As Ted 2 hits the big screen, Amanda Seyfried gears up for her stage debut in a sizzling two-hander from Neil LaBute.
Amanda Seyfried is a serious hugger. Even in our newly hug-happy world, one in which political rivals routinely embrace one another like sorority sisters at a reunion, Seyfried’s capacity for the deep hug stands out. For example, one rainy Friday morning in early April, as I arrive in the rehearsal room at Second Stage Theatre at Forty-third Street and Eighth Avenue, Seyfried, wearing black jeans and a hoodie, leaps out of her folding metal chair and wraps her whole tiny little self around me, hanging on for a bit longer than customary. Granted, she has been hugging me hello and goodbye over the past several weeks that we’ve been meeting, but there is something extra-intense about this hug that seems to say, Oh, thank God. Something familiar.
It’s the third day of rehearsals for The Way We Get By, a new Neil LaBute play directed by Leigh Silverman that goes into previews in less than a month. Though Seyfried, who turns 30 later this year, has been working in TV and film since she was a teenager, this is her first play. And while it may sound like business as usual, yet another Hollywood actress out to prove she’s serious, it’s a very big deal for Seyfried because the thought of getting up in front of any audience has always been paralyzing. A few years ago, she famously downed a couple of shots of Jameson to calm her nerves before going on Letterman and appeared drunk on TV. “It made it fun for me,” she says, “but then I watched it and was like ‘That is not what I want to promote about myself.’ ” Soon after, she started seeing a shrink to help get over her debilitating fear. “I have a lot of anxiety that I’ve been struggling with my whole life,” she says. “So I have been working through it. I’m terrified, but this is exactly what I wanted.”
The fact that it’s Off-Broadway, and the character is a beautiful 29-year-old, certainly doesn’t hurt. “She’s made a really smart choice,” says LaBute, “She didn’t say, ‘Yeah, I think the first thing I’ll do is Cordelia in King Lear in Central Park.’ ”
In the rehearsal room, Seyfried and her costar, Thomas Sadoski (an accomplished stage actor known for his work on TV in The Newsroom and The Slap), along with Silverman and LaBute, are sitting around a big, square table picking apart every line of dialogue. Because this is a morning-after play about two people who got drunk at a wedding reception and had sex for the first time, and because the scene they are working on is one in which Seyfried appears nude, tries to initiate intimacy, and is rebuffed by her lover, the assembled group is in the midst of a very specific conversation about oral sex. As in: What situation would cause a man to turn down a blow job from a very beautiful naked woman he is wildly attracted to?
“In terms of backstory,” says LaBute, “is it more interesting for them if this is the first time she’s going to give him a blow job? Or if it’s already happened, then. . . .”
“Oh, it happened,” says Seyfried, and everyone laughs.
“O-kay,” says LaBute. “Discussion out the window!” More laughter. But then he flips back a few pages in the script and cites one of Seyfried’s lines: “We already got pretty crazy in there.” So, LaBute says, “it’s either, We didn’t do that last night or Wait a minute: That happened several times, so why are you stopping me now?”
“I mean, the way they describe how incredible it was,” says Seyfried, “I just imagined that they spent a . . . lengthy time in there.”
“In other words,” says LaBute, “enough time that most bases were touched?”
“Exactly,” says Seyfried. “Except for the butt.”
“What base is that?” says LaBute, laughing.
The playwright, who has been labeled “American theater’s reigning misanthrope,” is perhaps most famous for In the Company of Men, a play about two businessmen who romance a deaf woman for the sole purpose of humiliating her, and The Shape of Things, which premiered in London with Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz and also trafficked in the idea of love as an instrument of cruelty. And although this play—90 minutes of real-time conversation between Doug and Beth, “balanced on the head of a pin,” as Silverman puts it—features two people sparring, modern-day sex negotiations, and a lot of tricky backpedaling, it somehow also manages to offer some hope. “While people may carry in a preconception about what I do,” says LaBute, “I think they will be pleasantly surprised. I give these two people a fair chance.”