SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, a new sultry voice on the music scene from just south of El Paso. But first, a new production of Arthur Miller's 1947 play "All My Sons" is just about the hottest ticket on Broadway now. John Lithgow stars as Joe Keller, a man who runs a factory that made airplane components during World War II. Diane Wiest plays his wife, Patrick Wilson his surviving son. His older son was a pilot who's been reported missing in action. And then the girl next door comes back to town. Annie Deever is played by Katie Holmes. Annie's father is in prison for ignoring cracks in airplane parts made in Joe Keller's factory. Twenty-one young pilots died because of those defects, but Joe Keller tells Annie her father is still a good man.
(Soundbite of Broadway show "All My Sons")
Mr. JOHN LITHGOW (As Joe Keller): ...talk with him and smile with him. You play cards with the man. You know he can't be a murderer. And next time you write him, you tell him just what I said. You hear me?
Ms. KATIE HOLMES (As Annie Deever): Don't you hold anything against him?
Mr. LITHGOW: Annie, I never believed in crucifying people.
Ms. HOLMES: But he was your partner...
SIMON: We interviewed Katie Holmes and John Lithgow in Mr. Lithgow's dressing room just after the show this week.
Mr. JOHN LITHGOW (Actor): I'm drained, but not so much as you'd think. I mean, I did leave Joe Keller on the stage there.
SIMON: So everybody who's sobbing out there, do you mind them knowing that you're over it? You're past it already?
Mr. LITHGOW: When I see them outside, I say, don't worry, I'm all right.
Ms. KATIE HOLMES (Actress): I thought I would be actually more tired at the end of the show than I am. I'm just so excited to be working with these guys that I still go home, and I'm like, it's great, you know. And this character is so well written, and there's such an arc, and it's rare to find characters like that. So I was very excited by it.
SIMON: And how do you see it for these times, Mr. Lithgow?
Mr. LITHGOW: Yeah, I haven't yet counted up the number of times I use the word business. There's a speech in which I say it about eight times. I am in business. I'm managing business, you know. And I think everybody is consumed with business collapsing, fears of business not working, and as a result of selfishness and greed. And I think that is a deep, deep theme in this play from 60 years ago. And it's just uncanny that it should also be connected with the notion of war profiteering and dishonesty and hiding the truth and accountability. All of these issues are right in the front of people's brains, and here is Arthur Miller's quite naive first play.
SIMON: Ms. Holmes, your character holds the key to the safety deposit box, and yet she doesn't reveal that until the last few minutes.
Ms. HOLMES: Right. What is so tragic about her is that she's - you know, she's so incredibly lonely, but she's a survivor. You know, she knows kind of how to play Joe. She knows how to keep him happy, keep him at bay. And what I love so much about her is her strength. And she's not going to back down. She's going to get what she came for. She's going to have a happy life.
SIMON: As I read your professional biography, you don't seem to have done a play since high school. What made you interested in the stage?
Ms. HOLMES: I always wanted to do a Broadway play since I was a little girl. I've been looking for something for years. And so this just happened. And I feel so lucky because this play and this cast and this character, it's so exciting to me, and it's so rewarding. And it's hard work, but it's wonderful. I don't want it to end. And we just started, so that's good.
SIMON: You go back to the stage every now and then.
Ms. LITHGOW: Quite frequently. In fact since "3rd Rock from the Son" ended in 2001, this is my fifth play. I've been doing more theater than anything else. This is my 20th Broadway show.
SIMON: What do you find restorative? How do you keep...
Mr. LITHGOW: Well, mostly the applause. And it's being there with the audience, living through the story at the same time they're hearing it. And there's no equivalent to that in film and television. I do what I can to turn the stage crew into an audience, but it never quite works.
SIMON: And how is it to play, for lack of a better word, the interloper? Someone who kind of is the unsettling chemical element in there.
Ms. HOLMES: Right. She's very complex. And Anne grew up right next door, so she knows them in a lot of ways. She's part of their family. Small towns, you're all a family. I mean, everybody on the block. And she does come in and stir things up. I find it exciting. Every night I'm learning something new about her. And she goes through such changes in the course of this play that it's still full of discovery. I'm still finding out a lot about her.
SIMON: Simon McBurney is the director. Can you give us any insight as to how he works?
Ms. HOLMES: He's wonderful. I guess one of the things that I noticed early on is he saw the importance of all of us really communicating with each other from the get-go, this whole company, which is so important because we're playing people who know each other so well, know each other's mannerisms, feel comfortable physically with each other...
SIMON: As a family would.
Ms. HOLMES: As a family would.
Mr. LITHGOW: We rehearsed eight weeks for an Arthur Miller play for Broadway, an extraordinarily long time. And he really needed that time. He required that time to turn us into that kind of mutually responsive working organism. It was exhausting. The rehearsal process has been the hardest thing I've ever been through. And I think the audience, they know they're in for something very different than the usual revival of an Arthur Miller play. This is what I think attracted all of us to this at the very beginning. You know, all of us to some degree know Simon's work, which is visionary, pushing the edge of the envelope, and using all kinds of projection, light, and sound technology. The thought of applying that to an Arthur Miller play, it was just extremely exciting.
SIMON: Ms. Holmes, do you think you've learned something new about acting?
Ms. HOLMES: You know, this has been, obviously, a very new experience for me, since I've never done a play before. And I've really enjoyed having the opportunity to rehearse for this amount of time, to work on a character and discover more and more every night is different, and the whole experience of a live performance is incredibly different.
Mr. LITHGOW: It's been a wonderful thing for us just watching Katie achieve things that she never expected she could do or would ever be called upon to do.
SIMON: Is there a line from Ann and Joe that means something to you in particular?
Mr. LITHGOW: We have an extremely complex relationship because Joe has this rage in him, almost inexplicable rage, toward Annie having to do with the fact that she's so angry at her father for what he did.
SIMON: Well, he says to her, your father is your father.
Mr. LITHGOW: Your father - a father is a father. You've got to forgive a father. What he's really saying is, you've got to forgive me. But that's his secret. But there's a wonderful moment when she says, don't yell at him. He just wants everybody happy. And I say, yeah, that's right. Can you stand steak? Let's all go out and have a good time. What I love about that moment is how surprising and complicated it is, her moment of forgiveness, his moment of quickly burying that anger.
Ms. HOLMES: It just reveals this sort of understanding that Ann has for him and that I think he has for her. And I love the joy that they create together. They're both in on it in a way.
Mr. LITHGOW: It's also great when we dance together. I love it. All through rehearsal I kept saying, can't I dance with Annie?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LITHGOW: And we finally found our moment.
Ms. HOLMES: We finally found our moment.
SIMON: Katie Holmes and John Lithgow speaking about the new production of Arthur Miller's drama "All My Sons." To hear more of John Lithgow talking about its staging, look in on our Weekend Edition blog at npr.org/soapbox.
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