Busy Off-Broadway actor Marin Ireland’s credits include Sarah Kane’s Blasted, David Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette, and Martín Zimmerman’s On the Exhale. This month she’ll reprise her role as Darja, a struggling Polish immigrant Martyna Majok’s Ironbound at Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles (Jan. 30-March 4, 2018), which she played to acclaim in 2016 at New York’s Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.
How did you get cast in Ironbound?
I was in a very crazy situation where my TV show, “Sneaky Pete,” had to push filming suddenly for four months. So suddenly I have four free months and nothing to do. [Rattlestick artistic director Daniella Topol] called me and said, “Can you start tomorrow on this play?” The person who was in it before and she couldn’t do it. So I had nine days of rehearsal before the first preview.* I remember sitting down with her and being like, “Here’s the way I think I can do this: If I learn 20 pages a night, the next day I can come in and we can stage those pages, and then we can do a run-through after four days.” I thought I was going to die somewhere in there [chuckles].
It became ultimately one of the most fulfilling experiences I ever had. It felt so exhilarating. Which was why when they were going to do it again at the Geffen, Martyna was just like, “Would you want to do it again?” I did not get enough time with that thing. I told her, “If this becomes my Count of Monte Cristo, I will feel happy if this is the thing I do for the rest of my life.”
Did you forget any lines during previews?
There were a few moments early on where the experience of being onstage with so little rehearsal and suddenly performing became very clear—that was enough to scare some lines out of my head. The hardest thing was the syntax. That was really intense, having to repeat it over and over again out loud because the syntax was so specific and unusual. That was where I hit the wall, like, “This is it, no more, I can’t learn anymore. You have to cancel it, I can’t do it!” But once it’s in your head, it’s in there.
Do you have immigrants in your heritage?
My great grandparents are Czech; I have heard a little bit about that experience. I know I have relatives over there that are not that distant from me, but there’s no connection at all. What I think is really exciting about this story and the way it’s written is that—I had people come up to me who were speaking Russian to me, not Polish, who connected to it, and people who had no immigrant experience in their family who were deeply connected to it. It’s this feeling of surviving and how your experience of love becomes transactional when you’re living on the edge. The most hilarious thing to me about it is how much it feels like you’re watching a version of Waiting for Godot at a bus stop. The bus never comes! There’s that kind of feeling: Where do you pull from inside yourself when you’re alone, and there’s nothing there for you—where do you build that from?
You tend to play strong if flawed female characters. How do you choose your roles?
You know, I’m really greedy. I get really excited when I get to do a lot of stuff in a play or a movie or a TV show. I remember when I was doing On the Exhale, I’d tell people, “I’m done at 8, is there any second-act role I can go over and do? Can I do my Cynthia Nixon* somewhere?” [laughs]
I feel like the idea we’re all trying to figure out is: We want these strong female characters, but that has to allow for the character to be what someone would call “weak” in scenes. I don’t look for strong female characters, but I do look for somebody that has enough facets that you aren’t walking away thinking “oh, what strong woman.” You walk away from it thinking, “I don’t know why she did that but I’m so fascinated by that character. She did so many different things that I couldn’t categorize her so easily.” I feel relieved when I see characters that are women who are allowed to make mistakes. It gives us an opportunity to understand our own mistakes or feel okay about the mistakes that we all make. I don’t need my people to be perfect or ideal.
But that’s definitely the best way I can put it, is feeling greedy. No one makes it out of here alive! We need to do all that we can do and this makes me really happy.
From Sarah Kane to David Adjmi, you’ve done your fair share of difficult plays. What has been your most challenging experience on a production?
The thing I always come back to is Blasted, but I had a similar experience with 4:48 Psychosis honestly. I remember one of the first rehearsals, I was replacing somebody [Madeleine Potter] in the American tour of the Royal Court production, so I had a few rehearsals alone with [director] James Macdonald. I remember on the first day and sitting there realizing, “I have no idea how to start saying it out loud.” I was looking at the page and I was like, “I’m paralyzed!”
I was genuinely paralyzed by the enormity of the piece, I was overwhelmed by it. It felt like I was looking at a giant mountain, and I couldn’t even start. Thankfully James was patient. I remember having that experience with Blasted. There was a day, the first day, where we all supposed to get up on our feet. We moved the chairs, we moved the table, and two seconds later, I said, “I’m not ready, I can’t do it, we have to sit down again!” It felt like leaping off a cliff and into the ocean, I had never been so scared in my life. It felt impossible.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
I used to think there was nothing else I could ever be. But I think in the last few years, especially the last one year, I’ve been like, well if there was any way I could be of service to the Innocence Project, or any other kind of civil rights organization, I would be happy to be an intern for them or whatever they need it in this moment in time. We need people on that side so deeply right now that I would be happy to give my life to that in some capacity. The world needs to much help right now. Or working at an animal shelter.
Do you have any phobias?
I’m afraid of heights and I’m also irrationally afraid of sharks. I grew up in southern California and we used to hear about sharks all the time so I don’t like to go in the ocean. I can’t look at picture of them or anything.
*An earlier version of this article mistakenly noted that the previews for Ironbound were pushed back; they were not. We also misunderstood Ireland’s Cynthia Nixon reference; she was speaking about when Nixon appeared in two roles in two different plays simultaneously on Broadway in 1984, not when she appeared in two different roles in the same play in The Little Foxes.