A Life in the Theatre: Julie White of POTUS, The Little Dog Laughed, and Airline Highway | Playbill

Interview A Life in the Theatre: Julie White of POTUS, The Little Dog Laughed, and Airline Highway

White just completed her run as Harriet, the overworked Chief of Staff in Broadway's POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive.

Julie White - Potus: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive Michael Wiltbank

"If a script makes me want to crawl under the bed and hide, that means I should do it," says Julie White. "If I don't know if I can do it or not, I have to try."

Try she has. The Tony winner, 61, has led seven Broadway productions since 2013, carving a niche for herself in the theatrical community as a tour de force comedienne.

Raised on a ranch in Texas, White's earliest theatrical memory involves playing a scarlet cardinal in a Noah's Ark presentation around age four, but it wasn't until high school that the theatre truly found her.

"I had accrued so much detention time for being late to class that I had three and a half hours to serve. The English teacher was also the Drama teacher, so I sat while they had auditions for Guys and Dolls. Thirty minutes in, I went to the teacher and asked 'If I try out, will that serve as all of my detention?' He said yes, I learned the song 'Adelaides Lament', and you know what? I killed it. I got the part, and I was suddenly one of the drama kids."

White made her Off-Broadway debut in Ahrens and Flaherty's musical farce Lucky Stiff before setting the musical theatre aside ("I think I can sing, but then I hear Patti LuPone sing, and I think 'Oh no, I can't sing at all!"). She made her Broadway debut in The Heidi Chronicles, made a vivid impression in Theresa Rebeck's Spike Heels opposite Kevin Bacon and Tony Goldwyn at the height of their fame, and soon became Rebeck's muse, with the one woman show Bad Dates written especially for her.

In 2006, she received her first Tony for her work on Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed, playing an unhinged screen agent that the New York Times described as "a Mephistopheles in Manolos." White has often walked the line between hilarity and agony, breaking hearts as she simultaneously busts guts. In Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Airline Highway, White inhabited women who used humor to cope with the horrors of life, a trend which came to a head when White assumed the mantle of Nora in A Doll's House, Part 2 following the departure of original star Laurie Metcalf.

The unexpected role of Carol in Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus (She was bought on to replace an injured Andrea Martin with only six rehearsals before the start of performances.) was the icing on the tragicomic cake.

"There was a sequence where Carol acted out what had happened to her up to that point, and I would sort of interpretive dance it. That was based on the church where I grew up in Texas; there was a ladies interpretive dance choir, they wore Martha Graham dresses, and I had always remembered them. So I thought, in this moment, Carol could have a little interpretive dance choir lady about her. I would do all of this crazy stuff, and sometimes even Nathan (Lane) would have to turn upstage and laugh. I was describing the worst shit, but you had to laugh."

The role of Harriet in POTUS was, in many ways, a culmination. The "engine" that keeps the White House running, White’s character is continually passed over and left unrecognized as she holds the entire enterprise together. White's pants-suited antics (Harriet is described as "a walking Kegel" in the play) elicits roars of laughter from the audience throughout the farce, but it is her earnest moments in the final tableau that rip the roof off of the theatre, earning her a 2022 Tony nomination.

As for what's next? "You're just following down the stream. When people are like 'Well, what made you make this career choice, and that career choice?' I just think the stream makes your career choice sometimes. And some things are just luck. You do the best you can with what comes your way."


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