EXCLUSIVE: Marisa Tomei's Wild Rumpus on Stage

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Ever since her breakout performance in 1992 as Mona Lisa Vito in My
Cousin Vinny
, which earned her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Marisa Tomei has
always made bold and interesting choices on-screen, allowing her to slip in and
out of Oscar-bait indies, romantic comedies, Adam Sandler vehicles and even the
Marvel Cinematic Universe as Aunt May Parker in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. The same can be
said for the actress’ stage work, which most recently included playwright Will
Eno’s Broadway debut, The Realistic
Joneses
, and a Williamstown Theatre Festival production of a Tennessee
Williams play.

Her latest is the new play by Sarah Ruhl, How to Transcend a Happy Marriage,
opening at Lincoln Center Theater on March 20, with previews starting Feb. 23. “I'd long
admired Sarah Ruhl’s writing and hoped for the chance to work with her someday,
and when I saw what this play was about, I was drawn even further under her
spell,” Tomei tells ET about joining the production, which at the time of our
conversation, was only a week into rehearsal.

A story about two couples who invite
mysterious younger woman (Hedwig and the Angry
Inch
’s Lena Hall) and her two live-in boyfriends to a New Year’s Eve party,
Tomei plays one-half of one of the married couples opposite Omar Metwally (The Affair). What happens next will
alter the course of their lives as they test the limits of friendships and
rediscover their own wildness. Attracted to the idea of rediscovery, Tomei says
she’s fascinated by “the longing for transcendence and the absence of wild
nature in our culture,” and what it would look like “to touch the fire again.” The mysterious woman -- who has what Tomei calls “a Diana the Huntress energy” --
awakens that feeling inside these suburban couples. And Hall, who has the task
of bringing this rumpus to life, Tomei says is “the perfect person to animate
and elate the room.”

MORE: 2017 Spring Theater Preview

Directed by Rebecca Taichman, the Off-Broadway play also
gives Tomei a chance to work with both a female writer and female director.
While not a factor in her decision to do the show, it is a rarity for the actress. “It’s
very unusual that it happens, so it’s a wonderful happenstance,” she
acknowledges, adding that “it’s a play about a woman’s inner-life, so it’s
helpful” to have someone like Taichman at the helm.

Perhaps another happenstance is Tomei’s role in Marvel’s
reboot of the Spider-Man film
franchise, which sees Tom Holland taking over the role of Peter Parker on July
7. The actress appears alongside her famous ex, Robert Downey
Jr.
, who just so happens to play Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. “It’s very
comfortable and everyone’s very friendly,” she says of officially joining this
universe, which saw her make a brief debut as Aunt May in Captain America: Civil War. “It’s fun to
do the larger-than-life stuff, too.”

Perhaps most interesting to fans is the fact that Tomei, 52,
is easily the youngest version of the character the franchise has seen on-screen.
And from what audiences got to see in Captain America, there’s plenty of
chemistry between her and Downey, possibly setting up even more flirtation to
come. “You can make a case for that and I wouldn’t mind,” she says with a
slight laugh. “I’m just curious to find out for myself what it all added up to.
There are so many layers, and I’m just lucky enough to have stepped into
it.”