Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Where did you get your training?
Marin Ireland: I was born in Camarillo, California, where the state mental hospital used to be. Now the mental hospital is closed and there’s a giant outlet mall. I was super shy as a kid, but my school, which was a progressive Southern California style elementary school, involved everyone in doing two plays a year, and when I started playing bigger parts in those, it was completely transformative for me. I ended up choosing to go to Idyllwild Arts Academy, an arts boarding school, for the last two years of high school, which was absolutely thrilling, a deeply joyful and rigorous experience. I chose to be part of the first class of the theatre division of The Hartt School at the University of Hartford. We were sharing teachers with Juilliard and Yale. We had a semester in England, a semester of new plays. Probably one of the most potent elements of that time was simply being on a bus ride to and from New York City. I saw so many incredible shows, bought so many rush tickets. I saw Julie Harris and Charles Durning in The Gin Game from the very last row of the balcony. It is etched in my brain forever! I did a ton of summer stock while I was in school, so I was lucky enough to have my Equity card by the time I graduated. I threw all my belongings in my little Honda Accord and drove around to all the theatres in the northeast. I'd call a theatre up, like a maniac, ask to speak to their casting person or associate artistic director and just say, "Hi, I'm an Equity actor! When can I audition for you?" And sometimes it worked. I went to the Equity open call for ART and got cast in Adam Rapp's first professional production, Nocturne. I had no lines, but that show moved to The New York Theatre Workshop, which is what led to me being cast in Caryl Churchill's Far Away. That show changed so much for me.
TS: Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?
MI: When I was younger, I thought I wanted to be a novelist because all I ever did was read books. I don’t remember ever making the decision to become an actor. Once I started, there was never anything else. I went after it with every cell in my body.
TS: I have to say your journey as a working actress is fascinating. I don’t think people realize how much energy and tenacity it takes.
MI: That’s the thing. The few times I've taught, I've tried to talk about how many times I failed, what it feels like getting bad reviews and being rejected. I feel like that’s important. I remember when I would watch interviews or go to talkbacks with actors and they would talk about their first big job and I was wondering, how did you even get a meeting with an agent? How did that happen? I didn’t have an agent until I got cast in Far Away, which was two years in, and I thought I was already a failure. It is a hard, hard road becoming a working actor, and there is no arrival point where the struggle goes away entirely.
TS: Why did you choose to do this role in Martín Zimmerman’s On the Exhale? What do you think the play is about?
MI: When I did a reading of this play in February of 2016, the world was already in a dangerous place, and it’s even worse now. To be able to use my voice as an interpreter for something that is not only beautiful, but relevant to a broader political conversation — to feel useful in some way while also having the privilege to deliver these exquisite words — is a great honor. I feel enormously grateful. It's really unlike anything I've ever read. It's a new place for me as an artist in many ways: it's surprising and challenging and I love that. I gravitate towards big challenges for sure; I try to push myself to lean into the fear, to step into the unknown. Something that is new and surprising and also meaningful is the holy trifecta for me. It's sacred, special work.
TS: What kind of preparation or research do you have to do before rehearsals begin, in order to play this role?
MI: I usually try to research the writer as much as possible to try to get inside his or her brain. I usually read other plays they’ve written and try to talk to that writer a lot. Whatever ideas continue to come up as I work on a piece, I always get sparks from that, and that leads to more research. I have been looking at sleepy suburban college campus towns, places affected by gun violence, other specifics that I don't want to give away here. I’m thinking a lot about the fact that this play is written in second person — which speaks to the fact that Martín takes us inside my character’s mind. It is such a rare experience to read something in that voice. I’ve been thinking a lot about that grammatical choice and thinking about other things written in that voice and what that means. I try, at this particular phase, to let the text speak to me.
TS: What do you look for in a director when doing a one-person play?
MI: This is a very scary situation. It’s never been just me onstage, so I really was looking for a director who I already trusted. I knew I would be scared to death every day. I didn’t want to feel like I had to build trust with anyone new. Leigh Silverman and I worked together on The Beebo Brinker Chronicles — we did that twice — and then we worked together on In the Wake — which was a very challenging show in many ways. It was an incredible exercise in emotional, psychological, and intellectual stamina because I never left the stage for nearly three hours and I almost never shut up. I just kept talking and had to navigate these really immense intellectual arguments. Leigh is someone who can challenge me from the jump. We’ve been having conversations since she first read it. We are asking ourselves: How do we attack this? Where is this? Where is the drama in a one-person play like this? How do I dramatize it as an actor? These are questions we both have. Leigh will push me and catch me when I jump off cliffs, which will hopefully happen every day.
TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist? What advice would you give young people who say they want to act?
MI: When I’m not working, those are the hardest times for me. I try to see a ton of theatre or film that makes me happy and that makes me want to act. I try to educate myself in terms of the work that is being done by my colleagues. I seek out people who are just starting, new writers who inspire me. I think of this job as devotional, in service of the writing, because the writing is bigger than me. I read a lot. My actor friends like Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, and Deirdre O’Connell, who have been doing this longer than me, are the ones I look to, onstage and off, for support and inspiration. As far as advice to actors goes, I find myself telling people who want to be involved in this business that it is a long game. It’s a lifelong pursuit. While I have had some big-break moments, I haven’t had the one thing that has catapulted me into a place where you no longer have to worry about rejection or fear of failure. You will always have to deal with fear and rejection. It might be on a different level, but it always exists. The life of an actor is hard; success doesn’t happen overnight. The more I do it, the more vulnerable I feel. I hope that it's because that's what I'm striving for: more openness and clarity within the work. There is great value in vulnerability. I think that as artists, we have to push ourselves to explore that. We have to constantly ask ourselves, why am I doing this? That answer will change and evolve as the artist does. Ultimately, I do think about it as a life of service. Being in service to the writer’s ideas. And to the larger idea of connecting all of us together, cultivating empathy among strangers. We can change the world as artists, I do believe that. That is how we begin and how we continue.
On the Exhale is now playing at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, On the Exhale, Roundabout Underground, Upstage