Having performed five seasons with Jon Cocteau Repertory and numerous productions with Metropolitan Playhouse, actress Amanda Jones, currently starring in Sink or Swim Rep‘s production of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband as Mrs. Cheveley, is no stranger to wit, lace and cunning plots on stage. She seems to entrance audiences and critics alike; her past performances have been delectably described as “nuanced”, “confident” and “delicate” by such as the New York Times.
She played the title role in the successful Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh not only in New York City, but continued on with the show in it’s regional transfer and return to the New York stage.
The secret to her success? I think we can find some clues in the following interview.
When did you know you wanted to be an actress?
My mom put me in an acting class for kids at a community college when I was in kindergarten. After that, I took every opportunity to be in a play or musical; and being an actress (along with archaeologist and lawyer) was always on my list whenever people asked what I wanted to do when I grew up; but I don’t think I really knew ’til I was about to graduate from college. Almost everyone I knew was going to med school or law school or going through corporate recruiting and none of that interested me. I looked back over my college career and realized I had done something like 14 plays in 4 years. I thought, “This is what I want to do. This is what I LOVE to do. Rather than go work for some bank just because everyone else is doing it, I should go to New York and become an actor. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll do something else; but if I don’t do this now, I may come to regret it.”
When you starred in Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh, how did you prepare for such a historical role?
I auditioned for the first production of the play at NJ Rep. The playwright, Joel Gross, kept staring at me, and when I was leaving, he blurted “You look so much like her [Marie Antoinette]!” It’s certainly not something I ever expected to hear, and so even though I wasn’t able to do that production I became obsessed with her. I read the Antonia Fraser biography, and when I scheduled a vacation to Paris, I made sure to include a side trip to Versailles. I walked through the palace, through her bedroom, and out to the Petit Trianon, where she spent much of her time after the king gave it to her as a gift. It’s so far from the palace – like a 45-minute walk – that it gives you a real sense of her desire for privacy. This trip happened only a month or two before I was cast in the New York production, so it was quite fortuitous. I read another book, Queen of Fashion, that theorized Marie Antoinette used style as a way to become popular and powerful in the eyes of the French people. The three actors together poured over a book from the Met exhibit “Dangerous Liaisons” that portrayed clothing of the period. Incidentally, I was just rereading the book Dangerous Liaisons, and apparently the Queen had a copy! She’s a very easy subject for research, because people were fascinated with her. There’s just so much information, and research is one of my favorite parts of preparing for a period piece.
It seems you have a passion for period plays or they seem to follow you. What excites you about these plays?
The plays definitely follow me because of the way I look, but I also seek them out. Growing up I read lots of Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, Elliot; and I think my love of acting grew out of a desire to crawl inside those books, and live there for a few hours. The language of period plays is beautiful and complex and a pleasure to speak. The parts I’ve acted in these plays have often been
women of wit and intelligence, compassion and such pure joy that I wish I were more like them. And of course, the costumes are amazing.
You’ve worked on Wilde before. What for you makes his women so delicious to portray?
Wilde’s women are assertive and often the drivers of action. Cecily and Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest are not merely love objects for the men; they are the ones who force action on Jack and Algernon. An Ideal Husband has a villainess – and the main conflict of the play is between her and Lady Chiltern. And they are bearers of both great wit and wonderful nonsense. I think Cecily Cardew is still one of my favorite roles ever. The romance that she builds with Earnest entirely in her head, and then the confident way she brings Algernon into it the moment she meet him, is just so much fun.
Based on the audience reaction at the first preview: pretty much wall-to-wall hilarity. Intrigue and romance; beautiful costumes from Ryan Moeller; a simple but lovely set; and great direction and performances all around.
If you decide to go to graduate school, go early and go to the best one you can. Be judicious in deciding who teaches you – get recommendations from people you trust, and if the teacher won’t let you at least audit a class, they’re very suspect. Don’t be afraid to ask anyone – and I mean anyone, up to and including Meryl Streep – for help or advice. Be persistent about contacting people who hire, and letting them know who you are and what you’re doing. Even if you have a place in a company of actors, you should always be keeping feelers out for your next job. If you decide to set up a website, do it yourself so you can update it yourself. Decide when you are going to stop saying “yes” to everything and when you are going to start doing only projects you really like, and trust your gut. If the audition is a nightmare, the production could be too.
The Sink or Swim Rep‘s production of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband plays through Sunday, July 29th at The Connelly Theater (220 East 4th St, NYC).
For more information visit www.SinkorSwimRep.org