Classic Hollywood: Amy Madigan, stage lover, directs an L.A. play

Classic Hollywood
Actress Amy Madigan at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles, where she is directing a new play, “Off the King’s Road.”
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Since Amy Madigan burst on the scene 33 years ago with her performance in the feature “Love Child,” she has worked extensively in film and TV, earned a supporting actress Oscar nomination for 1985’s “Twice in a Lifetime,” received an Emmy nomination for the controversial 1989 TV film “Roe vs. Wade” and appeared in such hits as “Field of Dreams,” “Uncle Buck” and “Gone Baby Gone.”

But it’s on a stage where Madigan feels most at home.

“It has always been live performance,” Madigan said. “From music to doing live theater, which opened up an avenue doing some television and film, it has always come from the performance side.”

Madigan is back in the theater, this time as director of the West Coast premiere of “Off the King’s Road,” a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles. The drama was written by Neil Koenigsberg, a former publicist and manager of Madigan and her husband, Ed Harris, now a producer of films, including 2014’s “The Giver.”


“Off the King’s Road” revolves around a widower who travels to London shortly after the death of his wife and checks into a small residential hotel.

“I appreciate Neil tackling a very difficult subject of moving through life and how do you access that,” the effusive actress said in the green room of the Odyssey.

FOR MORE CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD: Sign up for Susan King’s weekly newsletter 

Madigan, 64, had directed a play before but wouldn’t have called herself a theater director, “nor was I looking for a piece to do,” she said. “But this came to me in a very personal, natural way.”


She was the right person for the intimate play, Koenigsberg said. He and Madigan clicked when they met years ago.

“It has been a great friendship,” he said. “I fell in love with Amy and her smarts; I think she has the goods. She is a serious, deep person.” (The play, which did not receive a favorable review in The Times, is scheduled to run through Aug. 2.)

Acting was not Madigan’s first career choice.

Born in Chicago, daughter of journalist John Madigan, Amy was a rock singer when she moved to L.A. in 1974.

“I miss music every day,” she said. “It’s very visceral and emotional. You can pack something into three minutes, and you can’t do that in any other medium.”

But eventually she realized that she needed a change.

“I had been working in [music] for a very long time,” she said. “I am not a writer, so I wasn’t generating my owner personal material. I just felt myself kind of hitting the same brick wall.”

She had acted in plays throughout her school years and loved it, so with the prompting of a friend, she said, “I made this right turn.”


Madigan and Harris have since become the contemporary incarnation of great acting couples such as Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. They have frequently collaborated on stage and in such films as “Alamo Bay,” the 1985 Louis Malle picture, and “Pollock,” the 2000 biopic on painter Jackson Pollock, which Harris also directed.

“We’re different people,” she said. “But about the important things we are very like. We prepare differently, and we rehearse differently, but it just works for us.”

She first took notice of Harris in 1980 when he was appearing in an L.A. production of Sam Shepard and Patti Smith’s landmark “Cowboy Mouth.”

“A year later, we did a play together called ‘prairie avenue’ by Edward Allan Baker at that little theater on Melrose Place,” she said, referring to a production whose full title was “what’s so beautiful about a sunset over prairie avenue.”

Madigan and Harris tied the knot the in fall 1983 while making “Places in the Heart.” Their only child, Lily, 22, is going into her senior year at Reed College in Portland, Ore.

Like so many actresses older than 50, Madigan has had difficulties finding meaningful roles.

“My husband works a lot more than I do,” said Madigan, who has two indie films in the can.

“You know what the situation is. The reality is you have to make your peace with it sometimes even when you have a depressive day, which I still have.”


She and Harris last appeared on stage together in 2012 at the Geffen Playhouse in Beth Henley’s “The Jacksonian” and off-Broadway the following year in the same play. Next year they are returning to New York in the New Group’s revival of Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Buried Child.”

“It hasn’t been done in 20 years in New York,” she said. “It is a big, giant piece. I am somewhat nervous and apprehensive, but I think that’s a good place to be right now. Once you get in the rehearsal room, you can work things out.”

For more Classic Hollywood, follow us on Facebook and subscribe to the newsletter

Only good movies

Get the Indie Focus newsletter, Mark Olsen's weekly guide to the world of cinema.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.