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Tim Daly and Jayne Atkinson on Starring in a Sexy Sexagenarian Rom-Dram

By: Sandy MacDonald
Date: Apr 26, 2024

The veteran actors play reunited lovers in Still, which has more than romance on its mind


As Helen and Mark, two old flames who reconnect after 30-odd years in Lia Romeo's Still at Off Broadway's DR2 Theatre, Jayne Atkinson and Tim Daly share a hot and hilarious sex scene. Though people in their sixties still like to get it on, it's not always as carefree as when they were young. In the play, it's after the tryst that things get really intense. As these former lovers parse the past, they realize their political and ethical differences may rule out their having a future together—not to mention blow up his Republican congressional bid.

TDF Stages spoke with Atkinson, a two-time Tony nominee well known for her TV work (Criminal Minds, 24), and Tim Daly (Wings, Madam Secretary) about their passion for this Colt Coeur production, their own experiences with lost love and why young playwrights should write meaty roles for actors of a certain age.

Sandy MacDonald: You're both reprising your roles from Still's world premiere last summer at the Dorset Theatre Festival in Vermont. You must have enjoyed the experience.

Jayne Atkinson: It's a beautiful piece! We want everybody to see it.

MacDonald: The author, Lia Romeo, is so young, fresh out of Juilliard's playwriting program.

Atkinson: The question that everybody asks Lia is, "Why do you write about people in their sixties?" She says she loves to work with older actors because we bring so much to the table and there's a lot she can learn from us.

MacDonald: I imagine it was Adrienne Campbell-Holt—the founding artistic director of Colt Coeur as well as the director of this production—who discovered and helped develop the script?

Atkinson: Yes. She and Lia had worked together before. Adrienne read it on the train and when she was done, she called me and said, "I want to do it up at the Dorset Theatre Festival."

MacDonald: That century-old barn theatre in Vermont has become quite the incubator for Off Broadway. Other recent transfers include Theresa Rebeck's Dig and Downstairs.

Tim Daly: I've worked at the Dorset Theatre Festival with Adrienne four times. I love it there. I've had a farm up there for 30 years.

Atkinson: I'm so envious. I want a farm! And I want his vegetables and flowers.

MacDonald: You've both been very busy of late: Jayne with the Hulu series Death and Other Details and Tim tackling one of the great tragic Tennessee Williams roles in The Night of the Iguana Off Broadway. So it says a lot that you both made time for Still. It strikes a universal chord because we all carry around a memory of our first all-encompassing love. You're both happily coupled—Tim with your former Madam Secretary costar Téa Leoni, and Jayne with your husband, actor Michel Gill. But have you ever wondered, What if?

Atkinson: That could have been the case for me. There was a moment when my husband and I separated, and it was really devastating. I knew that I could not be friends with him—not for a very, very long time. Fortunately, he figured it out and came back to get me. Wise man!

Daly: I'm the kind of person who, once I love somebody, I never unlove them. I don't want to be with them, none of that. But there's no, What if? That saves me from some kind of fantasy about rekindling.

MacDonald: After the romantic sparks fly, your characters clash about an event from the past as well as personal politics. Suddenly, the play swerves and adds an in-the-headlines element that's best kept under wraps, though reviews have given away the reveal. This seems to be the deal-breaker regarding the possibility of their getting back together.

Daly: I was in therapy years ago—maybe when I was getting divorced—and the psychiatrist said, "Listen, you can't really judge the line. For some people, the line is the person doesn't make the bed in the morning, and that's it." Adjusting that line where the thing is broken is a really interesting subject, and I think this play deals with it well.

Atkinson: As Helen, I've given myself very high stakes. I don't know what's going to happen necessarily. I don't expect that Mark is going to do what he does. But I do feel that of all the people that I have been with, he was the love of my life. We aligned in so many ways. We talked all the time! We laughed and we played these little word games. Helen wants to fight through to find that place where they could possibly stay together.

MacDonald: Tim, is it hard to voice some of Mark's conservative opinions and positions?

Daly: The whole point of being an artist is to use your imagination, to observe things and take from your own life and other people's lives, to have that go into your subconscious and come out with something that's not exactly your experience. I think it's an odd era that we're in, where there's a movement to ask artists to not do anything that's not them. That's not art, that's just reality TV.

Atkinson: I think it's to Lia's artistic credit that she endeavored to place these people in this age bracket. She was having these questions in her own life, and she wanted to distance herself so that it was not completely about her and where she was. I just think she's a gorgeous writer.

You've both worked on Broadway and beyond. What's it like doing this two-hander in such an intimate theatre?

Daly: I think this setting suits the play very well, because the audience members are sort of like voyeurs. They're peeking through the peephole of the hotel room. It's just a conversation between two people, and it's nice to be able to speak without having to project to the back row.

MacDonald: I was left wondering why television hasn't discovered Romeo as yet.

Atkinson: She has her sights set on it. Her style very much would work for television.

MacDonald: And yet Still is not slick. She goes deep.

Atkinson: She has a minimalist style, and yet there is so much between the lines.

MacDonald: Jayne, I read that while you were on tour playing Texas governor Ann Richards in Ann, you toyed with the idea of going into politics. Are you still tempted?

Atkinson: I think maybe I said that just to be coy! I just love Richards and her spirit. She had a sense of humor. She knew how to talk to Democrats and Republicans alike. She was the real deal. But I think my politics lie in what I do on stage.

MacDonald: And Tim, you're president of The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit arts advocacy organization. What does the position entail?

Daly: We walk through the halls of Congress and the Senate trying to drum up support for the National Endowment for the Arts and for arts education—that's our primary mission. I'm actually taking a day off from the show to attend a fundraiser in DC. We use the celebrity power that we have to get media attention for nonpartisan issues of social importance. We're just now launching a new partnership with AARP to start some discussions about elder care, because… I was going to call it a looming crisis, but it's here and it's not getting any better.

MacDonald: Last summer when you were doing the show, did you know how incredibly timely Still's themes, especially your characters' polarized politics, would now be?

Daly: We did.

Atkinson: We pushed for this. We knew that this was the right moment for this play. And I was a little scared, actually, about some of the topics because people are very passionate about their opinions and their beliefs as to what is right and what is wrong. We did have one couple walk out in Dorset.

MacDonald: I don't imagine that you expect any picketers here?

Daly: There're a lot of other things to be picketing about right now.

MacDonald: True! What's next for each of you?

Atkinson: For me, nothing! I don't have anything booked after this. I'm going home to Los Angeles and then I'll go be a proud mama in Michigan because our son, Jeremy, is doing The Comedy of Errors at the Interlochen Shakespeare Festival.

Daly: I have absolutely nothing. I think I may be retired against my will, only nobody told me! It's actually a really weird and interesting time, because I feel as if I'm starting from scratch. Maybe I can reinvent myself.

Atkinson: In our industry, as you get older, they're not interested unless you're a megastar. We're lucky to have someone like Lia, who knows and appreciates the wisdom and the depth that two veteran actors who have been doing this their whole lives can bring to the stage.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for Still. Go here to browse our latest discounts for dance, theatre and concerts.

Sandy MacDonald is a theatre critic and Drama Desk member currently contributing to New York Stage Review, among other outlets. Follow her at @sandymacdonald