Ever since she made her Broadway debut in the 2000 revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner, Mary Catherine Garrison has proven to be an actress to watch on the New York stage. She's appeared in Assassins, Rabbit Hole, and Top Girls, but only now is she stepping into the spotlight as a leading lady. Garrison stars opposite David Hyde Pierce in Accent on Youth, which opens tonight, and she spoke with Vulture about her role as secretary turned actress-muse Linda Brown, her career slump in L.A., and her recent guest spot on 30 Rock.
This is your first time as a leading lady. Does it feel different?
Hell yes it does. It was funny because when we did the first reading and they sent me the script to read and they said, “We want you to read the role of Linda Brown,” I called my agent and said, "I think there's a mistake — I think they meant for me to read a different role in the show." Because I went to L.A. and I just had some disappointments and I just figured that kind of thing was probably not going to happen for me. And my agent called back and said, "No, no, they want you to read Linda Brown."
What attracted you to the play?
Well, first of all, I’m a fan of that period of drama. I actually really like movies and drama and fashion from the thirties — something about it’s always appealed to me. But also, we’d done the reading and I loved acting with David. And it just felt [like] a really zingy, fun, playful energy that we had between us. It’s a live thing that can change and grow and have its own life, which was thrilling.
Did you know David before?
I didn’t. I actually just met him the first day we read through the play. I’d never seen him do stage, but I’m a huge Frasier fan. Oh my God! If I’m at home and I’m awake between 12 and 1, I am watching Frasier. He’s absolutely brilliant on that show. You know that one segment, everybody knows it, the one where they open the show with just ten minutes of him doing physical comedy? You’ve got to google it. It is genius! I never get starstruck, but I was a little bit starstruck. It’s like exhaling for him. He’s unpredictable, he’s open, he’s just dreamy. [Laughs]
You wrote on your blog that this show was a good reminder of why you chose acting as a living and that you had kind of questioned that. Can you explain that?
Yeah, I’ve been acting since I was 15. I was obsessed with going to this creative-arts high school, but I didn’t have enough paintings to show them to get into that arts program. So basically the only department that was left for me to get into was the drama department. I didn’t even know what that meant. I worked on two monologues to get into the program, and I have never looked back — I’ve never done anything else — because it was so incredibly fun. And I think when something becomes your living and your way of paying bills, it sort of changes the flavor of it. And, like I said, I went to L.A., it didn’t work, and I just got sad about it and I questioned myself and I didn’t want it to be about looks. I wanted it to be about the thing that was so playful and fulfilling and fun. And I have enjoyed every single moment of working on this thing. I’m just so grateful because I forgot how much I liked acting.
In your Playbill bio, you mentioned that you love your BMW …
[Laughs] That’s my husband! I could give a shit about cars. It’s his initials. I just think it’s funny. No, I do not drive a BMW through New York City.
On a different note, you were just in an episode of 30 Rock with Elizabeth Marvel and Kerry Butler. How did that come about?
I think Kerry and Tina are friends. But I just did Top Girls with Elizabeth Marvel this time last year, so that was a funny little reunion, unexpected. Also, Tina had been to see Top Girls and she came backstage and I think she really appreciated the production — some women that play means a whole lot to — and I think she was being very generous and wanted to offer us something, which, good Lord, there’s no better show to be a part of. I’m a huge fan of the show and I’m huge fan of her. And I actually went to college with Jack McBrayer, so it’s so crazy. He wasn’t on set that day, unfortunately.
What was it like doing that scene where suddenly your true colors as a fight club come out?
Well, I wish we’d had some stunts. I would have liked to have actually done that, but I think we didn’t have time to get all that stuff together. It was really fun. I mean, those things are always so strangely technical that when you see it, I’m sure it comes off as much more free-form than it actually was. It’s like a love scene — it’s so by the numbers.