The Tony nominating committee may have snubbed them both, but these stars' legions of fans couldn't care less about such geeky honors. Most have probably never even heard of Antoinette Perry, the theatrical dynamo after whom the Tonys were named, and few are likely to tune in to watch the June 11 ceremony on CBS. What's more, no association of theater snobs is going to stand between them and the box-office gateway to their beloved.
Surely a play by Greenberg or Shakespeare, even when clumsily done, is less of a time waster than "Hot Feet," "Lestat" or one of the other lamented bombs that marks this as the moment of the musical's apocalypse.
No, the problem isn't that movie stars want to do theater. (We should all have such problems!) But it's hard not to wish they were being better advised. In that spirit, the following list of do's and don'ts is offered. Tom, Johnny, George, Jen, Angelina and Cameron would do well to commit it to memory. If nothing else, the practice will come in handy for that irresistible theater script they may one day have to memorize.
Don't underestimate the difference between stage and film acting. Standing before an audience is like skiing down an Olympic slope. It requires supple physical technique, intense concentration and unlimited daring. Becoming the character is only half the battle. You have to convey your portrait to the back of the house while surviving the ogling stares of strangers, who can see you even when you have nothing to do and would be out of the shot in TV or film. And more frightening still, you have to duplicate it eight times a week — on time!
Do recognize that the only way to real success is through commitment to the craft. A shining example of this is Cynthia Nixon, who has consistently balanced theater with TV and is likely to walk off (deservedly) with the Tony for her performance in "Rabbit Hole" a quarter-century after making her stage debut as a 14-year-old at Lincoln Center. Think long haul, in other words, and bear in mind that beginner's luck is rarer in the theater than in the movies. For those actors who want to do a one-off to enhance their "seriousness," better look elsewhere. Have your agent find out whether Mike Nichols has anything in the pipeline for HBO. Or how about a voice-over for the Biography channel?
Don't make your stage debut on Broadway. It's like deciding to learn the game of tennis by entering yourself into Wimbledon. Start at a smaller venue, off-Broadway perhaps, or one of the better regionals such as South Coast Repertory or the Geffen Playhouse. There's no escaping the spotlight, but why contend with the blinding glare of the Great White Way when you're just getting your feet wet? And remember: You're already huge, no reason to keep proving it.
Do take advantage of summer stages. Gwyneth Paltrow made her theatrical debut at the Williamstown Theatre Festival when she was a kid and subsequently returned as an Oscar winner to portray Rosalind in "As You Like It." Or you might want to consider a more high-profile outdoor option, such as the New York Shakespeare Festival, where critics tend to be more forgiving amid the Central Park greenery and former stars of "Law & Order."
Don't expect that your name on the marquee alone will pack them in. It helps, for sure, but there are other factors. David Schwimmer's fame, for example, wasn't enough to override the flood of bad reviews that forced "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" to call it quits prematurely. Needless to say, all the pans in the world wouldn't have mattered if he was starring in a slightly teary breakup comedy (ideally with Jennifer Aniston). But young female fans just couldn't be persuaded to turn out for their puppy dog in a vehicle that sounded this boringly butch.
Do play to your strengths. A prime example of someone who's doing just that this season is Harry Connick Jr. in the Broadway revival of "The Pajama Game." Crooning "Hey There" one minute, pounding out "Hernando's Hideaway" on the piano the next, he's mesmerizing with his concert dramatics. To say that his audience is falling for it would be an understatement. Truth be told, a good portion have to be resuscitated each night when he rips off his shirt and flaunts (in character, of course) those bronzed pecs.
Don't rush into Shakespeare. Just as you hope someone would caution Elton John against doing a recital of Beethoven sonatas, so someone should have advised Alec Baldwin a few years back against tackling Macbeth at the New York Public Theater. Which doesn't mean stick to the safe and boring. But one must build systematically toward difficult challenges, not jump into a role so notoriously difficult it's said to be cursed. Just ask Kelsey Grammer, who confronted the jinx on Broadway in 2000.
Do learn from your more experienced cast members, who hold secrets no acting coach can convey.
Don't be surprised when critics praise your veteran costars at your expense. It's the price you pay for learning.
Do find a director who can raise your level. This may be the toughest item on the list. One positive example: Scott Elliott, artistic director of off-Broadway's New Group, worked wonders with Parker Posey last year in "Hurlyburly" just as he did last fall with Jennifer Jason Leigh in "Abigail's Party," making him the go-to guy for offbeat actresses who want to blend their talents with an eccentric ensemble. (We'll try to ignore Elliott's muddled "Threepenny Opera" this season at Studio 54.)
Don't be put off by negative reviews. Artistic growth isn't built on plaudits alone, and wouldn't you rather stumble forward than stagnate? One can only hope that Cate Blanchett won't vanish from the stage after the drubbing she received for her over-the-top turn in "Hedda Gabler" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this year. The fault, dear Cate, lay not with you but with the daffily executed vision of your postmodern director.
Do take heart from Annette Bening's example in the Mark Taper Forum production of "The Cherry Orchard" this season. She put herself on the line in her hometown to create something exceedingly uncommon these days — a theater offering that rose to the level of a major cultural event. The production wasn't perfect, but ballasted by a memorable performance by Alfred Molina and Bening's own rising poignancy in the final act, it distilled something essential in Chekhov that measured the distance between showbiz and art.
Charles McNulty is The Times' theater critic. Send comments on this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.