Finneran had a chance to cross over when she co-starred in the ill-fated sitcom I Hate My Teenage Daughter. For that audition, she’d had to shoot tape from the hospital, fresh from her first C-section. But the show’s schedule afforded her the leisure to care for her first baby. She acknowledges, very vaguely, that it wasn’t a happy experience. “How broad are you telling me to do this?” she remembers asking. “You have to trust that everyone’s telling you the right thing.” She feels most comfortable in front of a live theater audience. “I know how to tell a story to a thousand people,” she says. “Sometimes I don’t know how to tell a story to a piece of tape on a wall and a camera.”
The next milestone for Finneran seems obvious: a big starring role that’ll get her a Best Actress award. Dorothy Loudon, the original Miss Hannigan, beat out her adorable co-star Andrea McCardle for the lead Tony in 1977. Would Finneran be gunning for that, even if it meant crushing the dreams of 11-year-old Lilla Crawford? “Oh, yes, absolutely, that little girl’s going down!” She laughs, a little too winsomely, leading one to wonder where a new mother with a sunny outlook can find the bile needed to inhabit Miss Hannigan.
“Oh, please! It’s so much fun to be mean,” she says. “Everyone feels mean every day. Today you were in the subway and there was someone you saw and inside you thought, Motherfuckers! Everyone has it, so I’m just gonna put it onstage for a little while.” Perhaps it’s there under the surface after all—the hard nub of a New York theater lifer. But it shares space with the optimist, the one who also sang “Tomorrow” in the Florida living room, and the one who now says, “If it doesn’t happen, there’s always the next one.”