Jane Alexander is, at 69, perhaps the oldest person ever to simulate oral sex onscreen (in HBO’s, Tell Me You Love Me). She’s back on the New York stage in Primary Stages’ Chasing
Manet, a nursing-home caper that opened last week. Alexander spoke to Vulture about napping on the set, why she was never drawn to The Golden Girls, and how it feels to break into action flicks as a near septuagenarian.
In Chasing Manet you play a famous modernist Boston painter. Are you from fancy Boston stock?
Oh, no. In fact, my mother was a Boston Southie and my dad was from North Platt, Nebraska. My character, Catherine Sargent, is from the old-world Bostonians — she married a Lowell. It’s clear she has a gusto for life and she’s rather egocentric, but she’s a survivor and she’s wants to live life to the fullest.
Did you have experiences with your own parents aging?
My father, Bart Quigley, was a very well-known surgeon in Boston, a doctor for the Harvard football team. He had a massive stroke. To make a long story short, a lot of doctors are not good patients. He was in seventeen nursing homes in the course of three years. I got a call from the woman who ran one of them, who said, “Come get your father today. He rang the night bell 72 times.” A lot of my character’s feistiness and mischievousness is totally relatable to my dad.
You’re sleeping in bed for the first few minutes of the play. Is that relaxing?
I can’t really go to sleep, because I have to listen for my cue. But I found it a delightful rehearsal process because I was in bed most of the time. And it’s an extremely comfortable bed. [Co-star] Lynn Cohen and I are of a certain age that we like to take a nap, so in between matinees and evening shows, we crawl into our beds onstage and go to sleep. We have a fabulous stage manager who announces, “Quiet time!”
Do you snore loudly like your character does?
I’m not a snorer. And it’s not an easy thing to do [onstage]. It requires a lot of breath.
It’s hard not to watch these wacky old gals and not think of The Golden Girls from time to time. Did that inform your process?
Um — no. I certainly do know what The Golden Girls was, and I highly respect those actresses, but I never was a person who gravitated toward sitcoms.
So you had to simulate a few sex scenes on HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me last year in your role as the sex therapist, May. What was that like?
Well, one has personal experience, I’m sure. But let’s make everything clear. Our union, SAG, does not allow us to have real sex.
So in the scene where you give your husband oral sex, how did you — did you just go down and — ?
I don’t remember how we shot it. They were always so careful and they’d clear the set of all but a handful of the crew. David Selby [who played her husband] and I are very, very old friends going back to the early seventies, and we both have personally long marriages, so it was just — actors are good at this stuff!
What sex scene do you remember the most?
It’s always — those scenes for everybody are always more difficult than your normal scene. Okay, I think that’s enough about Tell Me You Love Me.
So you’re in Terminator: Salvation, opening Memorial Day weekend.
This is my first action movie, and I love every minute of it. I have a wonderful role, named Virginia. I wish I could tell you more about who I am, but I had to sign a confidentiality agreement. And I’m a trading card, too! I said, “Oh my God, I have to be the oldest female-action-figure trading card.” And it’s a very odd child who will ask for my card.