Actor Christine Lahti

Transcript for: 
Actor Christine Lahti

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:54
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Actor Christine Lahti is starring in a new play about a dysfunctional family in the upper class fictional suburb "Falls of Autry Mill." She describes the play as dark, funny, and very well-written, three qualities she's been attracted to throughout her 30-year career. Lahti has appeared in offbeat, independent films, and award-winning TV dramas. For her work, she's won an Academy Award, an Emmy, and a Golden Globe. She joins me in the studio to talk about performing in television, film, and on stage.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:38
Christine Lahti, it's a pleasure to have you here. We'll invite our listeners to join us as well. 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good to see you.

MS. CHRISTINE LAHTI

11:07:59
Thank you, Diane. I'm a huge fan, and I'm so honored to be here.

REHM

11:08:02
Oh, thank you so much. I wonder what it is about this play that prompted you to say I'd do this play anywhere in the world.

LAHTI

11:08:16
This play, first of all, it's brilliantly written by Paul Down Colaizzo. It's so funny and so dark and twisted, and it really explores dysfunction in families, and I've always been attracted to that. I guess I could say that I came from dysfunctional family.

REHM

11:08:38
Don't we all.

LAHTI

11:08:39
I think we all do, yes. And then, I mean, it's an upper-middle-class suburb of Atlanta. I grew up in an upper-middle-class suburb of Detroit. So there were so many similarities to my life. The lead character, Carly, is a woman that reminded me a lot of my mom, certain aspects, and certain aspects of moms of friends of mine growing up. So I was just -- I connected to it in a lot of ways.

REHM

11:09:10
Tell me about your mom and how she somehow is in this play.

LAHTI

11:09:18
Well, first of all, she was the most loving person I have to date ever met. But she was treated in that community, in the fifties and sixties, in this wealthy, upper-middle-class community as a kind of second-class citizen.

REHM

11:09:38
Why?

LAHTI

11:09:39
Well, she was a housewife and she raised six children, but that was not really respected, stay-at-home moms. And all -- I know. She worked her butt off, but...

REHM

11:09:52
Yeah.

LAHTI

11:09:53
...it was -- somehow I felt she was a second-class citizen, and all the moms in this community felt a little bit like -- a little like jokes. And the men, the patriarchs of all the families were the bosses and the first-class citizens. And I saw how my mom was treated, and I think that was part of my attraction to this play is, I think, Carly is not heard, not respected, and not really appreciated.

REHM

11:10:25
And how does that affect the way the family comes together?

LAHTI

11:10:32
Well, she came from a home that -- she lost her parents when she was little, and she was raised by a grandmother who really didn't want to raise her. So she didn't get any love. So how do you love when you don't -- you've never been loved? That's really one of the main themes of this play. So she can't really love her kids because she needs so much love from them. So you see that sort of cycle of emotional abuse that she means well, but she's not really the most loving mom. She's a very needy mom.

REHM

11:11:05
The Signature Theater in Shirlington where you are performing, Shirlington, Va., for those of you not here in the Washington area, in the 110-seat arc space...

LAHTI

11:11:23
Yes.

REHM

11:11:24
...tiny, tiny little theater. Wouldn't you have wanted a greater audience?

LAHTI

11:11:33
It doesn't really matter, honestly. I like the intimate space. Do I want lots of people to see this play? Of course. But I love the idea that I don't have to really worry about projecting my voice too much. I can -- it's a little bit like doing film in a way in that you're not -- that's not really a concern. It's really just about being present and being with the other actors.

REHM

11:11:59
Christine, what is about this play that you think gets to the heart of what family life is?

LAHTI

11:12:12
Well, I -- again, I think it's that cycle of abuse that -- everyone knows about the cycle of physical abuse. If you've been abused as a child, chances are you will abuse. Well, it's the same thing I think that this play explores in terms of emotional abuse, that this woman as a young girl had some emotional abuse. She never felt valued. So she in turn, inadvertently, unconsciously is emotionally abusing her children. And she'll well-intended, and is just needy and desperate for love, but what she substitutes for love is adoration.

LAHTI

11:12:51
She confuses the two. She really wants desperately to be adored by her community, and she thinks that's love, but of course, it's not.

REHM

11:13:00
But, you know, this, as you said, is set in the sixties, correct?

LAHTI

11:13:05
No. No. This is set in 2009.

REHM

11:13:08
Ah. Now I understand.

LAHTI

11:13:09
But there's some -- no. I was saying how my mom was, you know, a housewife and mother.

REHM

11:13:12
Okay. All right. So all these other women in the community are professional women?

LAHTI

11:13:20
None of them. They all are stay-at-home moms.

REHM

11:13:24
And yet nobody gets any respect.

LAHTI

11:13:27
None. I don't -- I don't think so. I mean, I think, I win a flower contest, so I'm very proud, maybe too proud about that, my character, I'm saying. And I think that that's how these women get, I think, some kind of respect, is again, it's external and it's about winning something.

REHM

11:13:50
Christine Lahti. She's here in Washington starring in the play "Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill" which opens tonight at the Signature Theater in Arlington, Va., and it runs through December the 9th. So those of you in the area, you'll have the opportunity to see her, and those of you around the country who are fans of Christine Lahti can make this trip to Washington and really enjoy a play. You said that when choosing projects, writing is what comes first. What's that meant for your career?

LAHTI

11:14:38
Well, obviously, sometimes one has to choose a project because they just need to work and just need to make money. That's, of course, been some of my choices. But for the most part -- excuse me -- I try to choose projects that first of all, mean something to me, that speak to me. And secondly, project a positive image of women. And I've not always been able to be successful along those lines, but I really try to choose projects where women are three dimensional and not necessarily always strong, but at least that they have an arc, that there is some sort of forward-moving journey, that they find some either internal strength of some kind of, I don't know, recognition or empowerment or something.

REHM

11:15:30
And, of course, you've been very active in women's rights organizations. And when you talk about being active in those organizations, how have you directly benefitted yourself?

LAHTI

11:15:51
Well, when I was in college in the late sixties, early seventies, that's when feminism was just, you know, boiling over, and everybody was feeling this kind of incredible -- women were feeling so connected to each other, and there was a sisterhood, and we were all supporting each other. I still feel that. I still feel that until all women are respected in the world, none of us are. Until all women are first-class citizens, I feel deep down that none of us really are.

LAHTI

11:16:24
So there's a feeling I have of responsibility, and, of course, I don't do enough, and I always am thinking of what more I could do, but of helping women who are not -- who don't have voices. And Carly is one of those people to me in this play who doesn't really have a voice.

REHM

11:16:42
She has a voice talking with her children.

LAHTI

11:16:47
Yes. She can -- she feels she can control that.

REHM

11:16:49
And how do they respond to her?

LAHTI

11:16:53
One hates her, and one -- one probably wants her approval too much. But she's, you know, she equates happiness with success. So that's right there, you know, not a great way to parent somebody.

REHM

11:17:08
And are the children themselves successful?

LAHTI

11:17:12
I think one is finding his path. He's giving up being a lawyer and deciding he would rather check commas in contracts, and, of course, that kills Carly because all she wants is appearances, and she wants to look good in the community, so the fact that her son is not going to be a lawyer anymore is tragic. And then the other son tells her that he's gay, and that to her is just heartbreaking because all she wants is grandchildren, the real kind.

REHM

11:17:42
And where is the father in all this?

LAHTI

11:17:45
The father is so busy with his mistress that it's just pathetic.

REHM

11:17:50
Ah.

LAHTI

11:17:51
Yeah.

REHM

11:17:51
That really is complicated because I'll bet you the kids have some idea that there is a mistress involved.

LAHTI

11:18:00
Yes. As do I. Carly senses this, and, in fact, I don't want to give too much away, but...

REHM

11:18:06
Right.

LAHTI

11:18:07
...but things -- everybody has very tragic announcements for Carly, and she just has to figure out how to stay standing.

REHM

11:18:16
Christine Lahti. She's an award-winning actor. She's here in Washington starring in the play "Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill." It opens tonight at the Signature Theater in Arlington, Va., runs through December 8. We're going to open the phones when we come back. Stay with us.

REHM

11:19:59
And if you've just joined us, Christine Lahti is with me. She is, of course, an award-winning actor. She won an Oscar for her short film "Lieberman in Love." She won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her role as Dr. Kate Austin on the TV drama "Chicago Hope." She is here with me today because a play she stars in opens tonight in Arlington, Va. at the Signature Theater. The play is titled "Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill." It's a curious title, Christine.

LAHTI

11:20:47
It is. Paul Downs Colaizzo explained it to us this way. He said that there's two kinds of pride. There's the false pride and there's a real internal earned pride. The false pride is what I think Carly is going for at the beginning of the play. And at the end she's looking for some self respect, which would be the more earned, I guess, valuable pride. In the Falls of Autrey Mill, to Paul that was -- reminded him of the falling down of a woman that, even though Autrey Mill's really a town...

REHM

11:21:23
Right.

LAHTI

11:21:24
...that there's a fall -- she falls. And in order to I guess become empowered, she has to fall. And she has to lose everything before she can really become human in a way. And to become whole, she has to just lose everything. So that's her fall.

REHM

11:21:47
Failure, of course, is a great determinant, isn't it?

LAHTI

11:21:52
Yes, exactly.

REHM

11:21:53
I mean, we can move from failure. We can succeed from failure if we don't allow that failure to define us. And she's clearly struggling with that issue. How is she different from your mother?

LAHTI

11:22:15
My mother believed in if you fall down -- it's not about falling down, it's how fast you get back up on your feet. She really taught us that. But I think failure to my mom -- no, she -- I mean, my mom had some denial issues, which Carly certainly has. But I think my mom dealt with bumps in the road pretty well. I mean, she was a very positive person. But failure to Carly is intolerable. It's -- she just can't handle it.

REHM

11:22:48
I want to go back to the early days of your career. Some people told you, you would never make it as an actress.

LAHTI

11:23:01
Yes. And I'm sure...

REHM

11:23:02
I love that laugh. It comes from deep inside you, doesn't it?

LAHTI

11:23:07
It does, and I'm laughing now, but at the time, I wasn't laughing.

REHM

11:23:11
Yeah, I'll bet.

LAHTI

11:23:12
But, you know, I mean, you've had it too, Diane, I'm sure. For whatever reason these happen to be men in my life, they had their own personal issues. But they decided it was their place to tell me that I was never going to amount to anything. So it just honestly -- it killed me at the time, it crushed me but it made me stronger. And I think that kind of obstacle, for a lot of people, it doesn't crush them. It just makes them work harder. And I was determined to prove these guys wrong.

REHM

11:23:42
Who told you you weren't going to amount to anything? Was it a director, was it a writer? I mean, how did you hear that message?

LAHTI

11:23:55
One was an agent who turned out to be an alcoholic and was, I guess, taking out on me his own frustrations. He later apologized when he became sober. One was a sexually-rejected man who was angry at me. So he decided that he would tell me that I would never amount to anything. And oh, there was somebody else I can't remember. But, you know, it was -- everybody has this so it's not something new. I'm sure, as we've said, that, you know, you've had people say...

REHM

11:24:29
Indeed. Indeed.

LAHTI

11:24:31
...you're a woman, you're not special enough, you're not this enough. You know, for me it was you're too tall or you're not pretty enough, there's always things. And then you just say, okay great, that hurt but I'll prove you wrong.

REHM

11:24:42
I'll move on and just keep -- there was a quite unpleasant experience when you were auditioning for a commercial. Tell us about that.

LAHTI

11:24:54
Yes. I was determined never to do a commercial because I was an artiste and I was only interested in the theater. And so I decided that after waitressing and waitressing and waitressing that I would be very happy to do a commercial. So I auditioned for lots and lots of them and never had any luck because I was too weird. And I think I was -- looked like a hippy still. So anyway I found this ad in the Backstage it was called, that listed all the auditions for actors.

LAHTI

11:25:30
And I went in there and this guy said, sure, let me take a few pictures and I think that you might be the right type. And he took some pictures and they weren't at all lewd or provocative except I had, I just remember, a little off-the-shoulder.

REHM

11:25:46
Right.

LAHTI

11:25:46
Well, that was kind of risqué but I was okay with that. He showed his picture -- he said, go home, I'll show your pictures to the directors. So he did. He called me in the next day and he said, I've got some great news for you. You've got two national commercials.

LAHTI

11:26:01
I said, well, wait, don't I have to audition? He said, no, no, no. I just showed your pictures to the directors and there's just one little hitch. You just have to sleep with the directors.

REHM

11:26:11
Wow.

LAHTI

11:26:13
Diane, that was the day I became a feminist in my blood. I left his office -- first of all I burst out crying. I said, why would you think I would ever do that? And he said -- that was the guy, that was the third guy. He said, you're not special enough. You're never going to make it without doing it this way. And here -- he listed five actresses who were really big stars. He said, they all slept their way to the top. And that's what you have to do.

LAHTI

11:26:37
So I left his office and I was, you know, devastated. And I walked -- I remember just walking down the streets of New York sobbing and saying to myself, I will never, ever be disrespected like this again. So it became something that was -- made me so much stronger.

REHM

11:26:52
Stronger.

LAHTI

11:26:53
Yeah, and I was not a feminist just by intellectual thought in my heart.

REHM

11:26:57
What was the first part you succeeded in getting?

LAHTI

11:27:04
The first part. Well, the first film was "Injustice for All" with Al Pacino. But the first play that I felt really -- I don't know, put me on the map was a play called "The Woods" by David Mamet at the Public Theater.

REHM

11:27:19
And what about "Chicago Hope?"

LAHTI

11:27:21
Oh, and "Chicago Hope." Yes, that was an incredible four-year run. I loved it.

REHM

11:27:26
All right. And we have a tiny excerpt from "Chicago Hope." I'm going to let you listen and then we'll talk about it.

LAHTI

11:27:40
Take him off my rotation.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1

11:27:42
Kate.

LAHTI

11:27:46
It is a counterproductive relationship. He shows no respect. He can't be taught? Why? Because he already knows everything.

DR. YATES

11:27:48
I was simply trying to participate which I...

LAHTI

11:27:50
By going behind my back and talking a demented patient out of having life-saving surgery?

YATES

11:27:54
Actually it was the demented patient's daughter that I spoke to...

LAHTI

11:27:56
Oh, and I'm sure she was completely capable of ignoring that -- that voice charm, those seductive eyes, that cute little thing you do with your hair, your -- your -- the point is he ignored my instructions. He circumnavigated my authority...

YATES

11:28:11
I presented another point of view.

LAHTI

11:28:12
And now the patient won't have life-saving surgery.

YATES

11:28:14
Live-prolonging might be a better way to put it.

LAHTI

11:28:16
You see? You see what he does?

#1

11:28:18
Dr. Yates seems perfectly rational to me.

LAHTI

11:28:20
Of course he seems rational. That's what he does. It's how he disarms people. But underneath that cool exterior he is a raving lunatic. And I for one am not going to fall into that lap -- trap.

REHM

11:28:33
Whoa. You really did it.

LAHTI

11:28:38
Oh, that was such a great character, Kate Austin. She was so complicated and so just beautifully written I would say.

REHM

11:28:49
Was she right?

LAHTI

11:28:52
In that situation?

REHM

11:28:52
Yes.

LAHTI

11:28:54
No. I think she was probably completely attracted to this guy and was very flummoxed by it and confused by it. And I don't really remember the scene but, you know, that's part of her deliciousness was that she needed to be right. And yet there were so many times when she was so completely wrong.

REHM

11:29:11
I just love the passion that one heard in that scene. It was just fabulous. How was that whole experience of doing television in "Chicago Hope?" Is it done in tiny pieces? Is it done in long stretches?

LAHTI

11:29:31
That was my first experience doing an hour drama, doing a series. And it was phenomenal in so many ways. It was also very challenging because I had three little children at the time. And -- but the good news was -- well, lots of good news but they had an extra trailer for me to keep the -- the kids would come.

REHM

11:29:54
How old at the time?

LAHTI

11:29:56
They were two -- the twins were two and my oldest was seven. So he as at school, but the little ones were in the trailer.

REHM

11:30:03
Sure.

LAHTI

11:30:04
And it was also a big ensemble cast, so I didn't have to work every day for 16 hours. It was really spread out. There'd be some weeks where I'd only work one day and some weeks I'd work every day. But I loved it. I mean, before Chicago Hope I was a snob, I will admit, about television. I thought, oh it's not as good as movies. It's not as good as theater. And then my husband, Tommy Schlamme who's an incredible director of mostly television, he happened to be directing an episode of "Chicago Hope," which I happened to watch. And it was phenomenal.

LAHTI

11:30:41
It was better written, it was better acted, better directed than most movies I was seeing. And I thought, why am I such a snob about television? This is great stuff. So I fell in love with television. I still think -- I mean, especially today, the quality of writing is really extraordinary in a lot of mostly cable, but some network television. And the opportunities for women are much greater on television.

REHM

11:31:10
Isn't it interesting what's happening to network series versus cable series?

LAHTI

11:31:18
Yeah.

REHM

11:31:19
I mean, when you think of, for example, "House of Cards" or "Homeland" or "The Americans," I mean, you're not seeing those -- that kind of writing on network television as much as you are on cable these days.

LAHTI

11:31:39
Yes. And I can't really give you an answer for that except that I agree with you. And I wish that network television did more complicated, more -- take more risks. You know, there's a lot of not completely sympathetic characters on cable, which to me are the most interesting. In fact, the first thing I said to David Kelly who wrote "Chicago Hope," I said, please I just don't want to play somebody completely likeable. And he said, oh that's no problem. Because that's what he loved to write.

REHM

11:32:08
Christine Lahti and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got lots of callers. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Alli in St. Augustine, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.

ALLI

11:32:29
Hi. Hi, Diane. Hi, Christine.

REHM

11:32:32
Hi.

LAHTI

11:32:32
Hi, Alli.

ALLI

11:32:34
Hi. Diane, first of all, I love your show. I catch it whenever I can.

REHM

11:32:37
Thank you.

ALLI

11:32:37
But Christine, I'm 27 and I actually grew up as a kid in Chicago watching "Chicago Hope." And it was one of my favorite shows as a kid. And you turned out to be one of those faces that, you know, I always recognized afterwards. I go, oh she was on "Chicago Hope" and you're kind of a face from my childhood. And I really want to thank you for, you know, playing such an amazing character.

LAHTI

11:33:00
Oh, well, thank you. That means a lot to me. Thanks.

REHM

11:33:03
Thanks for calling, Alli. And let's go now -- let me see if that phone is working there -- to Rich in Melvin Village, N.H. You're on the air.

RICH

11:33:17
Hi, Diane. Hi, Christine. How are you?

REHM

11:33:19
Hi. Good thanks.

LAHTI

11:33:19
Good, thanks.

RICH

11:33:21
Christine, I love -- I want to make sure I get it right. You played on SVU, right? You're the prosecutor on SVU?

LAHTI

11:33:29
Yes, um-hum.

RICH

11:33:29
Oh my. One of my favorite shows. I love it so much. I recognize your voice but I had to make sure. I feel really bad for you when you lose and it's so real. I mean, that show -- I love Iced Tea, I love all the -- I love everybody on that show. It's such an awesome show. You don't do it anymore obviously.

LAHTI

11:33:48
Well, since I was killed off, no. I don't know how they're going to have me back.

RICH

11:33:54
Oh, I missed that one. You were killed -- I guess I missed that one.

LAHTI

11:33:55
You missed that one. You've got to go see that one. Yeah, a lot.

RICH

11:33:59
I watched it all the time.

LAHTI

11:34:00
Yeah, that's the one you missed.

RICH

11:34:01
Oh, man.

LAHTI

11:34:01
I was -- I definitely was offed. So unless I come back as a ghost, it won't happen.

RICH

11:34:06
Oh, okay. Well, I'm sorry about that.

REHM

11:34:07
Go back and watch it again, Rich. Thanks for calling. And to, let's see, Denise in Jamesville, Wis. You're on the air.

DENISE

11:34:22
Hi, Ms. Lahti. I can't think of anybody I'd rather speak to, you know. My daughter is sitting next to me and she's 21 and for years we watched "Leaving Normal" pretty much every year when we need a boost. I have to say that Dory, she could've been so two-dimensional, although -- I mean, it was really well written, but she really could've been played as just a real dope. But you put such a -- people say "Thelma and Louise" and we're like, no. The real road movie is "Leaving Normal."

DENISE

11:34:53
And so I recommend it to people, but it's really hard to find and that's annoying, but I've still got my VHS tape and a backup and we just watch -- in fact, she's sitting next to me right now trying to get me to say, get her to say flan, flan, you know. And you kind of ruined that dessert forever for us, but...

LAHTI

11:35:09
Flan.

DENISE

11:35:10
...I'll tell you what...

LAHTI

11:35:11
Flan, yeah.

REHM

11:35:13
Yeah, exactly. All right, Denise.

LAHTI

11:35:15
Thank you so much.

REHM

11:35:16
Thanks for calling. I'm glad you are enjoying the discussion. When did you know you had made it, or do you ever?

LAHTI

11:35:30
I don't think you ever do, or at least I don't ever. I think -- I'm always wanting to challenge myself. And of course when I take these big challenges like this one, there's always several days where I feel like, what was I thinking? I don't know how to act. You know, why am I taking this huge risk? I had a therapist who used to say, you know, you want to take these big risks. And you get out on the edge of a limb, there's no safety net. You're going to jump and you just have to -- you know, you want it so embrace the insecurity about it.

REHM

11:36:05
And the fear.

LAHTI

11:36:06
And the fear, which is part of it. And the good news about Carly is Carly is so fearful from the moment the play starts to the very end. So I can use all the nerves and fear that I have then.

REHM

11:36:15
Really. Really. Now, people have always said to me -- therapists said I've had -- even my husband has said to me, just know that the fear is always going to be there and use it.

LAHTI

11:36:32
That's right. It is part of it. If you're going to take risks and you're going to challenge yourself, that's just part of the equation.

REHM

11:36:40
So you're still coming onto the stage tonight and there's going to be an element of real fear in your heart.

LAHTI

11:36:49
Of course. Of course. And as I tell my acting students -- because I teach some master classes at various theater schools -- use it. Use those nerves. Use that fear because all people have fear in certain moments.

REHM

11:37:04
Christine Lahti. She'll open tonight in "Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill" starting tonight at Signature Theater in Arlington, Va. It runs through December 8.

REHM

11:39:58
And if you've just joined us, Christine Lahti is my guest. She is, as you well know, an award-winning actor. She's here in Washington, starring in the play, "Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill." Autrey Mill is the name of the town.

LAHTI

11:40:17
Right.

REHM

11:40:18
And it opens tonight at the Signature Theatre, in Arlington, Va. Runs through December 8th. Do you have hopes that someday this is going up to New York, Christine?

LAHTI

11:40:34
Of course.

REHM

11:40:34
Of course.

LAHTI

11:40:35
I'm sure the playwright would love that, as well.

REHM

11:40:37
Of course. All right. From our lips to Gods ears.

LAHTI

11:40:41
Yes.

REHM

11:40:42
And here's an email for you from Paul, who's listening from Tulsa, Okla. "Ms. Lahti, you seem to take on roles that are vulnerable and damaged people seeking to look outside their world. Where did the courage come from to take on these roles, which I can only imagine are not easy to step in to?"

LAHTI

11:41:12
I've always felt to be an actor you have to be willing to bleed, emotionally. So I feel that's just part of my job, is to hopefully illuminate human behavior, some well-written characters, hopefully. And to really illuminate all three dimensions. And my interest is in the underbelly, always. What's underneath the facade? So that's often very painful and it's often ugly and dark and hopefully there's dimension to the characters that I portray. And that's what interests me, is the complexity of characters. So, yeah, that's going to be at times painful, but that's part of my job.

REHM

11:41:59
Is Carly close to having dementia?

LAHTI

11:42:03
Carly? No. No, no.

REHM

11:42:05
Nowhere near that?

LAHTI

11:42:07
Not at all. No, no. She's flawed in lots of ways. That hasn't happened to Carly yet, no.

REHM

11:42:13
All right. And Paul goes on to say, "By the way, your film 'Housekeeping,' was my third-date test when I was single. It's one of my favorite films, due to the touching and quirky characters.

LAHTI

11:42:31
I love that film, too. I think that was my favorite film I ever did.

REHM

11:42:34
And here's another from Twitter. "My favorite Christine Lahti role was in, 'Running on Empty,' with River Phoenix." Tell us about that film.

LAHTI

11:42:48
That was an extraordinary experience. And River was just one of those actors who had never trained. He just had this gift that was so phenomenal. And working with Sydney Lumet, who still just remains one of the greatest film directors ever, was just an incredible experience. I learned so much from him. When I direct now, I just do everything that Sydney did. He rehearsed us for two weeks like it was a play. Everybody was off book by the end. We did a run through so everyone had a sense of the whole arc of the character and the journeys that the characters would make.

LAHTI

11:43:27
And he did very few takes, but we were all so prepared by the time we got on the set that it was fine.

REHM

11:43:34
Would you rather direct than act?

LAHTI

11:43:38
No.

REHM

11:43:39
No?

LAHTI

11:43:40
No. But I love to direct. I love it. And I want to do more.

REHM

11:43:44
The challenge of facing an audience is what takes the courage.

LAHTI

11:43:52
Say that again.

REHM

11:43:53
The challenge of facing an audience in the acting arena…

LAHTI

11:43:57
Yes, yes, yes.

REHM

11:43:58
…is what takes the courage.

LAHTI

11:43:59
That's the courage, but it's also -- there's such magic. It's so magical.

REHM

11:44:04
Absolutely.

LAHTI

11:44:05
When I'm really in the moment and I feel the audience's energy and they give so much to me and it makes me stronger, it makes me braver and there's such an interplay that audiences maybe don't even know about. But as actors on the stage I can -- as an actor I can say, you give so much to us and you're so important to us.

REHM

11:44:26
Absolutely. Yeah.

LAHTI

11:44:29
So don't unwrap your candies when we're performing.

REHM

11:44:32
And turn off your cell phones, for heaven's sake.

LAHTI

11:44:34
Yes.

REHM

11:44:37
All right. Let's go back to the phones. Let's go to Laura, in Denton, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.

LAURA

11:44:46
Hi, Diane. Thank you so much for your show. I absolutely love every single day.

REHM

11:44:50
Oh, good.

LAURA

11:44:50
My question for you, your description in the beginning just stopped me in my tracks. I sat down stunned. It resonated with me completely. I felt like you were talking about me. This is how I was raised by this kind of a mother. And I thought I had broken the cycle. And I'm just curious, is there, you know, did this play relate to your or this character relate to you in any way? Did you learn anything from doing this? Is the book based on the play of the same name? Anything that helped you grown in this process?

LAHTI

11:45:29
First of all, I'm not sure there's a -- there's no book. This is an original play. So there's no book that this is based on. Yeah, I mean, this is a character who is a narcissist. And underneath a narcissist is often somebody who feels so insecure and so unloved. And so there's this big hole they have to fill with adoration and attention and they're so needy. And sometimes it's a hole that's never able to be filled. And that kind of narcissism is often, I think, produced by a life of not being loved. And so they over compensate.

LAHTI

11:46:10
Anyway, did I connect to the character? No. I’m not at all a narcissist so I -- no. Of course, I connect to the character. And I understand that kind of need and that kind of insecurity. Am I that kind of -- am I that insecure? At times, yeah. Sometimes I'm really strong and sometimes I'm, you now, a basket case. Like everybody, probably.

REHM

11:46:34
How do you and your husband balance your two careers? I gather he was one of the producers or the producer on "The West Wing."

LAHTI

11:46:47
Yes. He was the executive producer and directed many of them. He and Aaron Sorkin really did that show for four years.

REHM

11:46:55
What a wonderful program.

LAHTI

11:46:58
Extraordinary. And Tommy is, you know, he's my partner. And I honestly never thought I would get married because I thought marriage meant that I had to -- as Gloria Steinem said, it would be the last choice you ever make, is to get married, because after that it would always be the husband's choice. So I was not going to go into that kind of second-class citizenship. So I was lucky enough to find a man who really, truly, in his heart, wanted a partnership and wanted to raise our children equally.

LAHTI

11:47:30
And not suddenly it's all on me and I become this kind of, you know, person who has to try to do it all and not have a husband who's really a parent. He is a parent. He's so involved with our children. And I really feel he's been an incredibly supportive partner in my life. And…

REHM

11:47:51
How long have you been married?

LAHTI

11:47:53
Thirty years.

REHM

11:47:54
Good for you.

LAHTI

11:47:55
Yeah, like you, Diane.

REHM

11:47:56
Yeah.

LAHTI

11:47:56
Well, not quite as many as you.

REHM

11:47:57
Yeah, 54 in our case. You know, I want to tell you that I've had the privilege of reading a play before an audience, a play about a woman's fall into Alzheimer's.

LAHTI

11:48:17
Wow.

REHM

11:48:18
And I play that woman.

REHM

11:48:21
What play was this?

LAHTI

11:48:22
It's titled, "Surviving Grace." And it's by my dear friend, Trish Vradenburg. And we performed it here in Washington, we did it -- Carol Burnett did it in Los Angeles. I did it in San Diego. What a thrill.

LAHTI

11:48:43
I bet it was. I bet you were amazing in it.

REHM

11:48:45
Well, it's that -- as you say, it's the interaction with the actors and the interaction with the audience that's absolutely fabulous.

LAHTI

11:48:55
It is. It's magical.

REHM

11:48:57
It's magical.

LAHTI

11:48:58
Yeah.

REHM

11:48:58
All right. Let's take another quick email, from Cathy Laudenvine, in Silver Spring, Md. She says, "I remember an acceptance speech quite awhile ago, either Emmy's or Golden Globe's, and I believe it was you who said, basically, if you work hard enough there's nothing you cannot do. Was that your acceptance speech? And if so, where can I get a copy of the entire speech?"

LAHTI

11:49:36
I've probably said that in every speech I've ever made. I've said it to my children a grillion times. My parents said it to me. I really believe it. The sky's the limit if you work hard enough.

REHM

11:49:49
Christine Lahti. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, Christine, there was yet another acceptance when you won the Golden Globe in 1998 for "Chicago Hope." Let's hear it.

MR. MICHAEL J. FOX

11:50:14
And the winner is Christine Lahti.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2

11:50:20
I knew it, I knew it. The moment I turned and saw that she wasn't sitting there -- she's in the lady's room.

MR. ROBIN WILLIAMS

11:50:28
(speaks foreign language) Christy Lahti. (applause) This year's award for cloning -- people in the deep South say we've had cloning, it's called cousins. All right. Christine Lahti.

LAHTI

11:50:47
Oh, my God. You know, I was in the bathroom, Mom.

REHM

11:50:54
You really were in the bathroom. And that was Robin Williams.

LAHTI

11:51:00
Yes. Robin Williams, bless his heart. He jumped on the stage and started vamping because he knew they would move onto the next category and just say, well, you know, accepting for. And somehow he just didn't want that to happen. And I sent him a huge bouquet of flowers the next day. But, yeah, I didn't -- in the program, it listed my category at the very end of the evening, but what I didn't read was the little asterisk by it that said, subject to change. And they changed the order around. So I'm in the bathroom.

REHM

11:51:30
Wow.

LAHTI

11:51:31
And I think with my girlfriend and I think, well, I have still some time, but I feel like I should get back. I just had this gnawing feeling that I should get back in the ballroom. And as I'm entering the ballroom, this woman is leaving. She says, oh, you just won.

REHM

11:51:41
Oh, my God.

LAHTI

11:51:41
And I said, oh, yeah, ha, funny. She said, no, really. You just won. And I walked in and there's Robin Williams vamping. And he had his napkin, because he had brought it up from the table, and I grabbed his napkin and wiped my hands. It was just one of those moments, I thought, that's -- I wasn't even thinking and it was just kind of perfect because it fit having come from the bathroom.

REHM

11:52:01
It was perfect. I just love it. And didn't you show up at some other award with toilet tissue around your ankle?

LAHTI

11:52:11
Yes. I credit that moment to David Kelley. I went into his office. I was doing "Chicago Hope," and I said, how can I top the last year? And he said, well, what I would do is I would stick toilet paper on my shoe, which I did. I thought maybe this will put a rest to every time I see anybody the one thing I'm known for is, you know, being in the bathroom when I won the Golden Globe.

REHM

11:52:34
You have a film coming out with Katie Holmes that addresses bipolar disorder. It's an issue close to your heart.

LAHTI

11:52:44
Yes. My sister was diagnosed with severe manic depression when she was 19. And she had -- I mean, of course, there was probably the propensity in her to have it anyway, but she smoked some hash in college and it triggered this severe psychotic…

REHM

11:53:07
It must have been infected hash, don’t you think?

LAHTI

11:53:12
No.

REHM

11:53:12
No?

LAHTI

11:53:13
I don't know. I mean…

REHM

11:53:14
Yeah.

LAHTI

11:53:15
I mean the truth is that a lot of people don't know that serotonin-enhancing drugs can trigger a bipolar mental illness. You know, whether that was the only thing that triggered it in my sister, I don’t know. Probably not. There was probably something in her makeup that was going to have her be bipolar anyway, but she lived a very, very, very challenging, difficult life with swinging between extremely manic and extremely depressed. And she spent time in institutions and she had electroshock treatment and…

REHM

11:53:48
Wow.

LAHTI

11:53:49
…she really struggled. And I think she was the bravest person I've ever met because she was always determined to keep moving forward and was not discouraged about it. She ended up taking her own life. And it was the hardest thing and still is hard. But after struggling so hard for so many years I honor, truly honor her choice that this was something she could finally control and she was tired of it and done. So this movie, "Mania Days," really spoke to me, obviously on a lot of levels. I play the mother of an extremely bipolar daughter, played by Katie Holmes.

LAHTI

11:54:25
The movie was written by Paul Dalio, who is also extremely bipolar -- written and directed. So he understood it. He's so functioning, he's so high-functioning and he's so balanced, and he meditates, which is one of greatest new things they've discovered that help this mental illness. It's an incredible thing. He's on the least amount of lithium. I mean, he was such an incredible director/writer to work with because he understood the subject so deeply, as did I.

REHM

11:54:56
How did that affect you, doing that role and in your heart is the memory of your sister?

LAHTI

11:55:06
It was extremely painful, but, again, I feel like it was cathartic in a way. There is a really -- I don't want to talk about the ending, but it …

REHM

11:55:16
No, of course not.

LAHTI

11:55:16
…there's hope. There is hope, a lot of hope in this movie. And it's a very honest movie. It's a painful movie, but it's so hopeful and that's how I feel about mental illness. And I feel like the more awareness we can have about mental illness the more support we have from healthcare. Thank you, Obama. For people who suffer with this, the more understanding, I think that the more help these people will have and more support they feel from everybody. That it's not such a stigma and that people struggle with it. And there's medication, there's meditation, and there's lots of support for these people.

REHM

11:56:00
Well, what a pleasure to talk with you.

LAHTI

11:56:03
Thank you.

REHM

11:56:04
So many dimensions to your character and to what you bring to the theater, to television, to movies. Thank you.

LAHTI

11:56:16
Thank you so much. It was a pleasure, Diane.

REHM

11:56:18
Christine Lahti. And she's in the area to play the lead role in "Pride in The Falls of Autrey Mill." It opens tonight at the Signature Theatre, in Arlington, Va., and runs through December 8th. Congratulations. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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