Volume 19 Issue 42 | March 2 - 8, 2007

Photo by Joan Marcus

Katherine Waterston as Audrey in “Los Angeles,” now at the Flea

The unlikely ingénue

Katherine Waterston’s vivid stage premiere

By Nicole Davis

In a harsh role for a stage debut, Katherine Waterston plays a speed-addicted drifter who becomes even more lost in Los Angeles, the title of the play she’s starring in at the Flea Theater through March 17. A self-described “late bloomer,” this daughter of “Law and Order” star Sam Waterston says she came to acting late, choosing it only in her freshman year at NYU after cycling through other creative fields like painting and photography. “I was just trying to do something artistic that no one else in my family had done,” she said recently by phone. “It was total teenage brattiness — and fear, I guess. It’s a scary path to choose.” In “Los Angeles,” written by Julian Sheppard and directed by Adam Rapp, she takes the audience for an intense ride in the lead role of Audrey, who ricochets from one character to the next, none of whom have the ability or desire to help her. Her downward spiral is difficult to watch, much less look away from. Ms. Waterston spoke to Downtown Express about tackling such a difficult role.

What attracted you to ‘Los Angeles’?

I guess what drew me to it was how intimidated I was by it — the challenge was so appealing even if in a masochistic way, and I think Julian is an amazing writer and I was really impressed by how the writing was so brutal and delicate at the same time. And I don’t think there are a lot of gnarly, complicated roles like that for young women — it’s such a refreshing change of pace from the typical ingénue part. And as an actor, it was so appealing, the idea of getting tossed around from scene to scene. It’s like being a tennis ball.

Did you do anything to prepare for it?

Um, a lot of speed. (Laughs.) No. People often say that roles come to them at a time that’s fitting in their personal lives. And over the last three years I’ve spent more than half my time in Los Angeles, so that was something that I really connected with, [since the idea of] being a hobo is in the play and something that I related to. It’s easy to feel yourself disappearing out there because it’s such a strange, strange place. It’s like you’re in a horrible dream, like a David Lynch movie. There’s a lot of Lynch in this production too.

What is it about L.A. that allows people to lose themselves?

I think you can have a drug problem anywhere, you can be depressed anywhere, you can be isolated anywhere. People feel incredibly isolated in New York sometimes, even though there are people everywhere, but in Los Angeles you can remain in these little pods — your house, your car. You’re so separated constantly, and if you choose it, you can protect yourself from all interaction. And if you’re falling apart or you’re sinking, you have to make such a big effort there to pull yourself up, to involve yourself in the simplest ways. I’ve noticed that to be unique to L.A.

Drug addicts are not terribly popular. Did you find it difficult to play an unsympathetic character like Audrey?

Well, I don’t think I could even function in the role if I wasn’t sympathetic to her. And yes, she’s a drug addict, but I don’t think it’s a play about drug addiction — I think it’s a play about someone seeking love, and I could relate to that. I think I would be a basket case if I worried constantly about whether the audience had sympathy for her or not, and I don’t think I could tell the story well if I was trying to make them like her, but my hope is that in exposing the ugliest sides of her and the places people will stoop to get what they want or they think they need, the audience [will be moved]. And there’s [only] one scene where she uses drugs, and there’s another where she’s just come off of having been high for many days, so there aren’t a lot of scenes where she’s actually high. [Which] also represents this need in her that she wants to fill up, and that the audience never gets to see her fulfill even in this artificial way. That’s something I really related to — the seeking in her, the need in her, and I think that that is pretty universal.

But it also comes down to individual taste. I think it’s interesting to see people desperate and pathetic and ugly and I wasn’t remotely uncomfortable showing that to the audience. They can do what they want with that. It’s so strange to hear the things people are horrified by on any given night. There was an older audience the other night, and they were laughing a lot during the father scene [where he rebuffs his daughter], which was really disturbing to me. And some nights, people find the scene where I’m drunk at the bar to be really silly because they feel it’s a relief from the rest of the play, and other nights I think people are scared by it, because people see how hell-bent she is and how out of control. It’s totally subjective, and I guess the short answer is that I don’t really worry about what the audience thinks — I hope that they enjoy it, I hope that they get lost in it, but I don’t have time to worry about them! I’m too busy worrying about myself!

What are you starring in next?

It’s funny — there’s the line in the bar scene where Audrey is pretending to be an out-of-work actress and the character Dave asks if she’s done anything he could look out for, and she says: “I doubt it, I haven’t done anything that’s been released yet,” which is actually sort of true for me at the moment. I did a couple films last year, one called “The Babysitter.” It was really an amazing experience and it has an amazing cast: Cynthia Nixon is in it and John Leguizamo, and a lot of wonderful young female actresses. It’s about another messed-up young girl — I’m sensing a pattern! — who starts a prostitution ring with her friends. It’s really a love story, actually!

Los Angeles” runs through March 17 at The Flea Theater, 41 White St., 212-226-2407,

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