Laurie Metcalf opens up about her Tony nominated character and play -- and why it feels relevant even though it takes place in 1870

By Ale Russian
June 05, 2017 03:44 PM
Joseph Marzullo/

Laurie Metcalf is finally trying her hand at a legendary stage character, in the process earning a Tony nomination for best actress in a play.

The veteran screen and stage star — and four-time Tony nominee — appears as Nora in A Doll’s House, Part 2, the sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s iconic play, written by Lucas Hnath. Now, 15 years later, Nora comes back to that famously suffocating house a successful woman trying to tie up a few loose ends — and Metcalf is happy to get the chance to embody her this time around.

“I never got to play Nora in A Doll’s House before, so now to be able to play her after she’s had all these life experiences and reinvented herself is really freeing,” Metcalf, 61, tells PEOPLE. “The first thing that made me laugh was the title, because I thought it was so cheeky of this playwright to brand it as part 2. I knew that it would have a lot of humor in it and I knew that it would have some guts to it, because it takes some nerve to call it that.”

Apart from the material’s innate humor, Metcalf responded to the play because of its unique premise: a period piece being told by modern characters, adding another level of relevance to the story. “Another thing that drew me in was the image of characters in 1870 and period costumes but with language and body language that is very contemporary,” she says. “I thought that that would be a really interesting vision for the audience to keep reminding them, ‘What year is this again? We’re talking about the same things.’ “

Metcalf also liked the idea that Hnath chose to explore Nora’s journey after leaving because most people would expect her to fail, being a woman in a milieu that didn’t encourage female independence — and often held them back.

“The minute she decided to leave, she was basically putting her life on the line to do it because she had no skills, no education and then the stigma of being a divorced woman,” Metcalf explains. “There were very little options open to her, and the fact that she comes back a success, you can attribute to her intelligence and her passion and her determination. She’s a really compelling woman to bring to the stage.”

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The play, which opened in April, has received eight Tony nominations, including nods for the entire four-person cast and one for best play. (The 71st annual Tony Awards will air live on CBS on June 11 at 8 p.m. ET/7 CT.) For Metcalf, the sweetest part was that everyone in the cast — Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell and Condola Rashad — was recognized.

“It was so wonderful when the nominations came out and all four of us got nominated,” she admits, adding that the cast had a “really great show” that day and took to the green room with champagne to celebrate afterward.