In conversation with The American
Stockard Channing met up with The American's Michael Burland in a London rehearsal studio. She's in the West End to star in Apologia, a new play, but she's no stranger to the UK's capital.
Stockard was born into a well-to-do Manhattan family, who believed that "Your name should appear in the papers only twice in your life – when you're born and when you die," she laughs. Her father had a successful shipping agency and they were widely traveled. She remembers early trips to London: "I think I first came here when I was about five, my sister and I would come with my mother, especially in the summers, he'd be doing business. I was exposed to a lot of things when I was really little, and spent a lot of time in hotels. Then later I'd come back on my own, I've spent a lot of time here."
What is is about the city that keeps bringing her back? "Now it's a lot of people I know in London, American expats and British friends. I come to see the theater. I come over two or three times a year, and I like working here. I feel very comfortable here." Ms Channing divides her time between home in Maine and various cities. How does London compare to New York City? "It's very hard for me to gauge. The thing about New York is that I've never visited it, I was born there. And I spent a big chunk of time there recently when I was in a play [the Broadway smash It's Only a Play] with my dear friend Murray [she smiles at the front cover of the copy of The American we'd brought her, which features F. Murray Abraham].
"When visitors come, they see a whole other New York, unless they're living or working there. They see Midtown, maybe Downtown, but that Midtown belt around 57th Street is nothing to do with me or the people who live and raise families in New York. I would imagine it's a little bit like that here, but I'm fortunate to have friends who actually live here so I have access to the private world of Londoners. I'm not a tourist in either place – that's a very different experience."
The girl raised on the Upper East Side was not originally named Stockard Channing, the re-nomenclature, as so often in the acting world, a stage name. "I was born Susan Channing," she explains. "My first marriage was to a man whose last name was Channing, and I had an agent who decided that 'Susan Stockard' wasn't very good and that Stockard Channing was a more interesting name. Which it is, although often I'm on the phone and – I must slur my words – they think it's Doctor Channing. I give up, I can't win! Some people call me Susan, or Aunt Susan, some call me Susie, others Stockard. And Jamie Lloyd [Apologia's director] has taken to calling me Susie C!"
Skipping the 'stock' questions about Rizzo and Abbie Bartlett – "Thank you!" – I asked about Stockard's new play. I hadn't seen Apologia at the time of the interview, but would it be fair to say it has echoes of family and relationship dramas by the likes of Tennessee Williams – but funnier? "It has laughter in it. It's a little Albee-ish, a little Pinteresque at times, but the great thing about Apologia is that Alexi [writer Alexi Kaye Campbell] has a voice all his own. It does take place in a kitchen, although I wouldn't all it a kitchen sink drama. My character, Kristen, not only has a mouth on her, but it's a quite eloquent mouth, an entertaining mouth. She's witty and she's cutting. And Alexi's created really different voices for all of these six characters – it's good language."
The play revolves around Kristen. Is she the matriarch? "She's the mother of two sons... I don't know if you'd call her a matriarch, she's not like the Queen Mother! [laughs] She's an internationally recognized art historian who was a leftist activist in her youth, a feminist. She's not exactly warm and cuddly all the time but she's an extremely private human being, and she's recently written a memoir which she's decided will only about her work, not about her personal life – for reasons which become clear in the course of the piece, and which her sons have a different response to than she intended."
Alexi Kaye Campbell has a Greek father and British mother, and Jamie Lloyd and the rest of the cast are Brits, although Freema Agyeman (Dr Who's companion Martha) and Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith from Downton Abbey) will be familiar to Americans. They're augmented by Joseph Millson and (Olivier Award winner and former interviewee in The American) Desmond Barrit. "We're gelling as a cast. It's a big play to learn and we're doing the work! We're shaping it on the stage now, and I'm really proud of it. It's intriguing, and entertaining, and fascinating. And because it's about a family it has a universal appeal. I honestly do believe that, and that's what I felt when I first when I first read it. It's about human beings communicating with each other, understanding and misunderstanding each other. Things we all deal with every day whether we like it or not. It's often difficult."
With such a strong female cast, does Apologia have political, perhaps feminist aspects too? "It's about self-determination. It's not a discussion about feminism, but it shows what the two young women, the girlfriends of her sons, are going through, and what she has gone through and a certain sacrifice that she has made at one point in her life. She came to a crossroads and had to make a choice which maybe backfired on her – and maybe not. We make choices in our lives and some of them are not embraced by others, and every choice you make has repercussions. It's like a stone in a pond, there'll be ripples. It's not some feminist tract. We've purposely set it when it was originally written, in 2009, because there are references to the first black president being elected in America and the fallout from a financial crisis."
Is working in England different to America? "Well, every human being's different. I wouldn't say so. The audiences can be a little more temperate here but for this play? I'll let you know! One thing we are doing is encouraging young people to come, which is really exciting [see below for details].That's the next audience!"
Apologia's been given a good long run, until November 18th, and then what, back home to Maine? "I guess - go see my dog, who I haven't seen for weeks. I'm missing him it's the only downside of being here. I have a lovely hound, but I couldn't bring him because he'd be bored. And you can't have a bored hound!"
Finally, what's the best thing about being Stockard Channing? "Oh God, I don't know how to answer that. 'Cos I have no alternative! I only know how to be Stockard Channing. I don't know what it's like to be somebody else… I've got a pretty satisfying life, I've set out to do what I wanted to do, and stood up for myself when I needed to. So far so good!
Apologia, starring Stockard Channing, is at Trafalgar Studios from July 29 to November 18, 2017. Click here for tickets
TICKETS FOR YOUNGSTERS
Jamie Lloyd's pioneering commitment to ensuring that tickets to high quality West End dramas are affordable and accessible to younger audience members continues with two new ticketing initiatives for the production:
TODAYTIX £15 RUSH EXCLUSIVE A daily rush scheme sees the front row for every performance sold at £15. The Todaytix app provides access to the best prices for theatre tickets booked same day or within 30 days.
£25 UNDER 25 RATE A general under 25s rate of £25 (redeemable for any standard-priced seat, subject to availability at time of booking) will be available throughout the run for every performance Monday to Thursday inclusive. This rate is available through ATG Tickets, the principal ticketing provider for Trafalgar Studios.