Sit down for coffee and conversation with Sophia Sinise (who goes by "Sophie" informally) and she seems like any other personable 24-year-old mulling over her career possibilities. Until she emerges from the ladies' room in the coffeehouse and gleefully announces that she just saw a poster of her father hanging inside.
Dad, of course, is
That show marks the last time Sinise pere has appeared at the theater he co-founded with
The show also marks the first time Sophie's mother, Steppenwolf ensemble member Moira Harris, has been in a production on Halsted Street since 1998's "The Playboy of the Western World." (Sophie and her younger siblings, brother, McCanna, and sister, Ella, showed up as "background peasant children" in that show.)
Going into the family business in some ways comes as second nature to Sinise. "When I was little, I wanted to do a bunch of things," she says. "But I was always performing. I grew up around it, and it was kind of in my blood."
Though she spent her earliest years in Chicago, Sinise grew up in Southern California. She studied ballet and jazz dance for eight years, was involved in theater as a student at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and put in two years as a theater major at California Lutheran University.
"It wasn't necessarily a theater school, but it was great because it was small and intimate, and I got a lot of stage time," she says.
Sinise took time off from college to work as an assistant to her father on "CSI:NY" and also picked up a cosmetology license along the way while embarking upon the Hollywood audition trail. She appeared in a supporting role in the 2011 SyFy Channel horror film about a bloodthirsty bayou beast, "Swamp Shark," co-starring
Which is, of course, a long way away — geographically and stylistically — from Pinter's early "comedy of menace" in which troubled Stanley is hounded by Goldberg and McCann, a pair of mysterious goons who show up at the English seaside bed-sit he rents from Meg (Harris) and Petey (
Sinise has never worked on Pinter before, but she has found the process smooth sailing thus far. "Austin is so great and easygoing. He kind of lets you play with it and gives you just little directions here and there. I'm not saying it's easy work. It is a lot of work in terms of the hours, and it has all moved very quickly."
As for the Nobel laureate himself, Sinise says, "I think he's such a great writer. There are so many ways you can take his plays, and you can interpret them in so many different ways, which is kind of cool. It's just about life and human nature and craziness."
Sinise says after her mother decided to break her long absence from her home company to work on "The Birthday Party," she suggested that Sophie might be suitable for Lulu.
"She asked (Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey) if they had cast Lulu yet, and she said, 'No, we haven't cast her.' So my mom said, 'Well, it just so happens Sophie is in her 20s, and maybe, I don't know, I'm just throwing it out there.' They said, 'Well, why doesn't she send an audition tape?'"
When asked about what the Steppenwolf legend and legacy meant to her growing up, Sinise says, "It never really hit me how big it was, because I was so little." However, being onstage in "Playboy" and seeing her dad in "Cuckoo's Nest" helped cement her image of what the Steppenwolf name and ensemble has meant for her family and for American theater.
Sinise had never met Steppenwolf ensemble member Ian Barford, who plays Stanley. Though she met Mahoney when she was quite young, she admits, "I just remember him from 'Frasier' and was so starstruck." She also met Francis Guinan, who plays the fearsome Goldberg, as a young child.
But it's her mother's reunion with the ensemble that seems to give Sinise the greatest joy. "It's so cool to see her with people she grew up with and went to college with. She and Fran have done theater together for so long, and it's so cool to see them interact and tell stories. She was nervous to come back here, but now she's reliving all the memories."
"The Birthday Party" is in previews and opens Sunday in Steppenwolf's Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted St.; tickets are $20-$78 at 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org.