Four Questions for Tracy Letts

After adapting his runaway hit ‘August: Osage County’ into his third movie, the playwright talks to us about the cinema and Meryl Streep.

Photo: Jim Luning/Steppenwolf Theatre Company

You’ve now adapted three of your plays (Bug, Killer Joe, August: Osage County) into films. What have you learned?

You have to be willing to “kill your babies.” At a movie, you actually don’t have the patience that you do in the theatre. When you’re at a play, you’re very aware that live people are all around you. When you’re watching a movie, it’s already been shot. You sort of sit back and just take it in.

Are you a cinephile?

I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. Twelve thousand people. The 1970s. I would not have had access to A Streetcar Named Desire, Hamlet, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? if it hadn’t been for movies.

So when you found out about the all-star lineup, were you like, Oh my God, Meryl Streep?

I think Meryl Streep is amazing. I grew up watching her. There’s really nobody like her. She’s in a category all by herself.

Who would win in a late-night alley smackdown, Deanna Dunagan or Meryl Streep?

Deanna’s got some back issues, so Meryl wins.

 

Update: Tracy kept talking. 

 

The cast is racking up a few Oscar nominations. But there’s a strong contingent of theatergoers who still cry sacrilege when you say Violet Weston and Barbara Fordham aren’t going to be played by Deanna Dunagan and Amy Morton. What do you say to that?

I understand that completely. I’m sympathetic to it. But it’s not very realistic. Amy and Deanna were great in the play. I think they’d be great in the film. But they didn’t go out to Hollywood to make movies. They decided they wanted to work in the theater. They decided they wanted to work in Chicago and this is a great city because people like Amy and Deanna make those decisions. That’s why it’s always been and always will be a great city for actors. The people here are committed to the work.

Over the last few years you’ve racked up quite a few decorations yourself: the Pulitzer, the Tony, and now an oscar-nominated movie. Have you changed since you began doing bare-bones, off-Loop theater back in the day?

Other people could tell you that better than I could. Of course I’ve changed, but I feel like the same guy inside. I’m interested in doing the same things I was always interested in. I still appreciate the same things. But I don’t know. Maybe I’ve just turned into a giant pussy.

This question is for Chicago theater acolytes. You announced your engagement to fellow Chicago actor Carrie Coon early last summer. How are the wedding plans?

We got married on August 31. We registered with the Clerk’s office and had a 60-day window to actually get married. On the night before that window closed, Carrie flew in from Los Angeles and I felt really sick. Turns out I needed an emergency gall bladder removal. The next day, the last day, Carrie rounded up the hospital chaplain. We got married in the hospital.

Are you telling me you got married wearing those god-awful backless hospital pajamas?

Yes. And she wore one of my T-shirts.

Do you have a new play in the works?

Yes. It’s going to be at Steppenwolf, fairly soon.

Can you tell me anything else about it?

It’s called The Scavenger’s Daughter. Sorry to be so vague.

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