My story with Lindsay Crouse is a long one; she is probably one of the actors I interviewed with whom I felt an uncanny connection. Most people probably know Lindsay best from her work in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer when she played Professor Maggie Walsh, amongst many other appearances on television series. Some may have seen her in David Mamet’s first feature film, House of Games or Robert Benton’s Places in the Heart for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. When we first met in her home in Cambridge, Mass, Lindsay was in her early 40s, very enthusiastic and vivacious, and in the midst of a divorce with her soon-to-be ex, David Mamet. They had two children together, Willa and Zosia. Lindsay came from Broadway royalty – her father was Russel Crouse, who collaborated with Howard Lindsay (her namesake) on shows like Life With Father and Anything Goes. Lindsay had gone to Radcliffe and was the first woman to graduate with a diploma from Harvard University.
I met Lindsay the day after I spoke with Julie Harris at her home on Cape Cod. It was one of the very first interviews I had done, and I idolized Harris since I was a little girl. I was very gratified that she consented to the interview and invited me to her private sanctuary, but nervous about meeting one of the gods of my idolatry.The circumstances were a bit strange. First, she insisted on having a “witness,” someone who watched us as we spoke, a young, male friend. It was like being on stage with an audience with no possibility of intimacy, which is an absolute must for a decent interview. I have to admit I was discombobulated by Harris’ home, which had at least 50 photos of Mother Teresa hanging on the walls. Harris herself wore a long, long chain made up of many crucifixes. I thought: “How heavy that must be. It’s like some kind of penance.” During the interview, Harris was distant and would not reveal much, or respond to direct questions. She had been in some of my favorite films like East of Eden and Reflections in a Golden Eye, and if she had any insight into working on these films, she wasn’t going to share it with me, try as I might. I wish I had some of the skills as an interviewer that I developed later, when dealing with non-compliant interview subjects. But, I realized I had nothing of value or interest to work with, and the interview was trashed.
So, it was a blessing the next day when I met Lindsay. She was so thoughtful and intelligent and friendly – I knew I had hit a goldmine of acting information. Our interview lasted two days. After our first meeting, Lindsay greeted me the next morning and said, “I’ve been up half the night thinking about what I said, and I’ve completely changed my mind about some of the things I said. I want to re-do some of it.” Probably some sort of alarm should have gone off in my brain, but at that time, new to interviewing, I thought – how wonderful – someone who really wanted to speak about their profession in a deep and vivid way. I practically kicked up my heels when I left after the second day, knowing I had more great information than I could ever use. The interview was over 100 pages before the edit.
I sent Lindsay the interview several times, as I did with all of the actors and directors involved in the project, to get her to sign off on it or make any changes she wished. I never received a response from her. When I finally did, the first thing she told me was that I had to remove all the material about David Mamet (which was considerable – few pages remain in the interview,) because she was engaged in a bitter custody dispute for the two children, and Lindsay felt anything negative she said could be used against her in the hearings. In fact, she didn’t say anything disparaging about Mamet. I was surprised by her generosity to him in her remarks, considering the circumstances. So, that material went by the boards.
I sent Lindsay the next newly edited version of the interview minus most of the Mamet references. Again, she did not respond. I was very close to publication by this time, and I needed to have her sign a release form in order for the interview to be published. (The publishers were absolute sticklers for this kind of thing – they were so afraid of law suits, that I had to get permissions from the estates of dead people whose photos were going to appear in the book!) After many, many months, I finally received an apologetic note from Lindsay, saying she didn’t want her interview in the book – it no longer represented who she was or what she thought about acting. To say that I was enraged is a huge understatement, not just because the interview was so good, but because I had built the book around her interview. I played the other interviewees off of what Lindsay had said. I valued her interview so highly, I had structured the book around it. I wrote a long letter to her in which I tried to maintain some balance between the very real pleas of an author at the homestretch of an incredibly arduous process (and 6 years of my life,) – and a heavy dose of guilt-tripping. Appealing to her educated self, I said she was messing with the intention and shape of the book, and if she did not want the interview to be used, she bloody well had 4 years to let me know about it.
Finally, Lindsay phoned me. At this point she seemed quite different to the person I had met. The best way I can put it is that she seemed deflated, like a flat tire, virtually affectless. She was at a point in her life where she was thinking about giving up acting altogether, and teaching acting classes. Lindsay said she could never have conceived of being in the place she was now – raising two children (after refusing alimony from Mamet,) with very little work coming her way. Now she was in her mid 40s, and the parts weren’t there; it’s an old, sad story of the way the film industry treats women. Lindsay had taken time out from a thriving career to go back to school, even though she’d already been nominated for an Academy Award. And she had chosen to focus on raising her children. I can’t imagine how betrayed she must have felt when Mamet began a relationship with a much younger woman. It was disheartening – she had been so confident and spirited, and now she was depressed by what life had thrown her. Completely understandable. The interview, she said, was just one more thing that she felt was out of her control.
In the end, Lindsay has rebounded in television. It may not have been what she envisioned for herself as the Theatre World Award winner for her performance in Pinter’s The Homecoming. Television is now the new go-to place for actors, as some of the best contemporary works are on the box. If Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte can do it (in Luck starting in January 2012, directed by Michael Mann and written by David Milch of Deadwood fame,) so can other actors. I loved talking to Lindsay. I wouldn’t, as an acting teacher, agree with everything she said, but everyone who has a mind changes it at some point, and she did. The experience with Lindsay was one of many that caused me to stop doing interviews, even though I think the interview is one of the best I’ve done, thanks to her intelligence. Peoples’ behavior is too unpredictable and sometimes, too difficult to deal with, over an intense 10 year period of traveling anywhere an actor could meet me. Perhaps it’s dealing with people who are highly creative and sensitive – you never know what’s going to happen. You certainly get to experience a wide spectrum of human behaviors as an interviewer. Maybe I’ve just gotten more cranky, or impatient, or intolerant; I don’t know. But my little tape recorder is gone for good.lindsaycrouseinterview
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