EXCLUSIVE: Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney Are Ready to Experiment on Stage

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When it comes to the Manhattan Theatre Club’s upcoming
production of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, which will see Laura
and Cynthia Nixon playing Regina Hubbard Giddens and Birdie Hubbard in
repertory appearing opposite each other during every performance, it’s
anybody’s guess at how exactly it’s going to come together. “It’s a big
experiment for everybody,” says Linney, who actually suggested that she and
Nixon rotate the roles and, admittedly, has no idea if it’s actually going to
work. “I love that I have no idea.” For both actors, it’s quite possible the
greatest thing about it.

“The bizarre thing is trying to find your own Regina and
your own Birdie while the actress across from you is also trying to find it,”
Nixon says, while adding that the whole concept is “very liberating.”

“I’m sure Cynthia and I are going to play both parts
differently, and who knows what that’s going to do to the cast,” Linney says of
the experiment that goes beyond the two women and will affect the entire
production, from their co-stars to the costume designers.

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Of course, it should be added that rehearsals for this
highly anticipated experiment hadn’t even started when both talked to ET by
phone in January. The two women will truly find out what happens in
mid-February when they come together for the first time before the show starts
in previews on March 29 and opens on April 19.

While not unheard of, the repertory concept is rare. Patrick
Stewart and Ian McKellen did it 2013 with Harold
Pinter’s No Man’s Land and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting
for Godot
performed on different nights -- but to actually switch entire roles during the same production is virtually unheard of. And it’s even rarer for two women. “Someone might have
somewhere,” Linney ponders, “but you don’t hear about it very often,” which is
what it makes it all the more exciting for both actresses to take on Hellman’s
classic 20th-century drama about a scheme to get rich that turns to blackmail
and theft between family members.

Previously embodied by Tallulah Bankhead, Anne Bancroft,
Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor and Stockard Channing on stage and screen, Regina
has become canon for women of a certain age -- and the chance to play the main
antagonist excited both actresses. “Lillian Hellman takes all the things she
doesn’t like about women and all the things she doesn’t like about capitalists
and puts them together in one beautiful monstrous package,” Nixon says, adding:
“Birdie has so much to her.”

“Roles like this are meant to be played. It’s just a
testament to how good the play is,” Linney says, explaining that the play and
Regina’s overarching theme of greed struck a nerve. “Since that’s something
I’ve seen a lot of recently, I thought it was worth taking another look at.”

MORE: Cynthia Nixon Sets Aside Politics to Play Nancy Reagan

Adding even more resonance to the story, Nixon compares the
intrigue of The Little Foxes’ central character to the president of the
United States
. “With any good villain, you strive to understand what makes them
that way -- even Donald Trump. You can’t just say he’s horrible or stupid or
whatever,” the actress says, explaining that she wants to understand how he --
and Regina -- came to be.

Politics aside, “Cynthia and I are both very grateful that
the timing is right for it to be done now,” Linney says, explaining that the
casting -- while “happenstance,” according to Nixon -- of these two women, who
have such respect and adoration for each other, will happen again. And that’s
just the thing that will make this experiment work.

There’s a clear admiration between these two longtime actors
and friends, who have most notably worked together before on The Big C.
While Nixon is most famous for playing Miranda Hobbes on Sex and the City,
Linney speaks of her co-star’s early theater days, when Nixon would run back
and forth between two concurrent Broadway productions, as if it were legend.
“Cynthia was like this magical creature,” she says. And Nixon, who commends
Linney’s “breathtaking” portrayal of Abigail Adams on the HBO miniseries John
, is looking forward to working with someone she has affection for.
“There’s a sense we’d be able to do it without jockeying for position,” Nixon

“I hear people use the phrase, ‘It ain't my first rodeo,’”
Nixon continues. “Well, you can say that again in this case, because it's
neither of our first rodeos. We love what we do and revere what we do.”