It’s just the unfortunate series of events in the universe that the stars aligned and she was born into this family, that she happened to be the youngest daughter of 16 children, and that she happened to be born a female in the late 18th century.
Luckily she had the luxury of being born into a royal family. But I don’t know; lucky? Who’s to say? Depending on how you look at it. So how I look at Marie is that she is a human fucking being, and that’s what I want people to come away with. Even for me, 6 months past, Yury asked me to think of what I thought of when I thought of her, and I thought “Well, Kirsten Dunst played her, ummm, and she was kind of annoying, and she gambled and she liked cake…”
AK: And she didn’t even say that thing about cake!
KG: That was the first thing I learned about her, and I was like, “What? How many centuries have we gone, and we still attribute ‘Let them eat cake’ to this girl!” I actually think it is kind of fascinating, since I’ve been thinking about mob mentality. That dictated her fame, or infamy, and the power of bad PR, smear campaigns. Whether or not people say, or don’t say, things if the soundbite is powerful enough, it sticks. Al Gore’s an example, even though he never said he “invented the Internet,” it was such a juicy soundbite, so in two centuries people will be saying, “Oh yes, and Al Gore invented the Internet.” But it was part of this smear campaign, so it didn’t even matter. And that gave me good insight about this girl. She wasn’t a saint. She wasn’t a devil. And she wasn’t an asshole. And she wasn’t an angel. She was an average person, meaning that she had faults, she had good and bad, and her biggest fault was being born at the time she was born in with the family she was born with.
AK: So in this play, it really is like Kim Gilbert becoming one of the Hapsburgs.
KG:Yeah. And I really applaud Woolly and Yury for casting someone like me in this role, because I never had the mentality like “Oh, yes, of course one day I’ll play Marie Antoinette.” We have this image of her as a blonde, waify, pale. I was buying makeup at Macy’s and I was trying things on, because I’m playing Marie Antoinette, and the girl at the counter was like, “Then don’t you need white makeup?” Pale faced, moles everywhere, skinny blonde. But that’s just the image we have imprinted on her. When really she wasn’t that, she was a full-fleshed, normal thing that existed, but all people knew about her was this two-dimensional thing.
In the beginning of her life, she was the princess, everybody’s favorite savior. The closest thing we have to that, I think, on a similar level, is Miley Cyrus. She was America’s sweetheart, Hannah Montana. Girls were going crazy over her, wanting to be her, and parent’s loved her. And then she got hormones, and suddenly she was a slut. Because she was a person. A real fucking person. She wasn’t just a cut-out anymore, and she wanted to figure out who she was, and I think she’s still doing that. But I think she went to such an extreme because she was in such a public eye, and that’s gotta fuck your perspective up, its got to fuck everything up.
People said “Oh God, what happened to her? What possibly went wrong?” Nothing happened, she became 19. That’s very similar to what happened with Marie, when she became queen at 17 and then, by the time she was 19, she was at the height of her rebellious stage in terms of gambling and ridiculous wigs. Trying to find her identity because that’s what you do at 19, you go to college, go to frat parties, go to keggers, you throw up, and you wake up in the morning and you learn a little bit about yourself by failing. And then winning and then failing then winning. But nobody gives you that time or time-frame when you’re in the public eye.
AK: Well, you’re a little bit in the public eye now. I see your face on posters everywhere. Have you ever had a role like this?
KG: In terms of exposure, in terms of press, having my face be the poster of something, I’ve never had that before.
AK: Is it weird?
KG: Luckily, they did me up so crazy, and photoshopped the hell out of my body, so it looks kind of like me, if you knew me, but if I was standing next to it right now with my glasses and my shaved head, you wouldn’t be like “Look its you!” It’s fine because it’s not like it’s me. It’s just an image.
AK: Since we’re on the subject, I have to ask you, what’s up with the Twizzlers? What’s the story there?
KG: I think…I don’t know. It’s about what is evocative and what is bold. I think what they wanted to capture was Marie’s rebelliousness at 19, really bold, right before the cracks begin to show in her public opinion. Like shoving a bunch of Twizzlers in her mouth and growling at it, was like a fierce, bold, youthful “F*ck you” to society. But that’s just my take. I got here and I was like, “I’m doing what…all right, just put ‘em in my mouth. That’s fine.
AK: You seem to say yes a lot. You got this Twizzler thing and your head shaved; that’s a lot of “yes.”
KG: Life is too short for “No.” There’s not enough reasons in the world to say “No.” As long as I’m feeling safe and respected, I say “Yes” because I am so blown away by the opportunities that my life is full of right now. So I say “Yes.”
AK: You talked about embodying the role. I’d like you to think about you when you were 19 like Marie.
KG: Oh, man. Frat parties. Lots of beer. Lots of pot. Lots of sweatpants. ‘Cause, man, we were traveling to the diner to get two orders of pizza bagels a piece. Like on a daily basis. Also doing theater for the first time. When I turned 19, I got cast as Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream, and that was the first big role I ever got, so I remember the exhilaration of that.
I come from a large family; I’m the youngest of 9. So going to college, finding my identity was important. My siblings were my idols, and they still are. I was basically an amalgam of all of them combined into this one dorky little girl who loved to perform. So when I left for college, I was able to see who I was in a group of peers that were strangers. But I was totally gluttonous, totally rebellious. I did my homework, which I had never done before. And after a while I realized I couldn’t drink like everybody. I’m tiny. Me at 19 was tumultuous. I felt really stoked for the future: the concept of me for the rest of my life, I couldn’t wait to get older. turning 20 and 22. I couldn’t wait to turn 30.
AK: So now that you’re playing Marie, now that you’ve done all these things and gotten to those ages, looking back, what would you say to that 19 year old girl? If you could go back in time and tell her one thing?
KG: Do more cardio! [laughs] No, I would say to her…No, to my 19 year old self, I would say “Stop trying to make everybody laugh all the time.” No, no, that’s okay, I wouldn’t want her to change anything. Because I had to learn to keep being that goofy self, and then my junior year was when I learned to be myself; I wouldn’t have gotten there if hadn’t been all “AHHHH! I’m crazy! Everybody like me!” So maybe my first answer was better. Cut down on the pizza bagels, do some yoga, maybe run around the quad a little bit.
But there are a lot of things I’m really proud of. Like I kept myself respectful of myself, in terms of sexuality. I was really proud that I maintained a sense of self and a sense of protection of myself. I never allowed myself to get into ridiculous or dangerous circumstances. I had this sense of my rights, but a sense of myself to, in that I knew “I’m a 19 year old girl. I will be doing crazy things later, but right now there’s a sense of innocence I’d like to maintain.” And Marie was the same way. The rumors were that she was very promiscuous. But she stayed true to herself, and she was a virgin until she and Louis consummated their marriage. After 7 years! Poor Louis. But she had her children with Louis. And she maintained a sense of protection and dignity, and I respect that about her. She was able to be sexually open and out without feeling the need to give herself away. And I was that at 19.
AK: So what’s the most challenging thing about this play for you?
KG: All the costume changes! [Laughs] No, it’s probably my insecurity about my body image. Because I care about Marie so much, and I think she’s such a beautiful thing. It is hard for me to admit it, but it’s my own vanity. My biggest issues are the things that all of us have our peccadillos about how we look and how we feel and how we appear onstage. I’m revealing a lot of myself onstage, a lot, and that’s good. But I hate that I have this vanity about it. I wish that I didn’t give a shit about stuff that doesn’t matter. That I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror and check my double chin or my gut or how does my ass look in this outfit. No one gives a shit! Really!
AK: Do you think that the play is helping you with that?
KG: I think so. I have to face it. I have to face it every time I put on these costumes because there this huge mirror onstage, and I have to look at myself. I have to acknowledge it and just accept accept accept accept. And I am, and I do. Mostly. More and more. That’s it. Everything else is too delicious for words. To be able to go to these extremes, having Yury allow me to go to these extremes, is great.
AK: What do you want people to know when they come see the play, or want to come see the play?
KG: What I want them to know is this. Yury asked in the first rehearsal, “What are the three things you think of when you think of Marie Antoinette?” Be brutally honest. Then take those three things and put them on the back burner. Then watch this show. Come back to those three things at the end of the show, and see if those things have altered, if your impression of her has changed.
Closes October 12, 2014
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D St NW
Tickets: $45 – $78
Wednesdays thru Sundays
I think that’s what this play is trying to do. It speaks about public opinion, about mob mentality, about how easy it is for us as a society to make someone a pariah. Especially nowadays. Because our mob is social media. Someone will post something on Twitter, and before any evidence comes out, people will “What an asshole!” “She’s a slut!” “I fucking hate her” or whatever. Then 30 minutes later it comes out that they never said that, and then everyone goes “Delete, delete, delete, delete.” It is a vice in our history that has never gone away and probably will never go away. It’s landmarks like this show that help people take a step back and recognize that mob mentality is innate in our humanity, in our world, and they could do something to stop it.
AK: Who do you want to come see the play?
KG: Everybody! But it would be cool if a celebrity came to see the play. I think they could relate to the play in a way that us laymen or us average persons who aren’t retweeted all the time see it. For almost everyone who sees the play, they see Marie and they might think that her life sucked, but it is out there, they know it isn’t themselves. So getting a celebrity impression would be amazing.
AK: What is the morality or moral of the play, if there is one?
KG: Well, I don’t want to be bleak…I think the moral of the play is: Stop trying to be famous everybody! Because it doesn’t work out! How many biopics do we have to do before people get that being famous or having all the money doesn’t get you happiness or any answers. Also, please keep a humane perspective on the world, even if the righteous populace says otherwise. The French Revolution was necessary, absolutely necessary, but unfortunately in order to have that Revolution you have to have somebody or something that is vilified as a demon. That’s the scary bit. We need to put horns on something for everybody to united against something. I find that terrifying. Nobody is a demon. Very few people are demons. But Marie Antoinette isn’t a morality play. It is more psychological. More, “Look at this. How does it make you feel?”
AK: How does this make you feel: there’s a quote by Terry Pratchett that says, “Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That’s why they’re called revolutions. People die, and nothing changes.”
KG: Aw, man, that’s true. But revolutions are necessary. We all need to find a way to regain balance for a certain amount of time. Any kind of disparity or imbalance in the world, the scales, the imbalance will always cause revolution. But revolutions won’t solve everything, and that’s their big problem. People think, “We’re here to do this and then everything is going to be perfect in the world. And now everyone is going to be righteous.” Which is wrong. So, fight the fight, but keep in mind that there’s bad and good on both sides, always. The reason we love superhero movies and comics, the line between good and evil is so clear in those, but that’s not our world. In the real world, in the world of this play, everything is gray. It’s far too gray. People fall from grace. Angels become demons, and sometimes demons rise up from the ashes to become better people.
AK: Do you think that is what you’re doing with Marie?
KG: Yeah. That’s what she strived for, later in her life. She worked her ass off to make reparations, I think somehow, but people didn’t want to hear it. Partly because she was a woman in that time. She could have balanced the budget and gotten everyone what they needed, but people didn’t care, that’s not what they wanted. When Versailles was stormed, they put all women in the front lines, because, you know, no one was going to kill them. Weeks before they did that, the royalty, men in power, they stopped the bread supply, basically starving people to revolt on purpose. But when the first women came in and broke through the doors, and they saw Louis and Marie. The royals wept, and they said “Get them water, get them food.” But the revolutionaries didn’t want that result.
AK: Let’s talk craft for a second. Do you have a “technique?”
KG: Yeah, I do. I got my Master’s with Shakespeare Theater and GW [George Washington University, and their Academy of Classical Acting], and the tools that I garnered in that year influences everything I do. Everything starts with the text. Nerdily, Uber-nerdily. Starting with my vocabulary and its structure, breaking down the script. Once I get all that done then I go back to the script and figure out why I say each line. There’s always a reason we say what we say. My goal is to find a reason why I say every word that I say.
At that point, rehearsals begin, and I can be loosey goosey there because I have a template to start out with. That allows me to listen to my scene partner, find the hooks in what they say. It really helps with memorization. The scene isn’t just my line then my line then my line. It is my line because of their line because of my line because of their line and on and on. What’s the subject and how does that change? Then I find out what shoes I’m wearing [laughs]. It is a testament to Howard Shalwitz, forcing me to go inside out, finding the psychology of the character. I do all this work on the outside, then go into the psychological investigation. That has given me elasticity in performance. Not everything has to be said the exact same way. I can take the energy of the audience to change what I say. What sandwich I had that day. Letting present, immediate stimuli, affect how I make decision. That’s how I do it in a nutshell.
AK: Has working on Marie presented a different challenge for your technique?
KG: Yes. Yury has such a different way of working. I come from a text-based process and he comes from an image process. I kept saying to him “Yury, you want me to do this thing, but on page 3 I say something else.” He was very patient with me. He just said, “Just try it. We can find a marriage of these things.” He believes in the very dynamic nature of what happens onstage, as human beings are dynamic. So the challenge was staying with my process of text work, then having image or energy exploration as a part of the process.
AK: Very cool. Let’s finish this up with a game. A word association game.
AK: Antoine (Marie’s childhood nickname).