STAGE TO SCREENS: Good Grief! Tony Award Winner Laura Benanti Finds a Hit in NBC's "Go On"

By Christopher Wallenberg
22 Nov 2012

Benanti in Gypsy.
Photo by Joan Marcus
I remember talking with Arthur Laurents in the theatre lobby after I saw you in In the Next Room (the vibrator play). He told me, "I'm here to see Laura," and then we had a conversation about you, and I remember he had great things to say.
LB: Oh, wow. He was always so generous and wonderful and helpful to me. You know, he really shifted my acting. He called me out on my bad habits. Because as actors, we all have our sort of bag of tricks that we rely on. And he just really forced me to be honest and truthful. That's the most important thing. You can't be funny, you can't be dramatic, you can't moving, you can't be anything if you're not telling the truth. He really challenged me. And I don't think it's any surprise that I became a better actor once I started working with Patti. Just watching her and learning from her and being around her. It was like going to school.

Is there a particularly memorable piece of advice that Patti gave to you? Or something that you observed in her that helped to make you a better actor?
LB: Well, I learned so many things from working with her and watching her: Her commitment to the truth. How thorough she is in the emotional examination of the character. But she did say one thing to me, that's a practical piece of advice, which was, "Just relax and get to the end of the line." Your intention is to just get to the end of the line. Because all the pausing and the hemming and the hawing that we can do in our efforts to be natural are not natural. Just talk. And that's very helpful, especially in television. Because when you're doing theatre, there's an energy that you have to bring onto the stage. There's a certain internal energy you have to have in order to reach the people in the back row. But you don't need to do that on camera. The point is to act like there's no camera there at all, that you're just having a conversation like we are right now.

Your love of musical theatre started at a very young age. Do you remember how it was first sparked?
LB: Well, my mom is a voice teacher, and my dad Marty [Martin Vidnovic] is an actor. And my dad Sal — who is technically my step-dad but I hate that word — is a psychotherapist. So there was a lot of musicals played in my house and a lot of singing in my house. I would go see Marty in his shows, which was a big inspiration for me. And I always watched the movie-musicals, like the Disney movie-musicals. And there was like an open-dialogue in the home where I was raised, in which feelings and emotions were supported. And I'm sure that's thanks in part to my dad Sal and his psychotherapy background. I was always interested in people and characters and why people do things and why people say things and why people behave the way that they behave. But my mom says that when I was three weeks old, she was humming to me, and I started humming with her. Now who knows if that's true. But I sang before I could talk. I don't remember it, but I've seen videos. And I think a lot of it, too, is that my mom is a voice teacher and her studio was in our home. So I would hear her teaching people all day long. And I would sit with her at the piano bench or underneath the piano. And I just always loved musicals.

You mentioned that your dad Sal is a psychotherapist. Was that helpful to you as an actress, in terms of trying to understand and explore the psychology of the characters that you were playing?
LB: Yeah, when I was acting in my high schools shows, Sal would do psychodrama with me, where we would have conversations with myself just as the character, not as Laura. And so I learned to inhabit these characters really fully through his understanding of psychodrama, through his therapy training.