Preview: interview with Audra McDonald



Audra McDonald
  • Audra McDonald
This week's Gambit features my interview with Audra McDonald, the five-time Tony winner and star of the ABC series Private Practice, who performs at NOCCA in two shows on May 18. In the interview we talked about her star turn in the recent revival of Porgy and Bess, doing a television show versus Broadway, and her upcoming album. Plus, some things that didn't make it into the print interview.

On recovering from Porgy and Bess:
Well, [the show] ended and then a week later I got married, so I was kind of planning a wedding at the same time I was closing a show. After the wedding, then I fell down for a good long time. Porgy and Bess was a very draining show. Quite honestly now I’m just starting to get my strength and health back from doing it. Just even leg injuries and all of that, it took a lot out of me. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world and it was an incredible experience, but living Bess’ life for over 250 performances was a strain, but an incredible one.

The character Bess has quite a physical role. She’s thrown around a lot, and you spend a lot of time on the floor and getting up off the floor and being beaten, all that stuff. There’s that, and our stage was a raked stage, which mean it’s on a slant, basically … so you’re standing at almost a 45-degree angle the entire time. Those two things combined can be a big stress on your joints and your legs. So I’m getting all that back together, and the ole’ gray mare ain’t what she used to be in terms of … 10 years ago was a little easier to recover, you know. It catches up with you.

On doing Private Practice versus doing a Broadway Show:
You’re getting new material sometimes while you’re filming. It’s changing that quickly. Also there’s no continuity with television … You’ve got to have your emotions, your arc, your beats plotted out way ahead of time because you never know where in the story you’re going to drop in and be like "alright, the point where you find out they’ve died? We’re doing that right now. And the point where you meet them? We’re doing that tomorrow." It’s about being ready at a moment’s notice, whereas with theater you get that sort of that preparation to get into your character, and as soon as it starts it’s a moving train — you can’t stop it. In that sense theater can be easier.

On her upcoming solo album, her first in seven years:
I knew I was really behind in getting [an album] out, but the main reason I was behind was because a lot of stuff happened — my dad passed away, Private Practice happened, I got a divorce, a lot of stuff was going down. I didn’t quite have anything to say, as far as an album was concerned. It wasn’t coming to me, what the album needed to be. And then slowly it did. So once I had something to say, I called the producers and said “OK, I’m ready! In fact I’m ready now. Let’s go now now now.” So it happened very quickly once I got the inspiration, and I have to say I was very lucky they were as patient as they were with me. I knew at the same time I couldn’t put something out to put something out there and not have any sort of substance or any of my self behind it.

The album is called Go Back Home, and these songs are very personal to me. It’s probably my most personal album in that all of [the songs] deal with certain themes I’ve dealt with in my personal life for the past seven years — even thought they’re all still musical theater songs, and songs by great musical theater composers of the past and present and the future for that matter. If they were all put together they’d be the musical of my life for the last seven years.

On her vocal support for marriage equality:
I have so many cool friends in my life who I think in some ways, are in model relationships. I have some friends who have been in relationships much longer than my parents were married, much longer than most heterosexual couples I know. They’re loving and have children and the fact that they are being denied that right, the same civil rights heterosexual couples are afforded, it’s just frustrating and awful to me. I just got frustrated, and Lord know there were people out there marching before I was even born so that I would have the rights I have. I need to get out there and do what I can, too. I can’t just sit idly by.

Visit for more details about the show.

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