To Be or Not to Be: Elisabeth Shue

Photo: Jeff Vespa/WireImage

In a small role in Hamlet 2, Elisabeth Shue plays herself. Well, a completely fabricated and befuddled version of herself, like a South Park celebrity cameo come to life. In this alternate universe, she left Hollywood in disgust to become a nurse, but decides to return because she misses the make-out scenes. She spoke to Justin Ravitz about the real Elisabeth Shue.

How does one create the wackadoo version of oneself?
I had the nurse persona to hide behind, which I loved. I wanted my outfit to be sexy, white, and cut well. When they showed me the wardrobe first—those blue smocks? No, no, no.

No scrubs for you?
No scrubs for me. I would never be a nurse unless I was going to be hot. She had quit the business but secretly longed to return. She hopes that someone might discover her at the nurses’ station.

You suggested two scenes where no one, not even your agent, knows who you are.
I find humor in the pathetic and absurd. Maybe that comes with age. You get to a point where you can’t take yourself so seriously. You come to this wonderful place of not caring.

Did you ever get so fed up that…
I almost quit? Definitely.

What happened?
It wasn’t that dramatic. I sent away for a catalogue from Columbia University in 2002. I thought, Maybe I’ll get my master’s in creative writing, then I’ll quit for good and teach or write. Things were in one of those [makes an avalanche sound] down slopes. I wanted to reconnect with what’s real … Then [in 2002] I said yes to replacing Catherine Keener on Broadway in Burn This. That sucked me back into the vortex.

Do you have ground rules for how much work you’ll do?
I just do what I love. It’s harder, things take longer, because I’m not at the top of the list. But it’s worked for my life really well. I have three children [with director David Guggenheim], and I love my life and don’t like to leave it too often. If I was more successful, I’d be pulled by great roles and directors wanting to work with me.

It’s good to see you in a comedy again—you were great in Soapdish and Adventures in Babysitting.
Actually, Mike Figgis thought of me for Leaving Las Vegas because of Babysitting. I don’t know why.

What’s next?
Don McKay, a black comedy with Thomas Haden Church. I play this crazy woman who wants to kill her husband, which will be so much more fun than a drah-mah. She has to pretend that she’s dying of cancer. So now when I’m crying, at least I’ll be doing it to manipulate someone.

What did your 1996 Oscar nomination for Leaving Las Vegas do for you?
What do you think? I had to quit and become a nurse, for God’s sake!

Hamlet 2.
In theaters August 22.

To Be or Not to Be: Elisabeth Shue