Marcia Gay Harden Stands Strong
by hope davis
Marcia Gay Harden and I might be sisters-in-law someday. My 9-year-old daughter, Georgie, and her 8-year-old son, Hudson, have been together for “years.” They first met three years ago when all of the kids were running around backstage at the Bernard Jacobs Theater on Manhattan’s West 45th Street where Marcia, Jeff Daniels, James Gandolfini, and I were doing God of Carnage. Georgie and Hudson have it all planned out—they are going to live near the beach. They’re going to have a cat named Ketchup and a dog named French Fry.
You get to know someone pretty well when you do a play 297 times with her. You find out exactly what she’s made of. In Marcia’s case, it is nerves of steel, buns of steel, and vocal chords of... well, you guessed it, steel. She is a powerhouse. She’s both an incredibly gifted comedienne and a whirling dervish who is able to call up untempered passion or fury. She is not afraid to blow the roof off the house. Hence, the accolades—she won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Play for God of Carnage and an Oscar for her role as Lee Krasner in Ed Harris’ Pollock. And, still, she’s looking for a good job (it’s a hard, hard world).
Now she’s also single after a challenging few years; she’s in the final stages of divorce from the father of her three fantastic children, Eulala, 13, Hudson, and his twin sister, Julitta. But summer is here, and she has promised to come and visit me at our little house in Sag Harbor. I told her that there are lots of great, interesting people hanging around out here, so if anyone knows anyone who knows anyone....
HOPE DAVIS: I really want to know how you are; I know you’ve had a really tumultuous past two years.
MARCIA GAY HARDEN: Yes, I realized literally right before the second run of God of Carnage that my marriage had fallen apart. It completely influenced God of Carnage, but being in [the play] made me think I could move out to California and just reground myself, so that’s what I did. I found a great little place in the canyon. Actually, the house I’m in was designed by Cedric Gibbons, who designed the Oscar.
HD: You’re at this time where you’re either settling into a certain way of life or being completely uprooted and having to start anew.
MGH: It’s an interesting thing because now—after years of unknown behavior from my husband—I look back, and I think who was I? It was almost like in order to decide who I am today, I have to understand what I was. By the same token, if I do that, I stay back in something that is the past.
HD: What is a typical day like for you now? In this past year, you’ve also managed to juggle a lot of work.
MGH: They’re teeny little projects. I did a pilot. It didn’t get picked up, but it didn’t get passed on. I would love to have a steady job in television. I did a couple of other appearances on other people’s shows, and I did one small part in a movie. Now I just run Eulala up to school, and then I walk the little ones down the street to school. I play on the playground with them for a while, and I come home. Sometimes I take a beautiful jog on the beach; sometimes I jump back into what this year has been preoccupied with—the divorce, and my mother has Alzheimer’s, so I’ve had to fly to Texas a couple times to help her move out of her home and into assisted living. And I had just sold my Harlem home the day, God bless her, Mary Kennedy died.
HD: I know she was your friend, so obviously her suicide came as a total shock to you as well?
MGH: Yes, Mary was my friend, and there were a lot of similarities in some of our struggles. It was just horrible. I knew Mary was trying to understand that her life was going through a major uprooting as well, and her history wasn’t dissimilar to mine. I just felt so grateful that I had been able to get the help I needed. I felt so heartbroken for Mary that she didn’t. Divorce is one of the most traumatic things I think I’ve ever been through, and it necessitates a kind of self-focus, different than narcissism, although along probably some of the same symptoms. But, I think moving away was really helpful to me, to be able to step back and take a look at what I needed to do.
HD: Have you gone on a date yet?
MGH: No, set me up! I looked at Match.com, and it was heinous. And once when I was playing Words With Friends, this Skout app came up—it’s a flirting app—and I looked at it to see what it would be like. That’s not me. I know other people do it, and I shouldn’t say it’s not my generation—I just aged myself to kingdom come. I would far rather have a girlfriend say, “Come out to dinner with us.”
HD: Absolutely. Although, I also think it’s really complicated by the fact that people know who you are.
MGH: That’s what I mean! You gave me the most beautiful book of poetry. I have to say, as Hallmark-ian as it can sound, reading poetry and filling the mind with other things [is therapeutic]. I still do a lot—I hang out with girlfriends, I go out, I do charity work, I did that RV trip.... I drove the kids to Yosemite in a 31-foot, double pop-up RV.
HD: I can barely park my minivan! Years ago, you would have been one of those women who could have gotten the caravan across the country when the husband dropped dead. So what are your plans for the summer? You know, there’s a place called the Hamptons where there are a lot of good parties happening....
MGH: Maybe that’s what we’ll do. I’ve never rented a home out here. I do have friends out here, and I would love to show the kids the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center. The twins hadn’t been born when I shot Pollock, but Eulala was in it; she’s this little baby in a scene where Pollock won’t stop banging on the table. It’s just a quick little cameo but I remember Ed [Harris] was trying to get Eulala to cry because he wanted the extra noise, but the more he banged on the table, the more Eulala would laugh—she just didn’t take it seriously.
HD: Did you shoot in the house?
MGH: Most of the interior they rebuilt in a studio, but I think we actually did one or two scenes there, and Helen [Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center] let me go up and lie in Lee Krasner’s bed and just feel what it was like being in the house. It’s very, very peaceful. The air is very quiet.
HD: Besides Eulala, do you feel like all of your children are being pulled into acting?
MGH: They all say that there is some part of it that they are interested in, not the least of which is the ridiculous treatment that we can get sometimes. I think they’re impressed a little with the fame, but I also think they love acting. I don’t want them to be pulled in; I want them to explore exactly what they want to be. Eulala, who has pink hair now by the way, just booked two days on Workaholics. I’m really proud of her. She went to the readthrough, and she didn’t want me to show up on set. She doesn’t want anyone to know she’s my daughter. She’s a normal teenager; the word Mom has five syllables; she rolls her eyes all the time. But we’re super close, we talk about everything. I love my relationship with her.
HD: You actually sound really good and really sane to me.
MGH: The thing I hated about this time last year was that I was so blinded; ambiguity I think is so completely, mentally occupying. Decisions bring peace and this took a lot of time. I would never wish infidelity on anybody, but when it happens, it does open up a whole new opportunity that I want to grow from. I want to be a part of that energy-shifting movement. I hate that I was a drain on people, but you find out the people who love you. And I love you, Miss Hope.
HD: I love you, too, pal.
photography by jason bell
Styling by Tanya Gill for Icon House
Hair by Richard Marin for Rossano Ferretti Hair Spa/Cloutier Remix
Makeup by Collier Strong for Cloutier Remix using L’Oreal Paris
Photographed on location at The Ranch at Live Oak/Malibu, theranchmalibu.com