Q&A with Marsha Mason

Marsha Mason is something of a renaissance woman. She's an accomplished farmer, Tony-nominator, actor, director, author, and--get this--a race car driver! Fresh off directing Chapter Two, the Neil Simon play written about her relationship with the playwright, Marsha is beginning the next chapter of her own life. When she sat down with GoGoMix, we had a lovely chat about her extensive career, directing a play about her life, learning about one's self, shows she'd love to do, her favorite things, and more!

GGM: At GoGoMix, we like to discover a bit about what you’re working on and some of your favorite things. I wanted to start by talking about when you directed Chapter Two a couple months ago.

MM: Sure!

GGM: I can’t imagine what it must be like to direct a work so intimately related to your own life. Can you talk a little about that?

MM: Well, it was sort of like doing the movie! For some reason, I have a very objective sense when it comes to the work. I think of it as work. I don’t necessarily have a personal attachment to it. When I did the film, I had never done the play, but I didn’t think of myself playing myself. I thought of it as a character I knew pretty well! [laughs] When I went to direct Chapter Two, I was quite objective. I looked at the actors I had and thought about what could be brought out of their personalities to tell a love story. I just happened to know the characters intimately. Know what I mean? When it comes to directing you have to use the actors that you have and let them bring their talents and gifts to the material and nudge it to keeping the overall arc of the story in mind.

GGM: In an interview you did recently, you said about writing your autobiography “something happens when you reveal yourself to yourself in that way.” Could you elaborate on that? When you were writing your autobiography, what happened when you were writing about yourself?

MM: I think the epiphany, if you will, happened when I’d finished the first draft. I’d done it by myself and took it to Michael Korda, the editor. I had to stop off in St. Louis, my hometown, to that meeting. Usually when I’d stopped by in St. Louis over the years, I never had an exciting time. There’s a heavy pull that would come over me as the plane was landing, and I never spent more than 48 hours in St. Louis. I never felt quite comfortable there. It was almost as if I was born trying to get out of there, though that was no one’s fault. This time when I went, the plane was landing, and I was expecting that heavy pull. It didn’t! I got off the plane and had a wonderful time! Not once did any of the old attitudes, anxieties, feelings, whatever the mucky muck stuff was, it didn’t come up! When I met with Michael Korda, I said “The oddest thing has just happened…” and I explained it to him, and the light bulb went off! I said “Oh my gosh, is it because I wrote it down?” And he said “Yes dear, now let’s go on and talk about editing.” [laughs] I realized something so invaluable about writing for yourself. No one has to read it or publish it, but it helped all the old baggage lift from my shoulders, whatever the baggage was. From that moment on, when I went on the book tour, I told that story because I think people should write their own journals. It’s a way of putting away the heavy extra baggage that one doesn’t want to carry anymore.

GGM: What are you up to now the show is over?

MM: Presently, I just bought a hay field [laughs]. I sold my farm I’d run for twenty or so years. I’m downsizing and simplifying. I plan to build a house on my hay field with all sorts of green stuff, solar heating, etc.

GGM: What prompted selling the farm?

MM: It was a 250 acre farm! I grew organic medicinal herbs. I was a commissioner for the New Mexico Organic Commodities Commission. I have a product line called Resting in the River that’s been out for ten years in the southwest and online. It was a big job! It took a lot of education! Fortunately I found wonderful buyers who are continuing to farm. I am a strong believer in being a steward of the land.

GGM: Going back to acting, I was wondering if there is a role that you always wanted to play but haven’t had a chance to.

MM: Oh gosh, there’s so many! I’d love to do Gertrude in Hamlet. I’d love to do Long Day’s Journey, Virginia Woolf, comedies, The Gin Game. I could go on!

GGM: Similarly, how about a play you’d love to direct?

MM: I’m looking at a couple plays right now for actors to direct. I am gonna maybe direct a play called The Bald Soprano. Another is Boeing-Boeing. Those two are solid possibilities at the moment. And I have directed before! I directed for Second Stage, off-broadway. It had been a long time, however. That’s why doing Chapter Two was so exciting.

GGM: You’re also a Tony-nominator, which means you have to see everything that’s on Broadway right now, so I was wondering if you could give me a recommendation for a play to see.

MM: [laughs] Some of the revivals are now finished, sadly. Glass Menagerie, Raisin in the Sun, Of Mice and Men were all absolutely wonderful productions. After Midnight was great before it sadly closed. A Gentleman’s Guide is a lot of fun. Kinky Boots is great. I saw Holler If Ya Hear Me, the Tupac Shakur musical story. It was so interesting! I hope they can do it elsewhere in the future.

GGM: Your filmography is incredible. Is there one film you look back on as your personal favorite?

MM: The Goodbye Girl is such a popular picture for so many people, that it of course holds a special place in my heart. My personal favorite in terms of my own work is Only When I Laugh. And then, later, the stuff on Frasier I was just crazy about! A lot of people couldn’t see me like that, as an ex Las Vegas showgirl.

GGM: What TV shows do you like to watch in your spare time?

MM: I love House of Cards, Orange is the New Black. I like The Good Wife. And NCIS. You can watch it forever! I think in general, anything about a mystery is very intriguing to me. I tend to read mysteries a lot. I’m reading I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, and it’s really intense! Very well-written.

GGM: How about a favorite movie of all time?

MM: Lawrence of Arabia was an all-time favorite. Roman Holiday too. There’s a bunch of em! A lot of ‘em from the 40s. I’m a huge fan of Bette Davis’ work. I think her as Queen Elizabeth was my favorite, when she was in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex with Errol Flynn.

GGM: How about music?

MM: I’ve just fallen in love with a new couple Rodrigo Y Gabriela. They’re both guitarists, and they’re stunning! I love Coldplay, and I’ll play Joni Mitchell a lot. And Bob James.

GGM: What got you interested in farming herbs and skincare?

MM: I started out doing medicinal herbs for tinctures for throat and the immune system. Those were the first ones we did, and then we created the Salve because my hands were getting so beat up in the fields. I worked with a master herbalist and we grew everything in the product line. Then I took the Salve and put it into a lotion. I believe you have to be really careful about your skin. I lived in New Mexico, where it’s very dry, and your skin needs a lot of help. We did a body butter, body lotion, and body wash. They’ve been doing very nicely! They sell consistently in the southwest. And the throat therapy, all the actors love it!

GGM: And finally, perhaps the most eye-popping thing on your resumé is that you were a racecar driver! When did that passion develop?

MM: I raced cars in the late 80s and early 90s. I did it for about ten years, with a team and a big truck. I was partnered with Mike Lewis, a championship driver. I made the runoffs about four or five times. I had a GT3 car and drove Mazdas.

GGM: Are you still a car enthusiast?

MM: Oh yeah, I love it!

GGM: What are you driving right now?

MM: I’m thinking about a BMW, and I drove a Ford Escape across the country. A compact little SUV that was a lot of fun!

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