You fall in love with her the moment she steps on stage, and you continue to ask when she’s going to return next, when she’s not on. She’s a bubbly persona filled with stories you could listen to for hours. She’s the angel of death in her latest project Under My Skin – a Broadway production from the writers of The Nanny where we see the funnier side of life, love and healthcare. We sat down with Dierdre Friel to talk Under My Skin, fashion and the much missed, James Gandolfini.
Tell us about your character.
In the wonderful play, Under My Skin, I play the angel – the angel of death. Which is very new for my resume and I’m excited about it. I’m wisecracking. I am a tough cookie. And I also probably think I’m a lot funnier than I am to people in the play, but the audience seems to like it. So yeah, don’t give me a hard time or I’ll give you a hard time. That’s the rule.
I saw that you can do every accent, how did you learn that?
In all fairness, I have cousins who are on the New Zealand Rugby team. But for some accents I just have a good ear. The trick to accents is you have to learn how it’s different from yours, then you don’t pretend like you’re talking different. Like if you’re going to say the word “No”, for an Australian, you’re going to say it like the word “now” almost. I’m dying to use the accent in a play.
What have been your biggest plays that you’ve done?
I made my Broadway debut in 2012 with Leap of Faith – that was a big one. I did Dogfight atMTC, written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Then I also did a really fantastic Terrence McNally play at MTC last winter with Bebe Neuwirth and directed by Walter Bobbie. He’s all the dreamboat you think he is. I played opposite Eddie Kaye Thomas from all the American Piemovies and he’s still one of my good friends today. I just got a text from him saying,”Gazoo.”
So you’ve also done television?
Yes, I was on an episode of Sopranos season 6.
Did you work closely with James Gandolfini?
No, I did not work close with him. I was an employee at the restaurant. So I was in the scene he was in at the restaurant, but a really great story. He was an amazingly generous person. One night we were shooting overnight, which is really tough on everybody. And they have a craft services table with bagels and pretzels and stuff. Then all of a sudden at like midnight, a sushi chef shows up. James Gandolfini had hired a sushi chef for the whole crew. He wasn’t even filming. He just hired it for us, so we could have good food, overnight.
Then my first day onset, they were running me around…for some reason they kept not liking my outfit. My third time back to the wardrobe trailer, I fell in the street in a pothole and sprained my ankle. Then I hear in the headset, “Deirdre’s down! Deirdre’s down!” And I’m like they’re going to fire me. All of sudden some lady comes running over and is like, “Hi. I’m James Gandolfini’s personal masseuse and he heard you were hurt.” He sent her over to work on me.
Yeah! He was genuinely a nice person. I didn’t directly work him, but I’m on set five days and he does two amazing things for me without ever interacting with me. He really was as great as everyone says he was.
What do you prefer plays or television?
Oh my God, how can you pick? You can’t pick! Anything that anyone wants to hire me to do (laughs). I really love doing theatre – I’m trained in theatre. I especially love doing comedy in theatre. There’s a live interaction that you just cannot replicate on film. The audience is a like a fifth character, like the person you’re missing, you know? On film it’s really cool and interesting because you can do subtle things or try things a billion different ways, then they cut your performance together. I’m certainly more experienced in theatre.
What would you be doing if you weren’t acting?
What I was doing for a long time, since I was about 15 was teaching. I do a lot of musical theatre programming. Very recently, within the last six to eight months, I had to stop my day job, because I haven’t had the ability to do both. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to pick it up again. I work with the Disney Company and I also have my own company, and we could go to the schools and create theatrical programming. With Disney specifically, low-income schools. I think they are called Title I schools. We would show them how to build a program.
What’s your favorite scene in Under My Skin?
My first scene or my last scene. My first is a lot of fun. The audience doesn’t expect me. The characters don’t expect me. It’s a great entrance. Every actor loves some back lighting (laughs). Being in full white jumpsuit as a plus-size woman was a little nerve-wracking, but I feel good about my sparkle belt.
So tell me about your personal style.
You’re looking at it. I’m giving you a nice maxi dress. I’m giving you sparkly silver TOM today. But I have to say that being a lovely plus-size lady, who likes my body very much, there are not enough clothes for us. And this is what I mean. Everything that is over a size 12 is built like a tent. They are like, “and from the boobs we will go out.” And I’m like sorry, I have a totally nice figure – deal with it! So I buy a lot of belts, so I’ll belt things. My personal style is mostly comfortable.