Marian Seldes on Frances Conroy: An Exacting and Elegant Intelligence

Marian Seldes and Frances Conroy in Tony Kushner's A Bright Room Called Day, at the Public Theater, 1991.

I first met Marian Seldes in 1978--at the stage door of the Music Box Theatre--when I was seventeen years old. I asked her to sign my copy of her autobiography The Bright Lights, and she asked me if I would like to meet with her the following night in her dressing room: She could tell that I wanted to talk about the theatre and my possible place within it. The conversation continued for many years, and Marian was responsible for helping me meet Tennessee Williams, as well as so many others who are profiled in Follies of God. Remarkably, she has read every word of Follies of God. She has been my greatest supporter. 

Marian has also loved and commented upon actors and plays and films, and I am placing some of her statements on this blog.

We talk about impact: Well, she [Frances Conroy] had impact. She had it as a student; she has it now. I watch her on Six Feet Under--I hate to admit that my interest fades if she is not on the program--and I can still see, and sense, all of that inventory that she brings with her: talent and imagination and curiosity and intellect. The best sort of baggage. A huge investment of self toward her character. She is the most generous of actors, and I remember her in class, struggling toward a character, reaching to make a scene work, and you could almost feel all that she was using and reaching for and throwing into the scene. She is a very rich actor, a very detailed actor, and all that she has loved and learned rests in her work, like lovely footnotes, and we all leave her work richer and wiser.

I still get chills thinking of her performance in Edward's [Albee] The Lady from Dubuque. That performance was so invested with truth and pain that I wanted to turn away from all the pain that character was feeling. I believed that Frannie--and her character--were dying and struggling. I thought it was one of the most remarkable performances I had ever seen, and I thought it a horrible injustice that the play was closed and limped off to be forgotten--but only by those who had not seen it.

Frances Conroy and Tony Musante in Edward Albee's The Lady from Dubuque (1980).

One is always rewarded by the work of the artist who loves the work fully and wisely, and who brings to it a desire to share and explore. The best actors never lose that childlike curiosity of playing and the energy of doing something one more time, one more way. When I see Frances work, I sense all of the youthful vigor, fused with an exacting and elegant intelligence, and a sort of alchemy takes place, and I can believe in the theatre, or film, or television, or acting, or life all over again.

© 2014 James Grissom


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