For Playwright and Actor Tracy Letts, It’s Just Work (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
Maarten de Boer/Getty Images
Every so often -- particularly during awards season -- there seems to be a couple of actors that permeate the screen, with roles in the year’s best films. This year is no different with actors like Bradley Whitford (Get Out, The Post), Lucas Hedges (Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me by Your Name, The Post and The Shape of Water) and Tracy Letts, who not only has supporting roles in two of the 90th Academy Awards’ Best Picture contenders -- Lady Bird and The Post -- but is also enjoying success on TV as the bitterly funny Nick on HBO’s Divorce, which closes out a superb season two on Sunday with an unexpected twist of fate for the character. The same night the Oscars cap off a year of accolades for film.
While the projects are very different, they did all seemingly converge as release dates and conversations about each project overlapped with the other. “It’s weird,” Letts tells ET by phone. (Last year, he also starred in the Tribeca Film Festival critical hit The Lovers and saw a TV adaptation of his play, Superior Donuts, renewed for a second season on CBS.) “The work was actually spread out for nearly a year, and yet, they all came out at the same time. So it is strange, because I don’t think of them together, but here they are.”
In fact, it’s hard to compare them with each other. Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird is a coming-of-age drama about a high school teen (Saoirse Ronan) and her turbulent relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf). In the film, Letts plays Ronan’s passive, but gentle father. It’s starkly different from Fritz Beebe, the lone ally to Meryl Streep’s Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham in the Steven Spielberg-directed historical drama The Post; the temperamental husband to Molly Shannon’s even more volatile and high-strung Diane on Sarah Jessica Parker’s return to TV on Divorce; or the unfaithful husband to Debra Winger in The Lovers.
Perhaps the only connective thread -- aside from what Letts calls “good material” in all of them -- is the idea that he’s playing the supportive role so often designed for women of a certain age onscreen: the token wife or mother. “I’m very lucky they came my way,” he says, not at all put off by playing supportive roles.
“You know, Carrie and I,” Letts continues, referring to his wife Carrie Coon, who rose to acclaim on The Leftovers and Fargo and shares the screen with her husband in The Post, “were watching Prime Suspect. She’d never seen the original with Helen Mirren. And it's such a great piece, and there's Tom Wilkinson playing her husband and we both know this is like, ‘Oh, this is the traditional female role,’ right? Normally the cop is the man and he's going out and coming back to his long-suffering wife and she's going, ‘Why don't you ever pay any attention to me?’ But instead it's Tom Wilkinson, who is like, ‘You're always wrapped up in your work.’ It's so great to see that reversal in that piece from so many years ago.
“I am delighted to be in that position. I would gladly play the supporting man. Just give me good scripts where I get to work with Meryl Streep and Laurie Metcalf and I'll play the supportive man for the rest of my life. What a joy.”
That joy is also carried through off-screen, where the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of August: Osage County continues to write for the stage. His 2016 play, Mary Page Marlowe, will see its New York Off-Broadway debut this summer with Tatiana Maslany and Orange Is the New Black’s Blair Brown set to star.
But perhaps nothing is more satisfying than the fact that Letts and Coon, who married in 2013 after first working together in a Broadway revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, are expecting their first child. The news was recently confirmed after Coon debuted her baby bump on the red carpet of the 2018 Critics’ Choice Awards, where she was nominated for Best Actress in a Movie/Limited Series for Fargo. Now 52 years old, Letts reflects on being a first-time father. “Boy, if I'm not ready by now, I don't think I'm going to get ready,” he laughs.
Despite the fact that both are coming off big years career-wise, he says, “It’s also work … as gratifying as it has been.” The various projects shot on location have taken both away from their home (and each other) for extended periods of time. “So right now, we’re both at home and we’re both cooking a lot and watching TV together and hanging out and sleeping late,” Letts says as the two ready for parenthood. “It’s a real pleasure to be back in our house, in our neighborhood back in Chicago and with each other. We’re really enjoying it.”