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Piper Perabo on ‘Reasons to Be Pretty,’ E-mailing Neil LaBute, and Living at the Y

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It’s been eight years since Piper Perabo shimmied onto the radar with her breakout performance in Coyote Ugly, and since then, her career has focused on romantic comedies (Because I Said So, Cheaper by the Dozen, Imagine You & Me). Earlier this month, she signed on to an ABC pilot, The Prince of Motor City, but before she moves from big screen to small, she’s taking a brief break from the cameras. In Neil LaBute’s Reasons to Be Pretty, opening tonight from MCC Theater, Perabo makes her New York stage debut as a graveyard-shift security guard dealing with relationship issues (her own and her friends’). She spoke with Vulture about LaBute, her new TV show, and her (decidedly un-barfly-ish) new cropped do.

The play has such a great cast — Alison Pill’s become something of a New York stage darling lately. Did she give you any advice?
Alison is so amazing onstage and focused and, considering how young she is, so serious and talented. In fact, it took me a little while to get up the courage to say to her, “Um, how do you do this?” I mean, Alison Pill and Pablo Schreiber have both been awarded a lot of accolades for their work, so I was pretty intimidated going into rehearsal with them. By the end of a day working with stage actors of that level, I was so exhausted I would just crawl into bed and put my script under my pillow and hope that it would all soak in by osmosis.

Have you had much interaction with Neil LaBute?
I wouldn’t say I was well versed in Neil LaBute when this play came along, but when I read the play, the role really spoke to me. He’s directing Fat Pig in London right now, but he flew in when we were in rehearsals. He and I e-mailed back and forth. In films the writer is not usually sitting on set and available to talk to, so even having this much interaction with the writer of the piece I’m working on felt like such good luck. Apparently with a new play the writer is often around a lot, but for me I was like, “Oh my gosh! We can e-mail him and ask him questions anytime we want? Really?”

You have a monologue about society’s obsession with physical beauty. Was there anything about doing this play that made you think about that obsession differently?
That’s an interesting question. Neil once wrote in an e-mail to me, “Do you think Carly [Perabo] thinks that Steph [Pill] is pretty? Or ugly? Or she doesn’t notice either way?” Between women, between friends, how you feel about how your friends look and things like that, and how you can sort of wound them in a way — that sort of question between women got really interesting for me and I thought a lot about it when I was thinking about our characters’ relationships. I don’t know if I found any answers.

You did chop off all your hair.
Yeah! I actually cut it off before I got the part. I really needed a change. So it was good luck that Alison has long hair. They talked about me doing it with long hair, which was sort of interesting, because it was like, “Oh, you think the beautiful character has to have long hair, right?” What does that say?

Neil wrote in the program about how he has such respect for the type of people in the play who are living paycheck to paycheck and eating lunch at 3 a.m. Was there a time when you lived like that? Like when you had just moved to New York?
When I first moved to New York, I lived at the Y for five months. I’ve never worked a graveyard shift like these guys do, but I worked in a bagel store where you had to get there so early in the morning and start baking. So early. It’s hard. It’s hard to focus, living at the Y and working these weird jobs. Knowing that I was trying to get somewhere helped keep the sort of dullness out of it.

And you just signed on for a TV pilot, The Prince of Motor City. What’s the status on that?
We’ll wrap on the 5th of July, and I’ll start shooting the pilot on the 7th of July. Just enough time to pack. It actually shoots in Detroit.

Oh, Motor City. Right.
But you know, it’s better than living at the Y. —Lori Fradkin

Piper Perabo on ‘Reasons to Be Pretty,’ E-mailing Neil LaBute, and Living at the Y