Who: Anna Deavere Smith
Current LA Gig: The New York writer/actress/director (and veteran of TV and film) is performing her latest one-woman show, "Let Me Down Easy," at the Broad Stage through July 31. In it, she plays 20 patients, reciting their stories word-for-word from interviews she conducted over 10 years of research. When not taking on tough topics on the stage (one-woman, big-issue plays are kind of her thing, see: "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992" and "Fires in the Mirror"), Smith stars as uptight hospital administrator Gloria Akalitus on Showtime's "Nurse Jackie."
Neighborhood (When in LA): Santa Monica
"Let Me Down Easy" takes on the healthcare system, but you've also been working on it for more than 10 years. Coincidence or just good timing?
I did a project back in 2000 at the Yale School of Medicine [where she was invited to interview doctors and patients and enact their stories live], and then five years later picked up the subject again to start working on a play. Just before bringing the play to New York, the President was introducing the health care bill. I was grateful for the synchronicity.
You interviewed political figures, administrators, pundits and newsmakers but decided to focus on patients. Why was this perspective most important?
I am interested in personal stories because that's when people become expressive, spontaneous and heartfelt. ... You aren't going to find open-hearted language among administrators, political figures and pundits! Their language is very ... well, crafted. They can't afford to be anything but careful about what they say. I call the language of political figures, pundits and administrators "the haute couture of language".
How does theater in LA compare to theater in New York?
The audiences here are very fresh, very responsive, very giving. I love that. You'd think in LA they've seen it all, but if they have they want to see more. They are very open. I love the LA audience.
Your character on "Nurse Jackie" is such a hardass, but clearly has a warm heart. How do you feel about Gloria Akalitus?
I love Gloria A. She's a good woman who works in a messed up system but does her best every day. That show is full of strong female characters. Did this influence your decision to take the job? Not really. What influenced my decision was how hilarious it was. I was practically falling out of my chair when I read the pilot script.
LA has been the topic of your plays in the past, revealing some of the ugliness in a major metropolis. Where do you find the most beauty here?
The Beach. Sunset Boulevard at 4am or 5am before the sun comes up, and many places, before the sun comes up. I love arriving on set before the sun comes up, or just before it does.
What's on your LA must list every time you're here?
Real Food Daily!
What do you love most about LA?
The unexpected enthusiasm of the people. And working out here is fantastic. Great pools. Swimming outside (as compared to stuffy chlorine filled pools in New York, where a man once told me that if I bumped into him again, he would drown me.) ... People here have had dreams made and many have had dreams broken. The combination is fascinating to me. I like LA in February if I visit from New York!
What do you hate most?
On any given day when I have not figured out my way through the smoke and mirrors--if I get caught in the smoke, I choke, and I don't like the way that feels.
I love the combination of beauty and ugliness. It's a daunting shock when you find either where you never would have expected it. That in and of itself is probably good for your blood flow and your soul.