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Six Questions for Laurie Metcalf

With work on stage at Lincoln Center and in HBO’s new show, Getting On, the Steppenwolf ensemble member is having an excellent month.

Laurie Metcalf in a scene from Domesticated.   Photo: Joan Marcus

It’s Laurie Metcalf’s world this month, and we’re all just living in it.

The Steppenwolf ensemble member is starring at New York’s Lincoln Center opposite Jeff Goldblum as the wife of an disgraced politician (think Anthony Weiner, only worse) in Pulitzer Prize-winner Bruce Norris’ deliciously caustic, blackly humorous Domesticated, directed by Anna D. Shapiro (also of Steppenwolf fame).

Sunday night, Metcalf takes to the airwaves with HBO’s premiere of Getting On, a dramedy set in the geriatric unit of a large hospital.

Chicago caught up with Metcalf between performances to talk about her work on stage and screen.

A decade ago, you starred at the Steppenwolf in Bruce Norris’s Purple Heart, directed by Anna D. Shapiro. What is it about Norris’ writing and Shapiro’s direction that has you coming back for more?

With Bruce, I love his humor, and how cruel it gets even as the humor is flying off the page. He’s fearless with his writing. The emotions go full blast, but there’s absolutely nothing sentimental about it. He’s not afraid to get ugly. And neither am I. And Anna’s just, she’s wonderful. This is such an ensemble show, and she’s fantastic at shaping ensembles. Then when I heard Jeff Goldblum was playing the guy, I was like, OK, that’s it, I’m in.

Had you worked with Jeff Goldblum before?

He had this TV show Raines in 2007. I was on one episode; we only had one scene together, but we were really tuned in to each other, and we wound up talking about how we’d love to do a theater piece together. Like me, he’s all about the rehearsal process. We have a lot of fun playing off each other. He’s extremely intelligent. You feel safe with him on stage, You know he’s never going to heave you hanging.

In Domesticated, you play Judy, the wife of this hugely charismatic, powerful, wealthy politician whose extracurricular sexual activities pretty much destroy him and bring all kinds of ugliness avalanching down on his family. Is Judy a victim or a survivor?

Well, she definitely has the rug pulled out from under her. And she’s betrayed. In that sense, she’s a true victim. But it’s curious how the tables turn. I don’t want to give things away, but Judy and (her husband) Bill have almost traded roles by the final scene.

Domesticated has a triumvirate of Steppenwolf ensemble members at the core—you, Bruce and Anna. Any chance the production will make its way to Chicago?

I’m pretty sure Martha Lavey is looking to do it there, but it’ll be a Chicago production. I don’t think we’ll just move this one over.

So Sunday night on HBO: You’re not a doctor but you play one on TV?

In a geriatric wing. I’ve been doing almost exclusively stage for the past five or six years, so when this landed in my lap at a time when I was between shows, it seemed like this rare, perfect opportunity. It’s about women, it’s created by women and I think it’s fantastic. We did six episodes. I’ve got my fingers crossed that they’ll order more. I don’t have another play lined up as of right now.

Stage or screen, which do you prefer?

Stage. It’s more immediate. Also, there’s no camera involved. I get intimidated by cameras.

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