Actress In Record Books After Thousands Of Shows
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now, it's time to meet the woman People magazine has hailed as the Cal Ripken of Broadway. Her name is Catherine Russell, and since 1987, Ms. Russell has performed the role of psychiatrist and possible killer, Margaret Brent, in the Off-Broadway thriller called "Perfect Crime." That is more than 10,000 performances. And later this week, Catherine Russell - and the play - will mark a 25th anniversary. Catherine Russell joins us now from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program, Catherine.
CATHERINE RUSSELL: Thank you very much.
MARTIN: So, since we made that Cal Ripken comparison, let's go to the stats, if you don't mind.
RUSSELL: Not at all.
MARTIN: Some numbers. You have fired over 83,000 blanks on stage, shot 89 different men, kissed 57 others. You have had no sick days, no vacation days. You missed four performances, I understand, for your siblings' weddings. Is that right?
RUSSELL: Yes. They put me in the wedding party so I had to be there.
MARTIN: So, you couldn't...
MARTIN: ...get out of it. That was smart on their part. And now, I understand you are firmly ensconced in the Guinness Book of World Records.
RUSSELL: I am, yes. I am in the Guinness Book of World Records for having played the same part for more time than anybody else in the history of Guinness, I suppose. The last time I missed was 17 years ago.
MARTIN: So, before we get any further, we should talk a little bit about the play. Can you distill this down for us - the "Perfect Crime" - into a short synopsis. What is the play about?
RUSSELL: Sure. I think it's a funny, romantic thriller about a woman psychiatrist who maybe or maybe not killed her husband. It's a really good mystery. People can't figure it out until the very end, so it works on a number of different levels.
MARTIN: OK. So, let's get a sense of this. To give us a little more flavor of your performance, we've got a short clip from the play. Your character, Margaret Brent, is being questioned at her home by a detective about the possible murder of her husband. Let's take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "PERFECT CRIME")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Do you know when he'll be back?
RUSSELL: (as Margaret) No, no, no, I don't. He went out walking. He does that every night for his health, his nerves.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, if he does it every night, then you must know when he'll be back.
RUSSELL: How? Only if I know when he's left and I don't.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He didn't take the foot path, did he, because I...
RUSSELL: He never takes the foot path. He goes through the woods.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Really? At night?
RUSSELL: Yes, he loves the woods. Well, he knows the woods.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's still a would-be danger....
RUSSELL: I said he knows the woods.
MARTIN: So, I have to ask, Catherine, after 25 years of playing Margaret Brent, have you thought back why was this a good role for you?
RUSSELL: Well, the playwright says that Margaret is smart and she's good on her feet. So, I would say probably those two qualities are qualities that I also have. I also think that I'd like to hope that I've gotten a lot better at playing Margaret Brent over the past 25 years. I teach acting at NYU, but I have say as wonderful as acting classes are - and I believe in them - there's nothing better than being on stage and making every mistake you can possibly make and surviving it and learn from it. And I think I'm a much better actress now than I was in 1987 when I started.
MARTIN: Do you keep making mistakes? I mean, I would imagine this role is so rote for you by this point.
RUSSELL: It's not rote at all.
RUSSELL: Not at all. If I thought it was rote, I wouldn't do it. I don't think a long run is for everyone, but for me I get immense joy, as corny as it sounds, out of getting on stage eight times a week. I always try to make the performance a little bit better, a little bit different so that it never feels to me like I'm phoning it in. I do a lot of other things besides act, so for me getting on stage at 8 o'clock or 2 o'clock is a wonderful time to sort of get in touch of the artistic side of my brain.
I run - I built the theater that we're in, the Snapple Theater Center. I run the business, I produce the other show that's playing at the Snapple Theater Center, "The Fantastics." So, for me, when I get on stage, it's two hours where my cell phone doesn't ring, nobody can ask me to fix a toilet or - I have been able to do other roles in films, in other shows on my night off, but I do get immense pleasure from playing Margaret. It's very cathartic also for me. I mean, I get to get slapped and kissed and cry and shoot a gun. So, by the end of the two hours, I feel terrific. I go have a slice of pizza and go home and I sleep really well.
MARTIN: I have to ask, though, I understand that your dedication to the performance - you haven't missed a show in 17 years, is that...
RUSSELL: Right, right.
MARTIN: Has there been one day though that you've woken up and you've thought to yourself I just can't do it? I'm tired, you know, I had a big meal last night, I'm not feeling so great, I'm just over it.
RUSSELL: No. I was raised with a very strong work ethic. I'm never out when I'm a teacher. I've always gone to work no matter what job I had. My parent raised me that, unless your hair was on fire, go to work, show up. The other thing is that even if you're having a bad day, I feel that going to work makes you feel better. I mean, Freud said it. He said you need in your life a balance of love and work. And I really believe that those days that I feel kind of lousy, I get up, I go to work, I feel a lot better, a lot better. So, for me, maybe that's my therapy, going to work.
MARTIN: Record-breaking actress Catherine Russell. You can see her in the play "Perfect Crime" at the Snapple Theater Center in New York. Ms. Russell, congratulations and thanks so much for coming in to talk to us. We really appreciate it.
RUSSELL: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.