Condola Rashad’s eyes convey volumes. Any fan of Showtime’s Billions knows the camera can’t resist Assistant D.A. Kate Sacker’s peepers. But you don’t need a screen close-up to experience their magnetic power: On stage – where Rashad’s roles have ranged from Shakespeare’s Juliet (opposite the Romeo of Orlando Bloom) to Sophie, a girl from Congo whose “value” has been destroyed by sexual violence in Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined – those eyes, wide and luminous even when closed, turn every scene into an intimate encounter.
Never has that ineffable quality been more apparent than in Rashad’s Tony-nominated performance in A Doll’s House, Part 2. Lucas Hnath’s nominated play imagines a sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s groundbreaking 1879 drama about Nora Helmer, who walks out on her husband and children in the wake of a scandal she did not create. Part 2 picks up 15 years later when Nora returns, accomplished and wealthy, to conclude some unfinished business, only to find that broken relationships are not so easily mended.
In a season full of heart-touching scenes in both musicals (Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen) and plays (Sweat, Indecent), none equals the anomalously wrenching and funny encounter between Laurie Metcalf‘s smug Nora and Rashad’s laser-focused Emmy, the daughter Nora left behind as a child who has grown into a supremely poised, self-possessed beauty. It takes nothing away from the skills of this accomplished young actress to note that in those silent eyes lie formidable weapons, and they are deployed, absent tears or, indeed, any trace of the wounds they conceal, with surgical precision.
I spoke with Rashad recently about this performance and her extraordinary career, and issues of sex and race in the theater.
Deadline: How did you come to A Doll’s House, Part 2?
Condola Rashad: I was working on Billions last summer when I heard about this play. I’d been looking to come back to the theater, it’s my home. I went in for a reading and the next thing I knew we were trying to work around my Billions schedule.
Deadline: What sealed the choice for you?
Rashad: What I love about the play is that, one, it’s incredibly timely and two, the way that it’s executed is what makes it so important. Lucas didn’t write the play in a way that says, OK, this is who you’re going to be behind, and against everyone else. They all have good points. And I think that in this time and in our country, that’s the kind of approach we need to start having with each other, which is listening and hearing, whether you agree or not.
Deadline: The showdown between Nora and Emmy is completely unexpected.
Rashad: Nora’s come back blazing. She’s super empowered and incredibly liberal. When she meets Emmy, you don’t know how that’s going to go; you think she’ll be just like her mother. What you learn is that Emmy is the same in terms of being driven, but she wants to get married, she wants to settle down. If we’re talking about women’s rights, women’s choice, we have to respect all women’s choices and there are some women who, given all the information out there, still may choose to live that way, and they have to be respected as well.
‘I don’t agree with everything Emmy wants for herself but I do understand her. I’m newly engaged, which is hysterical – I got engaged in December and I thought Really? Now?’
Deadline: But there’s also the overriding knowledge that Emmy nurses a feeling of abandonment.
Rashad: It’s a part of her experience. Nora asks Emmy, “Well, what do you even know about marriage?” and Emmy responds, “Nothing, you weren’t around so I don’t know anything about it. What I know is that I want to try it.” That resonated with me. I was not abandoned in any way, but I do come from a family where my parents did not make it, from a marital standpoint. I don’t agree with everything Emmy wants for herself but I do understand her. I’m newly engaged, which is hysterical – I got engaged in December and I thought Really? Now? And I had this momentary freak-out where I realized I don’t really have a model for what that is. It’s nobody’s fault, I don’t blame my parents. My fiancé comes from a family where his parents are still together and it’s a different experience for him.
Deadline: What have the audiences been like?
Rashad: Anybody who sees this play is going to have a reaction to it. Out of all of the shows that I’ve done on Broadway, this show has had the largest turnout of young people. I really have never seen anything like it. And coming back two or three times. They feel represented.
Deadline: Of course – it’s a generation that loves sequels!
Rashad: Also it’s a highly feminine-driven piece yet it is inviting to everybody.
Deadline: Perhaps the most striking thing about your scene with Laurie is the absence of histrionics. Despite the enormously emotional content of what Emmy is telling her mother, I don’t think she ever raises her voice.
Rashad: It was a very collaborative process. Sam [director Sam Gold] understood that if it got too emotional, it became a whole other thing. To be able to state your case without becoming overly inflamed, that was the way to be heard. I think it’s in the writing as well. I go for the nuance, and there’s bite in that scene, but it’s underneath and that’s what I was going for. I approached it with a little bit of a poker face.
Deadline: You’re an African-American actress playing the daughter of white, 19th-century Norwegians. Was race ever an issue?
Rashad: It was never even mentioned, not in the workshops, not in rehearsals. I thought that was pretty darned cool. I’m dedicated to the storytelling, and within minutes it’s a non-issue. It’s not about transcending color, that’s part of who I am. But I am a story teller. It’s about telling the story.
Deadline: You’ve been renewed for a third season of Billions. What else is on your agenda?
Rashad: We just shot Come Sunday for Netflix with Chiwetel Ejiofor, that was a magical experience. It’s based on the true story of Bishop Carlton Pearson, a Pentecostal leader in Tulsa Oklahoma during the genocide in Rwanda. He couldn’t understand how God could send all those murdered innocent people to Hell just because they hadn’t been saved. He meditated and became convinced that there is no Hell. Well, you know how that went down. He lost his congregation and moved to San Francisco. I play his wife and it was very weird: He and his wife were there while we were filming. I’ve never had that experience before.
Deadline: Do you consider yourself to be a religious person?
Rashad: No, I’m not religious, but I do think of myself as spiritual. I’m quite liberal, and I realize that we have to be careful not to become liberal bigots. I understand where all the angst today comes from, I get it. But to be liberal, to me, means there’s got to be room for everybody.
The Tony Awards will be telecast live by CBS June 11, beginning at 8 PM New York time.