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Deidre Goodwin discusses theater, film, TV and jumping between them all

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Deidre Goodwin discusses theater, film, TV and jumping between them all

A New Yorker by way of Oklahoma City, actress and dancer Deidre Goodwin is part of the ensemble cast performing in the world premiere of the American Repertory Theater’s latest production “The Shape She Makes.” Conceived by Susan Misner and Jonathan Bernstein, the play explores the impact of childhood experiences on our adult lives as “Quincy,” a precocious 11-year-old girl seeks to understand what she’s inherited from her absent father and neglectful mother. We see her story unfold through a fusion of movement and dialogue.

Goodwin, a multi-talented actress, dancer and singer, has moved effortlessly between theater, film and television over the course of her career. She has spent years perfecting her craft and has appeared in eight Broadway shows including “Chicago,” “A Chorus Line,” “Nine,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Rocky Horror Show.” She has also appeared in the original productions of “Chita Rivera: The Dancers’ Life” and “Never Gonna Dance.”

In addition to her years both on and off-Broadway, Goodwin has displayed her comedic and dramatic skills in a variety of roles on television and in film. She played the character “DeBORah,” winner of the MILF Island episode on NBC’s “30 Rock” and has appeared on CBS’ “Blue Bloods,” Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” and F/X’s “Rescue Me.” In 2012, she had a supporting role in the action film “The Bourne Legacy” and was cast as a fertility clinic nurse opposite Alec Baldwin in the romantic comedy “It’s Complicated”. In 2002, she played the fierce “June” in the film version of “Chicago” opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger.

On a recent lunch break from rehearsals, Goodwin spoke to the Banner about how she got her start in theater and her latest project, “The Shape She Makes.”

How did you get your start in theater?

I was a late bloomer. I always loved to watch musicals and anything that had dance in it when I was a little girl. I think I always was a dancer by spirit but didn’t have any training at all. It wasn’t until I was in college where I took my first, professional real dance class. After that, it was “this is what I’m supposed to do for a living.” I had a very supportive mom who was like “you can be a dance major, just get another degree.” That was my start.

What was the one musical that inspired you?

I know it was a combination of things like “Singing in the Rain” and it was also “Fame.” I also honestly liked “Sesame Street” because they always tried to educate you. And there was always a song or a pratfall or something. And, Carol Burnett was huge, huge, huge.

You grew up in Oklahoma. Did you have any opportunity to see the theater? Were you exposed to the arts or was it something that was just innate?

There were traveling groups of theater for children that would come and we’d have assembly and they would do songs. I didn’t know it at the time but they were basically doing “Godspell.” I took a trip on a bus from Oklahoma City with the YWCA. My cousin and I and a bunch of the girls, ages 13 to like 16, 17 drove to New York and we actually saw “Dreamgirls” and that was the first time I saw people who looked like me. I didn’t know you could do that for a living. I didn’t know that it was a job.

You’re in the new production of “The Shape She Makes.” What was it about the role and the story that appealed to you?

It’s so beautiful. It’s a very specific story. But, because of its specificity it relates to everyone. I think it’s so universal. To me, it’s about getting out of your own way, and doing those things that will make you better. What’s holding you back? What is your sandbox? Is it a person? Is it an event that happened in your childhood? Is it something that is stunting you from becoming who you need to become? And, not using your full capability. And, it’s told in such a heart breaking [way], even though it’s definitely a theatrical event. It’s very much like a film using flashbacks, flash forwards, things happening at the same time. It’s also full of hope.

Has that been heightened for you working on this production?

I was already in tune with that for myself, through my friends. It’s always easier to see someone or give someone else advice when you’re doing the same thing. What’s also beautiful about this show is that I’ve seen every single one in the room whether we’re performing or on the sides, has had that moment, “Oh wait, but that’s my story.” And, you start wondering what’s keeping me back or I was able to shed that and that’s why I moved forward to the next thing. I think we as humans do that a lot.

How many characters do you play?

We all play a lot of different things. It’s not your typical show. Technically three but all of us become other things. And by things I mean things, like a sink. That’s for the main character to access and part of that is because we all are one thing. We all are each other. We all have our own family, our own race, our own whatever. We’re all connected and that’s a pretty cool thing too. I don’t want people to think it’s performance art. It’s a story that will touch people’s hearts.

You played the character “June” in the movie version of “Chicago” in 2002 and you’ve also played “Velma” in the Broadway production. Were there any similarities?

What was so cool is because I had done the show for so long, I knew it inside and out. It made me feel freer because I knew the content. It was just “how was I going to present it?” It was also fun because there wasn’t as much Fosse movement in the movie, but it was very athletic and strong which I enjoyed a lot. Both experiences were fantastic.

Is the hope that when you’re in a local production, such as “The Shape She Makes,” that it will be picked up to run on Broadway?

Definitely to move to Broadway or another venue in New York. It’s a very intimate show so it would have to be really tailored for a traditional Broadway theater. There’s hope for it to move forward and we want people to come up to see it, as well as people here in Boston to come see the show, and hopefully start to spread the word.

Have you ever thought you messed up an audition and weren’t going to get the role, but actually ended up getting it?

One thing I’ll always remember when I was younger was that I had already done “Chicago” on Broadway and actually played a lead role on the road. I started having anxiety about performing. It was almost like, before I was not nervous because I was having fun and then once people started going “we see you and we think you could do more” I became afraid. Before, I didn’t realize you were looking at me. I’m just having fun, telling you stories, dancing and going about my business. So then, I had an audition for “Jesus Christ Superstar.” And I remember walking in there and I had my song all picked out. I was going to sing “And I’m Telling You.” I started singing it and I mean I almost got done with the song and I stopped. And I said, “I’m sorry. I’m really nervous. Can I sing something else?” And, you’re not supposed to do that really. You’re just supposed to press on and be sure of what you’re doing. And, go with the flow. And, thankfully they said “sure.” I was almost done, and I sang something else and I was able to breathe more. I was making a mistake but instead of trying to cover or hide it, I was just honest and those people were open to it, and that turned into me getting the show later down the road.

What would you say is your favorite role?

“Velma Kelly.” She’s so strong and tough. I like her journey because she starts out on top. Not a care in the world. She did some terrible things, not really concerned about it. And then, she gets knocked off her podium right away and she has to fight her way back up. She’s resourceful, she’s spunky, she’s smart, and she’s savvy. And, I love that about her. I also love playing “Sheila” in “A Chorus Line” because that’s one of the best roles written for women in musical theater. What she gets to go through. She’s similar to “Velma” in that she’s the head dog, she’s the one people want to be. She gets all the jobs, and then she starts to realize her mortality in that world, and that has made her who she is, who celebrated her. Seeing what that does, and going through that journey every night was an honor to explore.

Have you thought about doing more acting or are you still enjoying the roles that you’re receiving?

I know that whatever I do dance will be a part of my life, whether it’s teaching others to do it, or helping people to produce a show like this, or creating it. I like acting as well. I’m feeling more my flip is going to be on the other side of the table. I like creating things and being around creative people, and helping to facilitate that.

What was the best piece of advice you received for getting into this life?

I don’t know that I got any actual advice. I think I was so naïve as to how hard it was that I didn’t know any better. I just knew it made me happy. That’s all I knew. And, I think for my psyche that was a good thing. Now, at other schools they break it down for you. You need to know this casting director, you need to wear this. This is a formula and very businesslike. And, I don’t think there’s a formula. I think there are different things you should be aware of. I think there something’s to be said for not knowing about all the monsters under the bed. You’ll discover them all along the way.

Deidre Goodwin performs in “The Shape She Makes” playing now through Sunday, April 27, at the Oberon in Cambridge. Tickets: $25-$55. For show times and to purchase tickets, order online at www.americanrepertorytheater.org or by phone at 617-547-8300.