The incomparable Annie Golden stars in Ripcord at the Huntington
Although she is best known these days for playing Norma Romano on Orange Is the New Black, Annie Golden has been quietly captivating us for decades.
Discovered in the ’70s at CBGB by Oscar-winning director Miloš Forman, Golden got her first big break in Forman’s film adaptation of Hair. Since then, she has appeared in over 30 films and more than a dozen television shows, and is a cherished, nearly constant presence in the New York theater.
A recent Screen Actors Guild award winner, Golden will star in Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Ripcord, a delirious comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole, Good People) about a mismatched set of roommates in an assisted living facility, each determined to hold their own.
Here, Golden looks back at her Lana Turner moment, an unexpected meeting with the Boss, and faking it until she made it.
Have you ever spent much time in Boston before?
Back in the day, I was part of that Rathskeller/CBGB exchange program, so I would come to Boston regularly. We played the Paradise on Comm Ave; we also played Brandeis University. Our marker was the floating Citgo sign. And also, the Shirts, the boys were Yankees fans, so that was a big bone of contention. We’d play the Rat and I’d say, “Please don’t say anything about baseball, please!” It’s like, “don’t talk politics.” Well, don’t talk sports, either!
There’s a very famous picture of you wearing a Yankees shirt on stage.
Yes, well, that was during the World Series, and we had a little 13-inch television on stage. After each song the audience would yell, “What’s the score!” It was an interactive thing.
Going back to that time, it’s so interesting to me that you were “discovered,” as they say, the old-fashioned way. That doesn’t happen anymore.
No, it doesn’t really happen anymore. I’m a cinephile, so when I tell the story, I go, “It was like Lana Turner at Schwab’s Drug Store.” Miloš Forman, Academy Award-winning film director, was talent scouting, or slumming, depending on how you look at it. He had come in [to CBGB] the first time with Lauren Hutton and Geraldine Chaplin, the film actress and Charlie’s granddaughter. Everyone was like, “Oh, that guy’s a film director! Cuckoo’s Nest!” He saw some bands, and when he was leaving, he said, “I’m actually scouting for a movie musical that I’m doing.” What was most like the Hair tribe was the Shirts; it was all those dangerous-looking boys and then this little street urchin in the center. And then I started doing readings with him at his apartment, doing new scenes that Michael Weller would write. He brought Bruce Springsteen in one day; he was on the cover of Time Magazine and Born to Run had just come out, and Bruce came up to read for Berger.
Wow! How interesting would that casting have been!
I know! It was that! I was sitting in Miloš’ apartment, and he went into the kitchen. When the doorbell rang, Miloš said, “Annie, would you get that?” They wanted to see my reaction. I opened the door and Bruce was standing there. He goes, “Is Meye-los here,” I said, “It’s Mee-los, it’s Czechoslovakian, he’s in the kitchen, he’ll be right in.” And he goes, “Oh, are you his daughter?” And I was like, “No. I’m just here. Same as you.”
You mentioned earlier that you’re a big movie buff, but had it really ever crossed your mind that you’d be in the business?
No. It was kind of the dream that I dared not dream. Judy Garland was my idol, Frank Sinatra was my idol, David Bowie was my idol, all the pop stars who did film, did comedy, did drama, did concerts, recorded, did tours. And ultimately that’s what I was given, that was the gift that I was given.
You’ve kind of done everything there is to do in the realm of entertainment, and it’s not just that you’ve done it all; it’s that you’ve done it all consistently over such a long period of time. You don’t really see careers like that.
No, you don’t. When we’re on the set of Orange Is the New Black, we all kind of pinch ourselves; we all do the silent scream when we get on the set. We can’t believe our luck. Not only do we have a steady gig, a money gig, a hit TV show, but it’s important, it’s topical, it makes a difference. That’s the kind of gig an artist wants, you know?
What was it like during the early period of your career when you were transitioning from someone who was coming from the downtown scene, from the fringes? You weren’t a legitimate actress yet, but Broadway embraced you very early. You were a singer learning to act, and suddenly you’re acting on stage with someone like Colleen Dewhurst.
It was kind of interesting, and I can say that it would never happen today. I coach [acting] privately, with children and adults, and everyone is prepared within an inch of their lives. My first theater gig was the movie gig. They mounted a revival of Hair to promote the movie shooting in New York on location, and so I was in the tribe with Peter Gallagher and David Patrick Kelly and Ellen Foley and these people who had studied. This was going to be their life’s work, and I just was given this gift, so I was not going to blow it, I was going to be worthy and I was going to pay attention and I was going to absorb everything. But you’re right, they did embrace me. They were like, “She’s a natural.” It’s interesting, even to this day, I get really, like, “Oh God, don’t blow your cover! Don’t let people know that you don’t work like that!” Basically what I learned in the beginning was diplomacy. I knew the record company business inside and out, but the other stuff? I just sat and watched the dynamic. I was really good at manipulating and maneuvering, but like you say, embraced, embraced, embraced. The other day I was invited to do a late-night LGBT talk show at a cabaret and people were saying “Broadway icon” and “punk rock legend.” I can’t even believe it. I can’t even believe that people are talking about me. But it’s true, if things get me nervous or bent out of shape and if I don’t know what’s going on in the new order of things, my friends will say, “You sit back on your laurels, because you’ve got laurels to sit back on. You have a body of work.”
RIPCORD. 5.26–6.25 AT HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY, 527 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. HUNTINGTONTHEATRECOMPANY.ORG
Theater critic for TheaterMania & WBUR’s TheArtery | Theater Editor for DigBoston | film and music critic for EDGE Media | Boston Theater Critics Association.