Show People with Paul Wontorek: Marisa Tomei of THE ROSE TATTOO


(music) – Marisa Tomei is back on
Broadway giving a stunning performance in Tennessee
Williams’, The Rose Tattoo. Known for her Oscar-winning
turn in My Cousin Vinny as well as other onscreen
triumphs in The Wrestler, In the Bedroom, and many more, including her turns as Aunt
May in the Spiderman films, this Brooklyn native has a
special place in her heart for the theater. Hear about her legendary
turn in How to Succeed as Hedy LaRue, her family
tap dancing troupe, and more on this week’s Show People. (upbeat music) Marisa, thank you so much for being here. – Thanks for having me. – I am so excited. You’re on Broadway and in this play. I didn’t know The Rose Tattoo. I’m a big Tennessee Williams fan and this was sort of
this hole in my knowledge and I love this production
so much so congratulations– – Thank you. – And I’m so thrilled you’re here. Are you having a good time? – I am having a great time. It’s so much fun. – Serafina is one of his
iconic great female characters and she’s a lot. – Her name, Serafina, means fiery angel. Serafina, that sews. He chose such a name with so many layers. Exactly what she is. – Well, that’s Tennessee Williams. I mean he really– – I know, it’s still mind-blowing. (laughing) – You did this play three
summers ago right up at WTF. I like calling it WTF. Williamstown Theatre Festival. – We all get a kick out
of that right? (laughs) – What’s it like when you do
something so many years ago and then you’ve been
kind of living with it? I’m sure you were hoping to bring it back and I’m sure it was in your head. – Well, yes because we
had a good time there. So much of a good time
and it’s also so thrilling because it’s so fast to do it up at WTF, but also there’s so many more layers that you long to get into. – So do you live with it those years? Like do you think about her, Serafina? Does she sort of like you
know, I mean she must sort of live with you a little bit in the back while you’re doing
Spiderman and other things. – Well yes I long for her. I miss her. But also I didn’t really know
if it was really gonna happen because timing and you
never know ’til you know in this business, you know that. So she was there whispering. And there were a couple of times where I thought just this
isn’t gonna happen, give up. And then I opened this book, I actually, it was late at night I was
like I can’t really sleep, I’m gonna read a book and
I pulled this book out by Simon Callow, wonderful
theater actor and director. And it was a book called
Love is Where It Falls. And anyway the first
paragraph says, it’s your rose and you have to protect your rose and it goes into this
whole thing about roses. It was right at the time where I was like I’m gonna give this up and I
felt like it was speaking to me and it was also a book that
a theater person had written so yes, I suppose it was
with me in certain ways. – You got a message from Simon Callow. – But also that’s very
Serafina, I got a sign! I got a sign! – So you’re Italian, grew up in Brooklyn. Brooklyn Italian. And you’re a quarter Sicilian right? And this is a very Sicilian woman. Lot of passion, lot of fire like you said. What was it like finding that energy? I mean your energy on stage is incredible and one of a kind. I mean this performance, I really felt like you’re jumping in so full heartedly and the payoff is huge for that. What was it like finding that energy and that passion in her? – Well, it’s interesting
about the Sicilian thing because even for me, I thought well okay I’m Italian-American and
I wasn’t particularly raised deeply that way. I was raised in a very
ethnically mixed neighborhood. Actually the neighborhood
that Woody Allen is from. And it wasn’t like a little
village of Italians or anything and it wasn’t my family’s
perspective at that time. So we had a lot of
holidays and traditions, but not a lot of steeped in
the culture in a certain way and so this journey was
also a homecoming for me and an understanding
because I’m the eldest of all our cousins so I don’t
know I felt like a certain, at first I felt like a real
burden to have all the holidays at my house (laughs). Just on a plain level and
I was like I can’t do that, I’m on the road too much, but what I’m saying is
there’s a through line that I wanted to keep and understand. We all wanna understand our heritage and certainly where some of these personality traits come from. So but my mom is half Sicilian so her mom was the part that was Sicilian
and we kind of really didn’t ever embrace that because
she died very young. My mom’s mom and it’s been,
we don’t talk about her that much so there was something
in this that led me to, an inner dialogue, and an
external dialogue with my mom, but also with my Grandma
who I didn’t really know and all of that that comes through her because I have been to Tuscany before. I had, yes I’m Italian, but
I didn’t really even think about the distinction to
being Sicilian so I got to learn about the history
and the specifics of the food and then some of the
temperament which is what your original question was
and the ways that it can just be like kind of morose
and then extremely exuberant and it was like a real
mother to mother thing. And then even in the play,
there’s the mother daughter relationship and there’s
this kind of resolution and homecoming with them
after they had been so close and then this separation
and you were saying what a genius Tennessee
Williams is with all the levels. And when I realized
that, I mean this might be kind of esoteric to people, but it was interesting to me that Sicily is the island of Demeter and Persephone. And that’s the mother
daughter relationships so that is so profound and
they were part of the lineage of Dionysus, which is
the goat in the play, so he’s got all these
layers of myth working there and actual history and emotional truth. – In some other ways,
you’re kind of playing Tennessee Williams because
he wrote this play, it was after A Streetcar Named Desire, he had a huge success. And he wrote it when they were in Key West and he was in love. Frank Merlo right? – He was so in love with
Frank Merlo, so in love. – Yeah, Frank Merlo. But my favorite thing is he
was so happy during that time and in such great health
and spirits that he told one of his friends he was
down to five drinks a day. (laughing) Which is just Tennessee
Williams, but I love that quote. But yeah it really came out
of this love for this man who he called Little Horse by the way, which is a whole other thing. Read into that however you want. – Lucky him. – But Serafina was sort of the
stand in for Tennessee right? And it was about kind of this
relationship that he had met this man and he had
sparked all this in him. – Yeah and he fell in love with Sicily too because the dedication is to
Frank in return for Sicily so because of Laur and because
of that book Leading Men that just came out. – Yes, yes, I met the author of that book. – Yeah, it’s so exciting that Frank Merlo was being honored and recognized
because it seems to me that there was an idea that
Frank was just his assistant and who’s that kind of secretary guy? Yeah, he’s hot but, and I
was thinking about it a lot and you can’t be inside
this play and have any doubt that they weren’t truly,
truly deeply in love and that they were a match. And an intellectual match
too and he makes Serafina smart but he makes his Rosa
even smarter, our daughter. There’s no disparaging of the Italians. He elevates them and I
think all of that comes from his love of Frank and
all the intimate things, did you get to meet Joey Merlo, Frank’s? – No. – Oh my God, you should
do an interview with him because it was one of the
greatest gifts of this play. Frank’s great-nephew Joey is a playwright, a young playwright and he
was contacted by the theater. I had no idea, I was so thrilled
so I got to go to dinner with him and we text
and we’re in touch now because I can ask him questions! I can ask him questions
about well what do you think this thing is about the baronesa? Is it true, was he
titled, wasn’t he titled? I don’t understand the obscure
Sicilian like hierarchy of titles and he said
yes, our family did have, was an important family in
Sicily and then our joke was we came to America and we’re
like now we drive trucks. And that’s in the play so
there’s no way that Tennessee wasn’t madly in love with
Frank and his family. And then their history was
buried because Joey told me he didn’t even know anything
about his great-uncle at all. He himself had to do the digging. – Wow. – Like it was, he would
hear these whispers of like yeah well your great-uncle Frank. Marlon Brando once came
to the house for dinner. And he’s like what are you talking about? – And Alvaro’s played by
the fantastic Emun Elliott– – Yes, he’s just brilliant, isn’t he? – Did you know he’s Scottish right? – He’s Scottish (laughs). – Who knew? – This is the icing on the
cake to his brilliance. – And he told us that you
took him out for a drink at a dive bar, that was sort of– – Oh did he? – To break the ice with him. You’re a New Yorker, I’m assuming you know some good dive bars. – Well, it was just
Jimmy’s Corner so you know, it was all right. I could have picked a fancier place, but I was like let’s go out for drinks. – That scene at the top of
act two, the two of you, is just golden and actually I was reading that was written sort
of late in the process for Tennessee Williams,
that scene actually came later in the writing
process, but it’s so great. You guys having fun together? – Oh my gosh, it’s a dream. It’s almost like I don’t
wanna talk about it. It’s just so good. It’s like one of those
things you don’t wanna become too conscious of
because it’s such a nice flow. By the way, I’ve taken him out
to other places since then. – We’re gonna talk more with Marisa Tomei about The Rose Tattoo
and a lot of other things right after this break. (upbeat music) (upbeat music) We are back with Marisa
Tomei who is fantastic in The Rose Tattoo. I’ve loved you in so many
things over the years, but I’m really upset I
missed your Hedy LaRue. (laughing) Can we talk about your Hedy LaRue? – In junior high? – Yes in How to Succeed in
Business Without Really Trying, weren’t you Hedy LaRue? – What makes you bring that up? Yes, I mean just last night– – No, why, what’s the connection? – No, last night two of the
kids that were in eighth grade with me brought– – I didn’t know that– – Really? – What, no? – They brought me the program
from our eighth grade show. – That’s amazing and you were Hedy LaRue. – Yes! – That just happened. – That just happened last night. – I had no idea. – Lorna and Adam Wollock, the twins. – Look at that, see maybe it’s a sign. You need to do Hedy LaRue again. (laughing) – I’d love to. – She’s a classic musical comedy. – I just remember I was
focused on pencil skirts. – Oh yeah exactly. – I am kind of a, I’m
usually like an inside out kind of actor but
sometimes I’m like I need the right underwear, I
need the right skirt. – For a while I thought I was gonna see your Charity Hope Valentine
in Sweet Charity right? Weren’t you supposed to do Sweet Charity? I’m sorry, did I bring
up something sensitive? I wanted to see that. Do you have like a musical in you? – Yes. – You do? – I do. – You would still like to do a musical? – It would be a dream, yes. It would be a dream. – Have you eyed any like specific things you would like to start singing
about or roles you’d like? – Well that was one of them. I mean it depends, I’m
aging into different groups of what it could be. – Well I’m gonna start
making lists for you now. – Please do. – I’m gonna start okay
I’m gonna think about it because I like the idea. – Yeah and you know
I’m a character singer. Let’s put it that way. – So over in Flatbush, that’s
where you grew up right? – Yes. – And your parents were Gary
and Adelaide or Addie right? And they took you to Broadway? – Yes. – What do you remember? What do you remember seeing? Anything sort of jump out? – Well, we saw A Chorus
Line of course was like, lucky enough to see that a few times. – Oh yeah? – Yeah, because we were
just all like holding hands and my brother too. You find those things as a
family where do you connect. You know and that was one of the things that really you know gave our spirit– – It’s a sophisticated show though. It’s a very adult show in a lot of ways you know what I mean? That’s what’s so cool about– – Yeah I guess so but
I remember I also got, I’m remembering now, I was given the album as an Easter present
so we played that album over and over and over
again and that’s what made my brother wanna take tap lessons and so my brother started tap
dancing and because he went– – He said I could do that. – But then I said I could do
that because I followed him because I wasn’t taking tap. And he’d come home and
then he’d show me the steps and then we went to in Carroll Gardens, the Albee School of Dance
and we tap danced together and then my parents got jealous and then they started tap dancing. – What, the whole family? – And so we actually had, so we all, I was in the girls class and
he was in the boys class, but then we had like family
tap lessons at one point. – The whole family would go to tap class. – At one point in my family,
I can actually say we had– – I’ve never heard anyone say that story. – No, I mean I’m actually, I don’t know if I should have exposed that. It was kind of quirky
or just downright weird. – You recently shared a
photo on Instagram of you. I think you were 14, you
had great feathered hair. You were like laying, I
had great feathered hair back then too by the way. – I could see you have
a nice head of hair. – Everyone had great
feathered hair back then. It seems like you got into performing. I mean you started pretty young. – Yeah well yes and no. I mean it was just something
like that’s an after school option and it was public school. It was summertime kind of stuff
but nothing like I’m going on auditions or I’m seeking
out another level of it. It was in the mix of things
that like gymnastics. I did gymnastics also. – So how did you wind up
like in The Flamingo Kid? That was like your first
sort of big moment. You had a line, Matt
Dillon was like super hot. Still super hot but that was sort of like at the peak of Matt Dillon. How did it become professional? Because it seems like you
kind of got on a roll. After high school, I had
to decide about college and what was I thinking
and what I might do. I went to Edward R. Murrow
High School in Brooklyn which is also a public high school, but they have a lot of different focuses and one of the things
that they’re known for is their theater department
as well so I was very lucky with that because it
was in my neighborhood as well so it just kind
of turned out that way. And we had great teachers there. So when we had to choose
for college, I was thinking about some other things
too and I guess you know I was like I really like
this, I’ll try for it. And then so I went to
Boston University for a year and then I wound up leaving
and during that summer, I asked, I needed a summer job basically and my dad was like you
can do some filing down at the Board of Ed and I was
like I don’t wanna do that. So that’s how I just
started answering some ads backstage, or just throw
myself into anything. I mean I was not a professional dancer, I’d go on like the dance
auditions like so lost. And then– – You just kinda took a chance? – Yeah, I took a chance and
then they had some kind of open calls for some things and
I think that’s how I wound up going in on Flamingo Kid
and then Marge Simkin, the divine casting person who has helped and encouraged so many people. She took a shine to me, she encouraged me. I said I don’t really know what I’m doing and she took the time
to write to my parents and talk to them about
you know what kind of path I could take and she
made all the difference. – And say that she saw something in you. And say that like there’s something here. – Yeah, and she was casting Flamingo Kid so I mean I’m just like
an extra basically. I had one line in that but it was so fun. It was my summer job. It saved me from filing
all summer I guess. – Yeah and then you started doing theater. Off Broadway, you won a Theater
World Award really early. Wasn’t Mary Testa one
of your sisters in that? – Mary Testa yup. – That play right, it
was called Daughters. I remember the posters for
Beirut were all over this. I remember that poster was
like sort of all over the city. I remember seeing– – That was just so thrilling
to be a part of that. – That was like– – And to be at the beginning
with Bernie and Will and Bobby and MCC. – Right MCC Theater right. – Yeah, that was also kind
of a crucible because I mean I’m in my underwear that whole show too. I mean it was about the AIDS crisis and it was very poetic and
very beautifully written play, but it was also you know,
it’s challenging in terms of like growing up and what
career are you gonna have and how your family reacts
and I remember my grandmother, she said, I’m gonna come but
I’m telling all my friends that it closed early. So she didn’t want anyone to go to it, like that kind of thing. That’s what I mean by like transitions. – What were you like at that time? Were you like hungry for all of this? And you moved to Manhattan
right at some point? – Yeah, I did. With people from Flamingo
Kid, like they hooked me up with an apartment, a lot of
us became friends on that. It was like it takes place in a beach club so it was a very perfect
first, I don’t think they’ll be any job more perfect than that in my life. At a beach club all summer. – That was the pinnacle. And everything else just
trying to live up to that. – Yeah, it was a different time. It wasn’t like a, I mean culturally. Like there wasn’t social media
and there weren’t cameras. There weren’t even cameras everywhere. So when you talk about hunger, it wasn’t like what we
associate with hunger. – Yeah interesting. – It was just more like a
need, like a therapeutic need like I have to do this to express feelings that I don’t even know I have. Like most actors. – Okay cool, we’re gonna
talk more with Marisa right after this break. (upbeat music) (upbeat music) We’re back with Marisa Tomei. I have to ask you about Mona Lisa Vito. I mean I can’t not ask
about My Cousin Vinny which I remember seeing
it the day it came out in the movie theaters
and just falling in love with you and that character. But I was thinking, I know
this quote keeps sort of following you that Lady Gaga
said that she would like you to play her in a movie which and I know you’ve met her so it’s like
a very flattering thing. But I actually think
why don’t they just make a My Cousin Vinny musical and
she can play Mona Lisa Vito? Wouldn’t Lady Gaga be great in a– – Hatched, what a great
idea that you just hatched. – Let’s just do that, let’s do that. Tell her next time you see her. I heard she’s flirting
with the idea of Broadway so that would work. That movie though is iconic and amazing. And do you ever watch it? – No. – And you won an Oscar,
I’m sure you remember that. That was a big moment. And it was so well-deserved
and of course a comedic performance winning an Oscar which I think we all really appreciate. And you’ve been nominated
since for much more dramatic performances, but that’s sort of was your first big entry. Your career has gone
in so many directions. You’ve done so many things
and it’s so hard to pin down what you are other than
a fantastic actress because you play so many
different types of characters over the years and you think
like a character like that could have easily sort of
created a path for someone but it hasn’t. You’ve actually been able
to do so many things. – Well it’s like, I’m trying
to get out of being stereotyped and things like that so that
was conscious to try to not. – Yeah, you immediately
did like Chaplin right? – I mean a lot of it’s
just luck of the draw and picking from what
you get but it’s nice to have a variety. – Well what do you look for now because even what you’ve done
on Broadway is so varied. I mean I’ve seen you do so
many things just on Broadway in the shows you’ve chosen. – Yeah, Top Girls and– – What gets you excited? – I mean I just love words so much. And so I think when I
think about Top Girls or I think about Will Eno’s play, I think that there’s just the wordsmithing in terms of theater is exciting to me and thematically what are we exploring? So those things draw me
in terms of theater stuff. It’s also the package too. Who’s going to be directing? And who will it be with? Those kinds of things. Sometimes I can be swayed
I mean in terms of a movie like if it’s on a really great location or something like that. – Absolutely. – That would be the wildcard factor. – Great location. I’m excited about this
musical I think though. – We have to put our heads together. – All right we’re gonna work on that. What I think must be
fantastic about Rose Tattoo is the language of Tennessee Williams just must be amazing. I’m assuming you always are
sort of finding new rhythms and I mean it’s poetry at times. It’s just so stunning. – Poetry’s opera sometimes. These little arias in the middle of it. – And there’s great singing
in this production too. Some great Broadway ladies are singing. – Yes, they are, we’re so lucky. – Which is also fantastic. Do you have any favorite
things you get to say in The Rose Tattoo or is
there like favorite moments? Nuggets? – I try not to think
about those things yet. It’s funny, in the dressing
room, in the bathroom, people have left their favorite
quotes from their show. So there will be something
from Bernhardt/Hamlet and something from– – Oh cool, that’s a thing. – Yes, from Travesties,
there’s all these things on the bathroom wall
and I’ve been thinking what do I wanna put up there? – You gotta figure out what
your quote’s gonna say. – And you’re asking me now. – I’m sorry, now I’m stressing you out. You’re like I’ve been thinking about what my favorite quote is. – I’m not sure. – You’re not sure. – I’m not really sure. – Well I’m sure ’cause you’re
sort of like living in it and you’re just sort of,
you get in the rhythm of doing the play. – Yeah, exactly. And I don’t wanna like, we’re
halfway through the run, so it’s that point where I don’t wanna, don’t think too much ’cause
then things can start to become very conscious in the wrong way. Of course there’s been a lot
of thinking up to this point, but it’s been exploration. Then kind of you’ve
been digging through it and now I don’t wanna switch into, I don’t wanna go too, I wanna
stay down here, in here. – Right of course. I think I’ve heard you
say that movie and TV work had never sort of lived up to
what stage work is for you. Obviously it pays nicely. It pays nicely to do
maybe a big Marvel film, but I mean at the end of the day, this is sort of where it’s at for you? – Yeah, it is. It’s definitely where my
heart is and my soul is. – You seem extremely just happy. You seem like you’re– – I was just thinking
that while we were doing this interview like I’m so
much happier than (laughs) like than those other interviews. – Yeah you’re kind of glowing. I mean you’re glowing on stage
and you’re glowing right now. So I guess like when you
get to spend a few months on Broadway doing something like this, this is just sort of the peak. – Yeah, with a treasure of
a play that is a discovery. It’s like you said, so many
people haven’t seen it. It’s a privilege to be
able to be part of it. I mean really. – Do you picture yourself like
being like a Marian Seldes and just like working
into your later years and just keep coming back to Broadway? – I hope so. Broadway and off-Broadway. – Yeah, that’s sort of the dream. – And up at WTF. Working with Mandy yeah. I love it. I love it and there is something
to some of the craft work in the other areas. They both feed each
other in a certain way. Different muscles but I
think I just I like being with people so I think that’s
probably why I like theater. – Is the rehearsal
process exciting for you and getting to know actors
and creating the family of the performers, I mean they
all speak very highly of you. Everyone in the company. – I love it, this company is fantastic. Trip Cullman our wonderful director has brought together just a wonderful one, not a bad apple in the bunch
and just so much heart, smarts and humor just
a great, great group. – Well again I love
this production so much. It’s so fresh, it’s so
modern in so many ways for this play that was
written, it premiered in 1951. I think Trip Cullman
is a brilliant director and I think you’re giving
a stunning performance and I want everyone to go see it. So The Rose Tattoo is
playing through December 8th at the American Airlines Theater. You don’t need a boarding pass to get in. Just need a ticket. – But you can fly in. – Thank you so much, Marisa. It’s such a treat to have you here. – Yeah, thank you for having me. – Thank you for watching,
we’ll see you next time. (upbeat music)

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