EXCLUSIVE: The new season is barely underway but already heating up with the announcement that Uma Thurman will make her Broadway debut in The Parisian Woman. The Beltway comedy of bad manners and political intrigue – especially as filtered through the lens of House of Cards‘ master manipulator Beau Willimon – couldn’t be timelier: Thurman plays ruthless D.C. social operative Chloe, whose husband Tom is “near the bottom of the shortlist” of possible nominees for a judgeship. She’s determined to move Tom to the top of that list through the efforts of a powerful lobbyist who also happens to be her lover.
The plum role of Tom has gone to Josh Lucas, he of the Paul Newman blue eyes and charmed Matthew McConaughey visage. Lucas returns to Broadway with a publicist’s dream of film and television credits: He starred for two seasons with Debra Messing in NBC’s The Mysteries of Laura and just completed filming of the Ridley Scott/Tom Hanks film about Deep Throat, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House, with Liam Neeson in the title role. The Sony Pictures Classics drama will be released just around the time The Parisian Woman opens.
Lucas is no newcomer to the stage; indeed, he’s worked most of his 46 years as an actor in every medium and appeared on Broadway as the Gentleman Caller opposite Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson and Christian Slater in a 2005 revival of The Glass Menagerie. And a certain amount of political fireworks surrounds his career: Lucas made his New York stage debut playing Judas in Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi. The 1998 Manhattan Theatre Club production sent the Catholic church into paroxysms of bomb threat-engendering, picket-inspiring rage because of its irreverent depiction of Jesus and the Apostles.
Few debuts could more aptly be described as a baptism by fire, as Lucas recalled yesterday in a telephone interview.
“I don’t think any of us anticipated what would happen and the madness that followed,” the actor said. “We were being trained by the FBI, were given a separate entrance down hallways and up stairs. There were fistfights in the lobby! That was my first New York theater experience.”
The eldest of three children born to parents who were fierce anti-nuclear, anti-military-industrial complex activists, Lucas grew up in Arkansas and was engaged at an early age in protest around the South, where uranium and plutonium were being enriched to make nuclear weapons.
“We were outliers in the South,” Lucas understated. “I remember pulling a wagon with my little brother and sister, and I’m carrying a sign that says NO NUKES. It was strange, at time, and odd – like when there was a black car outside our door. We knew we were being monitored.”
Lucas is himself a committed political activist, though perhaps in a lighter vein: He turned himself into a personal anti-Trump billboard with a series of comical T-shirts. “There was a different one every day,” he said. “I got death threats. I was struck by the vitriol and the rage that were directed at me. It pushed me towards an understanding of privately being active while publicly being quiet. And toward a search for material that led me to this play.”
Perhaps the link to The Parisian Woman seems inevitable. Willimon’s play is based on Henry Becque’s 1885 farce La Parisienne, updated not only in language but in its more savage approach to sex and politics that will surprise no fans of House of Cards.
“I was searching for theater that has commentary, relevance and poignancy,” Lucas said. “But I was also struck by how wildly entertaining and funny it is. At the same time, it does strike a chord on whats happening in political families in Washington and how they manipulate their way through the system.”
Lucas came to know Thurman through a mutual friend and, during a workshop of the play, found a fellow traveler, as it were.
“She’s artistically extremely passionate and a serious risk taker,” he said, adding that he most admired Willimon’s ability to “give real dignity to both sides of an argument.”
Lucas, who lives in New York, said the combination of a live audience and a hot topic, while not new to him, has him in serious training before the October 1 start of rehearsals with director Pam MacKinnon.
“Theater is the ultimate workout,” he said, “and Broadway is the hardest and most intense.”
(Lucas is represented by Liebman Entertainment, WME and Hirsch Wallerstein Hayum Matlof + Fishman, LLP.)
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