Julie White Is Kafkaesque

Photo: Patrick McMullan

Two years ago, Julie White won a Tony for her mouthy, sparky role as an agent in The Little Dog Laughed—then moved on to Twelfth Night and, oddly, the Transformers sequel. Now she’s starring in The Understudy, Theresa Rebeck’s backstage comedy about an actor and his backup rehearsing a Kafka play, both of them at the mercy of an offstage tourist-bait movie star.

You’ve worked with Theresa Rebeck a lot. Are you BFFs?
It’s really wonderful to be good friends with a very prolific playwright. She started sending me this play two years ago. I was in an interesting emotional situation—I had just had a terrible breakup, and Theresa would call and say, “I’ve decided you’re gonna kiss both guys.”

You were also involved in a car crash last year. Your Town Car flipped over several times, but you walked away.
It feels like a before-and-after moment, and you start to realize that it—that’s the thing we fear so much, that it’ll just be over. And it definitely will. The only thing we’re sure of is that we won’t get out of this alive. It makes you not sweat things so much. Like whether or not I do another Transformers. Who cares?!

This character does remind me of Diane, the agent in The Little Dog Laughed. Are you settling into a type?
Those colors in my paint box are me. Theresa calls me “Superball.” You know, they bounce hard and really bounce up. I bring that to characters, I think, because it’s my worldview, to keep fighting to stay up. But Diane never raised her voice, did she? She would talk fast and loud, but she never lost control, whereas this character is much more at her wits’ end. Like, “Agheesnovligahh!!” [Tears at her hair] You know? She tries to bring order to chaos, and it just doesn’t work.

This conversation is turning dark.
It’s deep. Death is all over that play. But you know, I’m in it, it’s a Theresa Rebeck show, it’s gonna be funny. We did a reading of it at the Roundabout, and it just went over like a thousand bastards.

How are you boning up for the show?
I’ve been reading Kafka and about Kafka’s life. He thought he was funny! He thought he was writing wah-hah-hah funny, where those of us who read him were like, “What? He turned into a cockroach?!”

The play viciously mocks the celebrity infiltration of Broadway. And you worked with Anne Hathaway in the Park.
Anne is our peach of a movie star—an absolutely wonderful girl. And if you recall, when I was just a lassy lass, I landed in Grace Under Fire, which was the biggest bad-behavior clusterfuck ever. You know, that woman [Brett Butler]—that was difficult. Since then, to actually upset me, behavior-wise, she would have to take a shit in my shoes.

The Understudy
Laura Pels Theatre
In previews Oct. 9 for a Nov. 5 opening.

Julie White Is Kafkaesque