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By LINDA BUCHWALD
Welcome to Building Character, TDF Stages’ ongoing series about actors and how they create their roles
"It was like coming home." That's how Judith Light describes acting alongside Dan Lauria in the current Broadway production of Lombardi. The stars play legendary football coach Vince Lombardi and his wife Marie, but they first worked together in the 70s on One Life to Live. "Our relationship was there, and even though we hadn’t been in touch a lot through the years, we always loved and honored and respected each other’s work, so it made it very comfortable," the actress says.
The chemistry between Light and Lauria is essential, since the play is just as much about a marriage as it is about football.
Light sees Marie as a strong and powerful woman, but also selfless in the sacrifice she made for her husband, who rose to fame coaching the Green Bay Packers. Light explains that Marie, a city girl, didn’t want to move to Wisconsin, but she knew how important the opportunity was for her husband and did everything she could to make it work for them.
But even though Light knows a lot about the Lombardis now, she barely knew anything before she took the role. After getting the part---they gave it to her in the audition room—she read David Marniss' book When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, which also inspired playwright Eric Simonson. However, she purposely didn’t watch video footage or listen to audio recordings of Marie. "I didn’t want to do a caricature or an impersonation," she says. "I really wanted to use the wisdom of our director Tommy Kail and playing off of Dan and Keith Nobbs, who plays the reporter in the play. I wanted to use them more than I wanted to use anything else that would color my interpretation of her."
The character truly came together this summer, after a few weeks of rehearsal for the play's first run in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Light recalls, "One day, something happened and I started walking differently, and I don’t even know where it came from. Eric came up to me and said, 'I noticed this walk that you’re doing,' and he said, 'There’s something so interesting about that.' It was this walk of resolve. There’s a real sense of somebody who is moving through the world with great resolve and control."
Light's choices paid off when Marie’s family came to see the show. She says, "I felt very validated when some of her family came and said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s our Aunt Marie.' Her daughter came on opening night and said, 'Oh my. You’re my mother. You’re my mother.'"
A little bit of Marie has found its way into Light’s offstage life as well. She used to read the sports section for tennis and basketball, but now she reads about football, too. "I was not a big football fan before. Marie loved football, so you know what, I love football."
Linda Buchwald blogs for StageGrade and her own blog, Pataphysical Science. Follow her on Twitter: @PataphysicalSci