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July 25 2014

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Zoe Kazan, Lily Rabe, And Mamie Gummer Know How To Dress The Part

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They were made for the stage. And while many of their contemporaries are content to hoof it to Hollywood and make a play for screentime, up-and-coming actresses (and friends) Zoe Kazan, Lily Rabe, and Mamie Gummer (left to right)—screen veterans all, too, by the way—are happy to be in New York, treading the boards. All from theatrical stock—Gummer is the daughter of Meryl Streep; Rabe, of playwright David Rabe and actress Jill Clayburgh; and Kazan, the granddaughter of legendary director Elia Kazan—each has a long list of Broadway and stage credits to her name. (Kazan is currently starring opposite Christopher Walken on Broadway in A Behanding in Spokane; Rabe is in rehearsals for The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare in the Park this summer, where she’ll play off one Al Pacino.) They also have, as it happens, a semi-professional interest in fashion. At our interview in the theater district (the better for Kazan to make her evening curtain), Zoe wore a Gary Graham tee and Valentino heels, Mamie an Acne shift and Slow and Steady Wins the Race laceups, and Lily a Valentino dress. No accident on the big V—all three are on the committee for Monday’s Valentino-sponsored Junior Spring Lincoln Center Institute Benefit. We sat down with the actresses for a talk about stage, screen, and sneakers—a key tool, as it turns out, in an actress’ arsenal.

The three of you, in addition to being longtime friends, are all on the benefit committee for Monday’s Lincoln Center Institute benefit. Can you tell us a little about the event?
Mamie Gummer: The Lincoln Center Institute promotes art education in schools, integrating music and art into all subjects. The example that Serena [Merriman, fellow committee member] always gives is, you play a Nina Simone song at the beginning of the school year, and then, for example, study the rhythm for mathematics…I feel like I would’ve liked math a little bit more if it had been centered on a song.
Zoe Kazan: Coming from creative families, we were all nurtured in our creativity, but most people aren’t.

Valentino’s sponsoring, and dressing you. That’s exciting to us—but are you into fashion, too?
Lily Rabe: Listen, who doesn’t love Valentino? [Laughs.]
MG: It’s almost intrinsically connected now, this business and fashion. You don’t really have a choice—you have to be passionate about fashion.
ZK: Acting is playing dress-up, and fashion is a larger extension of that. Another costume.

Do you have similar taste?
MG: We all have very good taste. [Laughs.]
LR: I feel like we’d happy to raid each other’s closets, but we probably have different tastes. But I can’t imagine [we wouldn’t find something]…
ZK: I think we’d do fine.
MG: My closet is all Opening Ceremony, Steven Alan…I’m a one-stop shopper.


You all do a lot of theater. Rehearsal six days a week, then performances eight times a week—does that affect the way you dress?
LR: In a bad way! [Laughs.] Well, I just think you when you’re on that schedule, it’s very hard to try to measure up.
ZK: You start changing what you wear to make yourself like your character. But once you’re in performance, you work at night, and I find that my days become incredibly full with meetings and everything else. I end up coming to work every night, dressed. Not meaning to.
MG: [But getting dressed is] a good way of differentiating the days, when you’re doing a show and you’re doing the same thing over and over again.
ZK: And when you’re wearing the same costume over and over again…
MG: The last play that I did, I was falling in love with my fiancé, so I was putting a little bit of effort into it. [Laughs.]

Have you ever bought pieces because you thought your character would wear something?
LR: It depends on what you’re wearing. [To Kazan:] You’re wearing skinny jeans and Converse in the show…
KZ: Oh, I’m wearing jeggings!
LR: Jeggings! When you’re rehearsing, they do have some costume pieces at the outset. You don’t have to use them from the first day, but you can. I just got my shoes and I’m really happy to be rehearsing in the shoes I’ll be wearing [in The Merchant of Venice]. They’re period.
KZ: It’s funny you said that about the shoes. On this show [A Behanding in Spokane], I brought in this pair of Pumas—they’re my only sneakers—I wore those every day of rehearsal until they finally they told the costume designer, maybe you should buy Pumas for the show. And then at the last minute, they took them away from me and gave me Converse! It was a huge change—like, oh, no!

Did it throw you off?
KZ: It did, because your whole center of gravity is [the feet]. You build feet up. It makes you walk different, everything.

I heard you did buy perfume for this character, though.
MG: Was it, like, Fancy by Jessica Simpson?
KZ: That would be way more appropriate. [Laughs.] It’s a Stella McCartney perfume. I had a Barbie perfume when I was little, and it smells exactly like the Barbie perfume, so I knew right away that I wanted to wear that. There’s something really young about my character. I feel like it’s a much younger smell.
MG: You know, the sense of smell is our most powerful, mnemonic sense, right?

Let’s talk more about your everyday clothing routine. Is your standard outfit different in New York than it is in L.A.?
ZK: I think auditioning here, I wear totally different things than when I audition in L.A.
MG: I wear a lot more pastel in L.A.
ZK: Oh, I wear things a lot more low-cut. A different bra comes out. [Laughs.]

Zoe and Mamie, you both were at the Costume Institute Gala on Monday. How was it?
ZK: I was so nervous about going because it’s so fancy.
MG: We arrived at the exact same moment.
ZK: We did, which was so nice. We had a lot of friends there; it felt really intimate. I felt like it was kind of—I mean, I know it’s not our party, it’s Oprah’s party—but it’s just a chance to see your friends…
MG: It’s just dinner with Ops! [Laughs.]

Zoe, how was it to work with Peter Som, who designed your dress?
KZ: Peter gave me three sketches to look at, because he was going to make the dress for me. One of them was much more seventies-inspired, and this one was more Donna Reed goes bad. It felt very like my taste. I like things that are a little bit odd or a little unconventional. I feel like a straight-up beautiful gown, I don’t have much interest in. The dress was so playful. I went for five fittings and he kept tweaking it. I went to five fittings, and the last one was Monday morning. It was so fun to get to see the dress evolve.

And you, Mamie? You wore Donna Karan.
MG: It was beautiful, it was like modern romantic. Kind of architecturally interesting, but some really classic Grecian draping. I got to go with my fiancé; it was his night off, so it was a fun date night.

OK, back to theater. Do you prefer doing theater to film?
LR: No.
MG: Yeah.
ZK: I go between.
LR: They’re just so different. It’s a great privilege and what everybody wants, to be able to continue to do both.
ZK: I mean, you don’t make that much money in the theater.
LR: And we live in New York.
LR: And we want cute clothes! [Laughs.]
ZK: They feed a totally different part of yourself. There’s nothing like being on stage and having the opportunity to do the same thing every night, in a different way, and surprise yourself. You learn so much, being in front of a live audience. But I think the intimacy of the camera is something you never get in the theater. Not having to drive the story forward, not having to be heard, not worrying about being seen, or worrying about telling the story, just worrying about doing it best—for me, that’s the pleasure of doing film.

What about after a play ends? Do you go through withdrawal?
ZK: I go through withdrawal.

Is it different from wrapping a film?
ZK: It’s the same in some way, in that you make a family. If you’re on a movie, if you’re doing a play, you’re spending all your time with these people. I have some friendships that have lasted from things I’ve worked on, but many of them don’t—many of them fade away abruptly or gradually. And you never have that same intimacy you had when you were making it.
MG: You mourn it.
ZK: You mourn it, you really do. You get used to seeing people every day, and especially doing a play, because your schedule is so off from the rest of the world. I find it very difficult to see friends on a normal basis. All of a sudden you’re back in the real world, and all your friends are doing something totally different from the last time you saw them.
LR: It’s a resurfacing, it’s very strange. I find that I pick a lot of fights with people in the last few weeks. It can be very painful and strange. It’s a powerful thing.
ZK: And I think there’s some feeling that you’ve come through a war together. You’ve been through the rehearsal process, and the critics coming, and whether it goes well or it’s gone poorly, there’s a sense of having survived something together. The nights that were hard, and the nights that were glorious, you’re never going to be all in the same place again.
MG: You’re forced together in such a way that you have to find things that you like in people, even if you don’t. Which is not dissimilar to what happens with family—you make it work.

Photos: Martin Roe / Retna; Eugene Mim / Patrick McMullan; Jimi Celeste / Patrick McMullan

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