style file, lily rabe q&a

Photo: Corey Hayes

Lily Rabe Doesn’t Want to Know Who’s Coming on Opening Night

Lily Rabe was born with the pedigree of an actor’s actor. Her father is playwright David Rabe (whose works were the subject of a recent New Yorker retrospective), and her mother is actress Jill Clayburgh. But Rabe, who graduated from Northwestern University in 2004, has been making theatrical inroads of her own. In 2005 she debuted on Broadway in Steel Magnolias and later took on George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House, garnering award nominations for both performances. After a few film roles, Rabe returns to Broadway for her latest project: starring opposite Mercedes Ruehl in The American Plan. caught up with the up-and-comer during a break from rehearsal to talk about first loves, Ryan Gosling, and her Achilles heel: Alexander Wang. The American Plan opens in previews this Friday.

Tell me about your character in The American Plan.

Well, her name is Lili. She’s very challenging, but that’s really what you want, isn’t it? [Playwright] Rich [Greenberg] has this amazing way of getting to the underbelly of human relationships, and I think one of the great things about his writing is that it can really sneak up on you. You think you’re watching one thing, and then you’re slapped in the face with something else. Basically, the play is very much about Lili’s relationship with her mother. Their attachment to one another is very deep, and the stakes are very high. Without giving too much away, everyone in the play is wildly in love with someone else, and very often it’s the wrong person.

It sounds like a lot of universals: the mother-daughter relationship, insiders and outsiders, falling in love, falling in love with the wrong people. Did you draw on life experiences for the role?

No, I always fall in love with the right people. [Laughs] Yes, of course; not that I’ve ever been in a relationship like any of these necessarily. The point is they’re all so human and, like you said, so universal. So, absolutely, there are pieces from my life. Anyone who’s been desperately in love [knows] you act very strangely.

In Steel Magnolias, your Broadway debut, you played Annelle, the shy newcomer in town. Did you feel a bit like the new kid in school with castmates like Delta Burke, Christine Ebersole, and Rebecca Gayheart?

Um, no, I didn’t. I was very comfortable with them very quickly. Maybe I should have been more intimidated than I was, but I wasn’t. [Laughs] I still get terrified. I got terrified then and I get terrified now. It never goes away. But I’ve been lucky. I’ve had some wonderful experiences in the theater.

You’ve also been popping up in some films. You’re in one coming out next year with Frank Langella, Kirsten Dunst, and Ryan Gosling.

Yes, All Good Things. It’s an amazing story. The director, Andrew Jarecki, directed Capturing the Friedmans, which I think is just really one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. I had fallen in love with the script [and] I had read for it. I was doing this play Crimes of the Heart and the stage manager came back and said, ‘There are some people who just saw the show and they want to see you.’ It was Ryan and Andrew and some of the producers.

Did you have any idea they were in the theater that night?

No. God, no. [Laughs] I don’t want to know if it’s your grandmother or Ryan Gosling. I don’t want to know. Please don’t tell me about it.

Tell me about working on the movie.

It was amazing. The character I played is based on a real woman. She’s this Jewish mafia princess. Her Dad was a famous mobster involved in founding Las Vegas. She ages to be an old woman; I aged to be 55. It was incredible. It’s a killer part, and it was a lot of fun. .

Do you prefer the film set to the stage?

I love both. I’m partial to living in New York, but there are great movies being made here [in New York] all the time. Really, the only thing that is better about one over the other for me is that you really don’t make any money doing plays. [Laughs] But who cares? I hope I never have to choose.

What was it like to work with Mercedes Ruehl?

I love Mercedes. She’s great in this part. I’d never worked with her before, never met her before. I’m crazy about her. She’s fearless. Smart.

The last thing I saw her in was Entourage, as Adrian Grenier’s mom. Do you think Vinnie and the gang will show up opening night?

I have not thought of that. I have no idea. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know who’s going to be here opening night!

You mentioned going on to look for a dress to wear to the premiere. Any luck?

Well, I’m wearing Hervé Léger to the premiere. They called up, so I’ve been looking. It’s such a great way to go on, and say I love numbers 3, 5, and 7. There’s some beautiful stuff, my God. I’ve never worn Hervé Léger before.

Do you follow fashion?

Yes, I love clothes. When I’m doing plays I need to stick to the sample sales and have some restraint. I’ve been trying to make an effort to even get dressed in the morning. Normally I just look like a total schlub. And the Uggs? I don’t care what anybody says. They make me happy. I’m not going to stop wearing them.

Any designers in particular that you love?

I’m obsessed with Jane Mayle, and I can’t believe it’s almost over. But now I need it even more! Everything goes out the window, and I’m acting very irrationally about the whole thing. I cannot afford it, but God, I love it. I love Alexander Wang. Crazy. Those are my two Achilles-heel designers right now.
—Alison Baenen