Maggie Siff is a series regular on the Hamlet-inspired motorcycle drama “Sons of Anarchy” on FX. These days she spends summers in L.A. (having also appeared on “Mad Men” and “Nip/Tuck”), but Siff got her start in theatre—among her credits is Dollhouse at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and The Ruby Sunrise at New York City’s Public Theater. From Feb. 3 to March 24, she plays Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, under Arin Arbus’s direction, at NYC’s Theatre for a New Audience. AT sat down with Siff in the rehearsal room.
Where is this version of Much Ado About Nothing set?
In Italy—it’s been slightly updated to pre–World War I Sicily. Arin is thinking that the men are coming back from a very bloodless war, and it’s a more innocent time. And yet we’re still in a very patriarchal, Catholic culture. So there are still certain strictures on the women, to make sense of that theme, which is so strong in the play.
That’s similar to The Taming of the Shrew you did last season at TFANA, also with Arbus, in which you played Kate. That play was also about the male-female divide.
The main distinction that we’re drawing is that these people are deeper in Much Ado, and there’s a lot more genuine love for each other. The world of Shrew was more superficial. We’ve been talking around the table about how often the word “fashion” comes up in Much Ado, and I don’t think it’s a negative. There’s a way you’re supposed to be and a way you’re supposed to conduct yourself, but the ties that bind these people together are really deep and true. Everyone’s a deep person, but they are straitjacketed by the conventions of the culture.
On “Sons of Anarchy,” you play a doctor who’s a biker’s wife. And in the theatre, you’ve played independent and opinionated women. Do you actively choose those types of roles, or does that come naturally?
I don’t know! I’ve been lucky. I have managed to work a lot with female writers and directors, and I’m very grateful for that, considering there are not many of them, especially in the theatre. The people I gravitate to are interested in exploring what it means to have a voice as a woman, both in the world and in these works of fiction.
Arin and I talk about how the women in Shakespeare are such rich characters—both Beatrice and Kate have about half the language that Petruchio and Benedick have, but their characters are so full and distilled. I find myself wondering how Shakespeare got so inside the experience of being a woman in the world—more fully than many contemporary writers that I can think of. I don’t think women are voiceless in the world of contemporary theatre, but I think there are fewer roles, fewer writers, fewer female directors, and there are fewer forces fighting for their perspective out in the world.
Considering that you spend a lot of time in California for television and film, what keeps you coming back to the New York theatre world?
New York is where I grew up—it’s my home. And theatre feels like the thing that feeds me creatively. I really enjoy the work that I do out there in front of the camera. But theatre to me is like a full-body workout, a marathon. It makes you use all of the resources that you have as an actor. When I don’t do it for a while, I feel…flaccid and dull [laughs].
What’s your first theatrical memory?
I was six. It was seeing my father [David Faulkner] onstage. He was playing the title role in a production of Mister Roberts. I remember there was a real goat onstage, and that goat peed. The stagehands were all rushing out and trying to deal with getting the goat offstage. And then my dad walked downstage and figured out where we were in the audience, and he winked. And I thought, “This is really happening! The goat really peed! And it’s not my dad, but it is my dad!” And the magic and bizarreness of everything really hit me.
After that, I would go see the plays he did three times, and I would then know every single word in those shows. When you’re that age, the mind absorbs language so quickly!
Can you name one popular thing whose popularity you don’t understand?
I’m not a big fan of reading books electronically. When I’m traveling, I understand the appeal of iPads and I have one that I like for reading scripts, e-mails and newspapers. But when I sit down to read a book, I want it on paper. The physical pages feel like they mark the time and experience and richness of reading a good novel. When I was traveling a couple of months ago in Vietnam, I found this beautiful copy of Haruki Murakami’s IQ84. I actually watched myself with horror as I proceeded to the cash register and decided that this was the book I was going to lug around Asia for the rest of my trip! But I didn’t regret it.
What’s the last song you sang in the shower?
It’s probably “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables, because of all those fucking previews! I pretend to sing like a musical theatre star. I pretend to sing like an opera singer. I pretend to sing in lots of different ways that I don’t actually sing.