Interview: ERIC LANGE (starring in the world premiere of Donald Margulies’ THE COUNTRY HOUSE)

by Tony Frankel on June 4, 2014

in Interviews,Theater-Los Angeles

Post image for Interview: ERIC LANGE (starring in the world premiere of Donald Margulies’ THE COUNTRY HOUSE)

AN ACTOR WITH A NORMAL HEART

I met Eric Lange in 1996 when I was producing The Normal Heart. I’ll never forget that charming, at-ease magnetism he had walking into the audition room, and I knew at once he had to be in the play. Unfortunately, his two roles encompassed ERIC LANGEabout 15 minutes of stage time in a three-hour play, and I felt a bit guilty. I vividly remember walking up to him at the first read-through, putting my hand on his shoulder and saying, “I wish I could have given you a bigger part, but I have a feeling you are going to work steadily as an actor.”

I love Eric for two reasons: First, he’s a great guy and a terrific actor. Second, he proved me right. Since completing the run of The Normal Heart in 1997, Eric has had no other jobs but acting. Among a long list of TV credits, he recently starred on the first season of FX’s hit drama, The Bridge, to which he returns next season. Films include Secretariat (Disney) and, upcoming, Dan Fogelman’s Imagined, opposite Al Pacino, and Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, opposite Jake Gyllenhaal.

Beginning this week, Eric can be seen starring in the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies’ The Country House at the Geffen, directed by the great Daniel Sullivan (Good People, Proof, The Heidi Chronicles). The play, which officially opens on June 11, also stars Blythe Danner, Scott Foley, David Rasche, Emily Swallow, and Sarah Steele. This is Margulies’ sixth Geffen Production, including Dinner With Friends and Time Stands Still. Co-produced by Manhattan Theatre Club, The Country House will open on Broadway with Danner in September.

Scott Foley and Eric Lange in THE COUNTRY HOUSE

I recently chatted with Eric for Stage and Cinema, and was surprised to hear that the last play he did was seven years ago. But he did plenty of theater before then. He arrived in L.A. scrub-faced from Fairfield, just outside of Cincinnati, where he appeared in some 30 productions while earning his BFA in theater from Ohio’s Miami University. Consistently working there gave him the self-assurance to make the move to Tinseltown, but, he says, “I think that The Normal Heart was the first thing that made me feel credible, because it was such a high-profile production with such substantial actors; being part of that soon after arriving in L.A. made me feel like I belonged and gave me a lot of confidence to go out and conquer my career.”

Sarah Steele, Eric Lange, Emily Swallow and David Rasche in THE COUNTRY HOUSE

But starring roles on TV didn’t come soon. “I had a commercial agent and got work, but I couldn’t get a theatrical agent my first eight years here. I joined Theatre Geo, worked with Falcon Theatre and The Actors’ Gang, and got my Equity card doing Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire at Rubicon in Ventura. The people I have met who had an impact in my life almost always came from theater, and Rubicon became a family. It was there that I met my manager who got me TV work. Within three years, the TV world took over, and theater had to take a back seat because the money was so much better.”

Scott Foley and Blythe Danner in THE COUNTRY HOUSE

Eloquent, affable, and honest, Eric remarked, “I’m quite fortunate to have made my living as an actor. I appreciate the money and whatever credibility it’s given me, but the TV world is obviously a different medium from theater: It’s a three-page scene instead of a full play, and you work a very long day with just one hour of acting. The disappointing part of television is that you don’t get the immediate reaction you do in the theater; I can’t tell you how high I was after our first preview last night—to be back on stage and hearing all of that life in the audience is a magical experience.”

Emily Swallow and Eric Lange in THE COUNTRY HOUSE

Did TV acting affect your stage acting, I wondered. “I was a little nervous that I wasn’t big enough at first. You have to remember the guy in the back row and ensure he gets the same show as the person in front. But the Geffen is an intimate house; Artistic Director Randall Arney said to me, ‘This theater is so intimate that the audience can come to you.’”

In The Country House, Eric plays Elliot, the son of Anna Patterson (Danner), the matriarch of a brood of famous and longing-to-be-famous creative artists who have gathered at their Berkshires summerhouse during the Williamstown Theatre Festival. But when the weekend takes an unexpected turn, everyone is forced to improvise—inciting a series of simmering jealousies, a flurry of romantic outbursts, and a bout of passionate soul-searching. Inspired by Chekhov’s pastoral comedies (“frankly, sort of a modernized version of The Seagull,” Eric says), the play provides a piercing look at a family of performers coming to terms with the roles they play in each other’s lives.

Emily Swallow and Scott Foley in THE COUNTRY HOUSE

Would you call it a comedy? “I would. Absolutely. But Donald has pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch: It is very funny, and then he pulls the rug out from under you and it becomes incredibly poignant and heartbreaking. When I plunk down money for theater tickets, this is exactly the kind of show I want to see. And along with Danner, a consummate stage actress, everyone is perfectly suited for their role, an uncommon event in the theater.”

Scott Foley in THE COUNTRY HOUSE

“I think there’s something in it for everybody,” Eric said assuredly. “I know people say that about plays a lot, but look at the roles. Blythe’s character is an aging actress, so there are issues surrounding how society and the business treat people as they age. Scott Foley’s character, Michael, is a big TV star…” He laughs, “Art imitating life,” referencing Foley’s triumphant television career. “Michael struggles with fame: Everyone thinks he wants to be rich and famous, but when you attain that status, it can be a little underwhelming if you don’t have more going on in your life. My character, Elliot, is struggling to find his way toward any of that. And David Rasche plays a theater director who sort of sold out for movie money, directing big action films that aren’t as artful; so there’s a big price to pay for wanting money. Inherent in all of that is the dysfunctional family dynamic—which we all are a part of—and the core of love, not just family love, but romantic and reminiscent love. It’s one of those plays like Death of a Salesman that are so universal that you can just smell that there will be a connection for the audience.”

Sarah Steele, Eric Lange, and Blythe Danner in THE COUNTRY HOUSE

When Eric read the scene for his original audition, he said that he went another ten pages, blew through it to the end, and found himself crying. “This is Margulies, so there is instantly trust that he knows what he’s doing; but he’s one of those writers who has a way with words; he can say so much with one word or a sentence.”

As for the audition, Eric says, “I felt so strongly about my ability, need, and want to do this part that—and this may sound cocky—I treated the process as a formality. I thought ‘this is so ridiculous how all of this character is so in my wheelhouse.’ When they offered it to me, I was blown away, thrilled, and had to pinch myself.” Then he chuckles. “Immediately thereafter I was terrified that I now had to do this thing that I always knew intuitively that I could do.”

Scott Foley and Blythe Danner in THE COUNTRY HOUSE

“When I first met Donald,” he continues, “I told him it felt like he had been following me around and knew me so well that he wrote the role for me. I have not felt that kind of a connection to a part in a long, long time; it just feels like a good old boot.” In what way? “Elliot is the pea pod that hasn’t really formed yet in a family of very successful people, so there’s a lot of insecurity there: He’s not as good-looking as everyone else, and he’s still trying to find his way; he’s a failing actor who has decided he’s going to be a writer, so both sides of his career are a bit of a joke to everyone around him.”

But you’re not a failed actor. “No, but there’s that internal struggle of wanting to be accepted and noticed for the ways in which you are special, and at the core is just wanting to be loved regardless of your success. There are things that Elliot says that I don’t think that I could ever say. It’s cathartic for me. I’ve never had issues with my mother like Elliot, but I’ve had insecurities—wishing I was better-looking or wishing I was more successful, feeling like I was the only guy in the room that nobody notices. We’ve all felt that, I’m sure, so it’s a beautiful thing to see that played out on stage.”

Blythe Danner, Scott Foley and Eric Lange in THE COUNTRY HOUSE

So you relate to Eliot’s insecurities? “Yeah, there’s pain over things he thinks he should have accomplished, or not accomplished. I certainly have that self-judgment he has, and I think most people do. He’s an arrested development; Elliot was sent to boarding school early in life and he’s somehow still a boy growing into a man; and that’s a theme that I have grappled with in my life. My father went to a job every day that he didn’t particularly like, but it paid the bills and provided an amazing life for my mom and me. I actually struggled with this guilt over success and the fact that I was making a living as an actor, doing what I really loved and had a passion for. And because acting is inherently playing, I struggled with identity issues about what it means to be a man, because it feels like a little boy’s career.”

Married just this past November, he naturally beams when talking about wife, Lisa, to whom he proposed after just nine months of dating. He may relate to his character, Elliot, but at 41, well-spoken, modest, and genial Eric Lange has certainly proved to me that success, which he has in spades, is still what you make of it.

photos by Michael Lamont

The Country House
a co-production with Manhattan Theatre Club
Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse
10866 Le Conte Avenue in Westwood
Tuesday – Friday at 8
Saturday at 3 & 8, Sunday at 2 & 7
scheduled to end on July 13, 2014
for tickets, call 310.208.5454 or visit www.geffenplayhouse.com

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Davis (Mr. D.) June 6, 2014 at 12:08 pm

I cast Eric in his first play in high school in SEE HOW THEY RUN. He played the Russian Spy and with a very small role walked off with the show. Hysterical. He has been a joy to watch over the years and blames me for getting him into the business. I accept with pleasure as he is a true gentleman and is the same kid he was in high school. Everyone who knows Eric loves him. His Lisa is a doll too. Wonderful interview. Thanks for showcasing such an inspiring person.

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Jason Vaughn June 6, 2014 at 8:40 pm

So true Mr. D…

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