‘Gossip Girl’’s Margaret Colin rules over ‘Arcadia’
Margaret Colin might currently be on hiatus from playing Blair Waldorf’s mother, Eleanor, on Gossip Girl, but not from portraying a sharp-tongued commander of an estate. As Lady Croom in the current Broadway revival of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, Colin sheds the Prada wardrobe for a corset as a member of the show’s 19th-century group of ensemble characters. Colin is a native New Yorker who has been a consistent presence on stage and screen since she made her TV debut in 1979 in the soap opera The Edge of Night. In addition to the bossy Eleanor Waldorf, her major work has included Independence Day, The Devil’s Own, and Three Men and a Baby. Colin sat down with Stage Rush to talk about making sense of Arcadia, gasping for breath in her costume, and how Gossip Girl is influencing her performance.
Tom Stoppard was present during your rehearsals for Arcadia. What is he like?
He’s tall, dresses really well, and he’s much more European than he is British. He’s a genius that likes to show off, so what better place for him to be in but the theater? He’s a gentleman. He has a generosity in spirit, and the way he treats women is delicious. We spoke for two days for five hours at a time, and normally with a room full of actors, you’d want to kill yourself, because we want to talk.
While becoming involved in this project, did you find any of it intimidating?
I did not have the sense of being intimidated when we started, but once we got on our feet and rolling, I was very grounded for doing the work. Once more elements were added and we had to do it up to speed, make the connections and try to find the life of the play apart from individual exchanges, then yeah. Lady Croom is kind of outside of that world. She’s really just concerned with her garden and trying to keep control of her world. I just had to jump in and swim as fast as I could. I was not intimidated by that. I was just eager to do the work and find it. The first time I saw this play, I adored Billy [Crudup]. I had a girlfriend, Haviland Morris who played Chloe, and I came to support her. I didn’t have a clue what the play was about. I remembered the turtle, the waltzing at the end, and somebody saying something about underwear—drawers! That’s all I remembered. After reading it, the idea that it was so dense and funny turned me on. It was something I could commit to for all these months and stay intrigued.
VIDEO: Margaret Colin talks about her favorite episode of Gossip Girl and auditioning for Independence Day.
There are essentially two casts in this show. Is there a 19th-century cast clique and a 20th-century clique?
At the curtain call, Billy [Crudup] will ask, “How was your show?” and I’ll say, “Not bad! How was your show?” because we have absolutely nothing to do with each other. When we’re off stage, Raul [Esparza] opens up his dressing room. He has a larger one and people sit in his dressing room and Billy’s. There’s a little more exchange that way. And of course, there’s going out afterward.
What do you do when you’re not on stage?
We have screens all over the theater backstage showing what’s going on onstage. You’ll find both members of the company—the modern cast and the 1800s cast—watching these monitors at the stage manager’s booth. We’re watching the other scenes. The vocal tenacity of the modern section is crazy. They have such long monologues. Raul’s and Billy’s work is just gorgeous, and Lia [Williams] rips the place apart.
Between Lady Croom in Arcadia and Eleanor Waldorf in Gossip Girl, you always play these bossy, in-command women. Is this you in real life?
I sure must have a little bit of it in me!
Did Eleanor Waldorf inform your take on Lady Croom?
We’re both playing the same woman; I would have to say yes, sir! She certainly likes to be in charge, there’s an overlap there. I wish Eleanor had the same wit, but when they do write something that’s witty and fun [on Gossip Girl], it’s fun to slam it home because they do want her to have that scathing effect.
What’s it like to wear the 19th-century garb in this show?
It’s not the first time, but it is the first time I’ve worn a corset that’s completely contrived to squeeze you in so that you explode from the top. That’s a nightmare. It’s also very hard to get enough air to get through the end of a sentence. I don’t always wear the corset, because I’d just rather be heard. I hate her clothes. I hate the costume. I hate them. I feel like a pregnant pumpkin. I hate them.
Between Eleanor Waldorf and Lady Croom, however, you get to wear some pretty extravagant clothes.
The clothes I get for Gossip Girl absolutely help establish Eleanor as a person in the fashion industry and also very keenly aware of how she looks, and it’s the same with Lady Croom. You get the period, you get that she’s not a contemporary woman, but she’s such a smart woman, she’s got so much intellect and is firing away all the time. It’s a nice dichotomy because you don’t really expect that when you see that wardrobe.
How do you react to the people that say this play is complicated and difficult to understand?
I would agree with them. But I also think that it’s a play, so there’s great fun in it. There’s some games that are difficult to understand and very much worth playing. This is a play that has moments that are difficult to understand, but the sweep of it is incredible lyricism, magic, romance, and the great humanity of what one person does 200 years ago impacts what somebody does today.
What’s it like being married to Wallace Shawn on Gossip Girl?
It’s rare, but when we are in the room together, he’s eccentric, unique, and has the most extraordinary stories. I say to Wally, “Do you travel?” He says, “Not for pleasure, really. But I travel a lot.” I say, “What do you travel for?” He says, “For rescues, for international sit ins.” He’s very politically active, so you’re not going to find him on his own at a suite in the Pierre, but you might find him in Honduras guarding some poet, giving political asylum. When we’re on set together, we’re the pet couple. All the kids come over to us and see what we’re doing. It’s cute.
When are you coming back to Gossip Girl? What’s next for you?
The big season finale is coming up. I’ve only been in five episodes this season, but I am in the final two episodes this season.
Can you whisper any season finale scoop to us?
Are you kidding me, I can’t tell you anything! I’ll never be heard from again. There’s big news for Blair, so that involves me.
Do you love Margaret Colin’s no-nonsense Lady Croom, Rushers? Do you agree with what she says about the play? Did you enjoy her parallels between Gossip Girl and Arcadia? Leave your comments below, and tune into Stage Rush TV this Friday for more with Margaret Colin!