05/16/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Janet McTeer embraces Carnage

Actress Janet McTeer relaxes her 6-foot-plus frame in her dressing-room chair backstage at the Bernard Jacobs Theater and coaxes the dregs of a home-made smoothie - the color of mushy peas - from a bottle into her mouth.

She's in her second week of performances of God of Carnage, the Tony Award-winning play which just welcomed its third cast for its Broadway run, and still trying to get her body in harmony with her schedule.

"At the moment, it's very tiring because when you do rehearsals, you have daytime rhythms," she says. "And that changes when you start performances. Suddenly you have to peak at 9 p.m. It's like changing shifts at a job. It takes a couple of weeks to get into that rhythm."

There's also the matter of building your stamina. God of Carnage runs 90 minutes and plays without intermission. The four-character dark comedy only allows individual actors to leave the stage for a couple of minutes at a time - and even then, the emotional pitch at which they play rises, falls and rises again at an almost merciless pace.

"Physically, it's really tiring, like running a middle-distance race," says the British-born McTeer, 48. "It's not a marathon. It's like a short, sharp, middle-distance track event. You need to have a lot of energy but you need to coast the first 10 laps and then sprint the last five. You think, well, it's this great comedy that only lasts 90 minutes. But by Sunday, you're on your knees. Emotional energy is always more tiring but this one is also physically tiring."

In God of Carnage, McTeer joins Jeff Daniels, Dylan Baker and Lucy Liu in Yasmina Reza's tale of two upscale Brooklyn couples who meet to discuss resolving a playground incident in which the Baker/Liu couple's son has hit the Daniels/McTeer couple's son in the mouth with a stick, knocking out two teeth. What begins as an exercise in civilized behavior quickly disintegrates into a rapidly shifting power struggle of invective, accusation and physical assault: couple against couple, men versus women, even husband against wife.

The original Broadway cast - James Gandolfini, Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis - were all Tony-nominated and the show won 2009 Tonys for best play, best director and best actress (for Harden). McTeer is part of the third Broadway cast - but she's no newcomer to her role. In fact, McTeer was part of the British cast that originated the show in London in 2008 (opposite Ken Stott, Ralph Fiennes and Tamsin Greig).

As staged in London, the characters were Parisians, played with British accents. For the Broadway production, they were reimagined as upscale Brooklynites. So, for McTeer, taking on an American accent on stage in God of Carnage offers a unique challenge.

"It's hard to learn an American accent," she says. "Some of the Rs at the ends of words are incredibly hard. And that nasal quality in some words: We don't send words down our nose. On film, you can make a mistake and go back and correct it. But it's hard to do an American accent onstage."

Acting in the original London production, she says, was a terrifying experience - right up until the first performance.