Annie Golden calls herself the “flower child who will not wilt,” and she has continued to blossom since she landed on the scene as Jeanie in the 1979 Hair film. She’s appeared on Broadway in On the Town, Xanadu, and Violet, but these days most people recognize her as the almost silent inmate Norma from the hit Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.” Her unrelenting spirit is the inspiration for Joe Iconis, Lance Rubin, and Jason Williams’s Broadway Bounty Hunter, a musical about a down-on-her-luck actress of a certain age who refuses to back down. The team wrote the tuner, which is inspired by 1970s blaxploitation movies, for Golden, and she plays the title role at Barrington Stage Company Aug. 13-Sept. 4.
How did you meet Joe Iconis?
The last stage performance Eartha Kitt ever did was in a show that I was the title role of, Mimi le Duck. And one of our producers, Marie Costanza, is in administration over at Tisch [at New York University]. Apparently for your thesis presentation in the musical theatre writing program over at NYU, you do a musical in the black box theatre. A project called The Black Suits [by Iconis] passed Marie’s desk, and he had said an “Annie Golden type” for the neighbor lady, Mrs. Werring. Marie read it and said to Joe, “Well, why don’t you ask her? Write her a letter inviting her with a CD of the music—because she doesn’t read music—with Mrs. Werring’s songs.” That was eight years ago, and I’ve been doing it ever since. No one else has ever played Mrs. Werring. And yes, I still do have the CD and the hand-written note he sent me.
What was your reaction when Joe and his friends said they wanted to write a musical about a bounty hunter for you?
I was like, “Wait, what?” And then they told me the concept. It’s just so superhero-cartoon-like—it’s Annie Golden as Pam Grier in Foxy Brown. Only the task at hand is not a kidnapping or a ransom or a drug dealer or a cartel to take down—it’s just to expose injustice and cruel and unusual punishment of Broadway producers. It’s really awesome. It speaks some truths in a humorous tongue–in-cheek way.
The show is inspired by your own life and career. Are there moments in the show that are lifted from your experiences?
There are. In the show, I give this homeless guy a dollar, and he says to me, “You keep it. You look like you need it more than me.” In real life, I was in Colorado at a sit down with Almost Heaven, the John Denver show, at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and I went out one brisk, windy morning on a walk. I just had my baseball cap and a flannel shirt on, and I really wasn’t dressed warm enough. I was walking in a dodgy part of town because that’s where all the vintage clothing stores are, and I saw these dollar bills blowing in a parking lot that I was cutting across. So I picked them up, and when I got to the other side of the parking lot, there was this camp of homeless people. So I started giving out dollars and saying, “Listen, guys, I just saw this money blow across the parking lot. There might be more if you want to go check it out.” And they were like, “Oh, okay, you keep it. We’ll go look.” They thought I was one of them! And so I told them that story, and it found its way into the show.
Do people recognize you more now for “Orange Is the New Black”?
They wrote this show for me saying “down and out” and “down on her luck” and then “Orange” happened. Who knew that was gonna happen? I still get on set now for season five with my original cast mates, and we do the silent scream because we can’t believe our good fortune.
There are a lot of great theatre actors on the show. Is there camaraderie on set because of that?
Oh, absolutely. Kimiko Glenn is in Waitress now and Danielle Brooks was Tony-nominated on her Broadway debut for The Color Purple. Two dozen roses on your first preview come to your stage door from Norma—that’s the way I roll. And I bring them myself, so people go, “That lady’s on ‘Orange Is the New Black’!” I used to be able to get in and get out and not be noticed, but it’s a good problem to have.
Broadway Bounty Hunter also addresses that there aren’t that many roles for “women of a certain age.” Have you found that to be the case?
Yes, that’s why you want to get your foot in the door with those kids! When I met Joe, he was twentysomething. Then he introduced me to Charlie Rosen, who is also brilliant, who is now twentysomething. And you live through all their milestones: their marriages, the births, their Tony nominations, their first Broadway production contract. You live through all of that with them. But also as they’re writing nosy neighbor, quirky spinster aunt, sweet grandma—that’s the spot that you’re going to fill.
What was the last thing you saw onstage that you loved?
Dear Evan Hansen. I absolutely loved it from beginning to end. I feel like it’s a cautionary tale about the Internet and how much it can affect your life. And the music was magnificent. There were roles in it for women of a certain age. It was all inclusive. I loved everything about it. I went away walking on air.
If you were a bounty hunter, what would be your bounty?
Oh, Lord, I would take all the guns away. That’s what I would do. The Republicans don’t understand that if someone didn’t have a gun, the deaths wouldn’t be. I don’t understand what’s so hard. If children in Sandy Hook don’t inspire you to legislate gun control, I don’t know what’s going to! I don’t understand what the big deterrent is. Gun control. I would try to seize all the guns.
What are three things you would take with you to a remote island?
Moisturizer, mascara and the InStyler, a hair straightener. How vain am I? This is all about the looks so I don’t look kinky on the island. [Laughs] I used to put in my bio on Broadway—or certainly any Marc Shaiman concert that I would do—I would always say: “Annie thanks God for moisturizer, mascara, and Marc Shaiman.” When I met Joe, I said, “You are my Marc Shaiman for the millennium!”