If you have yet to see the rambunciously hysterical Hand to God, I urge you to SPRINT (don't walk) to the box office. While they certainly should, if the play's shocking scenes and punchy puppet don't suck you in than leading lady Geneva Carr will. The Tony-Nominated actress (known nationally as the "Rollover Minutes Mom" in a series of AT&T commercials - yup, that was her) is reason enough to attend the Broadway hit. Watching her is an acting master class filled with versatile verve and effortless comedic timing.
Geneva kindly pasued her hectic schedule (which not only includes HTG, but appearing on television shows like Law & Order: SVU, The Mysteries of Laura, The Good Wife, Person of Interest and more) to speak with us. She discusses acting epiphanies, breaking into commercial work and, of course, Hand to God.
RP: You were a banker when you made the decision to become an actress. A lot of people struggle to follow their bliss, how did you find the courage to follow yours?
GC: I came to New York after getting my MBA in Paris at ESCP and I literally had an epiphany after seeing a play at Ensemble Studio Theater one night. Lady on High Wire was performed on their smaller, black box space and the intensity of the performers just touched something in me. I was so moved that I thought, “That’s what I want to do. Tell stories." I just felt so compelled to start, I signed up for an acting class at the theater and was dabbling while maintaining my day job in investment banking, when my teacher at the time, Jane Hoffman, inspired me to take the leap by way of a firm nudge; insisting that I bring a headshot to her next class, or not come. She simply said there was no time to waste, not mine, nor hers. That week I took steps to take the leap and plunged in head-first and fully focused.
RP: What was your first "gig?”
GC: Unbelievably, my first gig was an Equity job and I got my card! I was taking class with Jane Hoffman, working on a scene from Speed-the-Plow with a couple of actors in the class. One of the actors lived in Peekskill. He came in one day and announced that his buddy who booked events for the local theater had a cancellation, the cloggers of Minnesota couldn’t make their one night performance. So…. we devised a plan to put up Speed-the-Plow for one night only! I got my Equity card out of the gig and a great story to tell.
RP: What's the best lesson you took away from your time studying at the EST?
GC: I studied with the likes of Jane Hoffman, Chris Ceraso, but mostly worked there. I begged to read stage directions for readings there, just to meet people and see talented actors work. Find people you admire and try to work with them any way you can.
RP: I loved you as the "Mom" in the AT&T commercials! What do you tell actors looking to break into commercials?
GC: The best advice I have for commercial acting is this: Don’t do it for the money. If you wanna go into commercials to make money - don’t. Truth is, you may never make any and commercial money isn’t what you imagine. ONLY go into commercial work if you love making them. I never sell a product. I play a person who wants something. The AT&T lady wanted to teach her sons about saving money and learning to budget. I wasn’t selling a phone plan, I was giving my sons life lessons. To me commercials are 30 to 60 second movies about life. They’re art. No really, Art. If you feel that, you’ll work.
"To me commercials are 30 to 60 second movies about life. They’re art."
And the more practical thing I can add is this: Watch commercials. Study them. Know your type. And absolutely take a commercial acting class before ever going on auditions. You want the learning curve to happen in a safe place not at a casting office. Be ready for the job when it comes.
RP: You've been involved with Hand to God since the first reading. I know you were in mind throughout the developing process, but how did you initially relate and breathe life into your character, Margery?
GC: While the role of Margery was created with me in mind, I really think of her as the every-woman. What’s so alarming and so funny and so thought provoking and touching about her journey is that we all can imagine ourselves in the same situations given those specific set of circumstances. We might make different choices, but I hope everyone in the audience can see why she made hers. She's so human. She’s trying so hard.
"when I’m really honest, Margery is my mother, Phyllis Duba. In all her imperfect, but lovable glory."
I was born in Jackson, MS and spent Jr. High in South Carolina and High School in Atlanta. I called upon my experience with some of the southern women I grew up with to round out some of her nuances. The rest is inspired by physical comediennes, like the fabulous Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy; she maintains a buttoned-up physicality that just goes live-wire at times. And when I’m really honest, Margery is my mother, Phyllis Duba. In all her imperfect, but lovable glory. I think about her every performance. She passed away a long time ago, but she always inspires my work.
Geneva Carr in HAND TO GOD
RP: The show is such a roller coaster. How do you find the stamina to perform it 8 times a week?
GC: I continue to audition and work during the day when I book acting gigs. Just shot an episode of Law & Order: SVU last week and started a TV Land Pilot this week.
"A Broadway performer is an athlete, I’ve learned."
A Broadway performer is an athlete, I’ve learned. And that means taking care of yourself and managing your energy. For me that's eating well, avoiding alcohol and quick 30 min naps when I can. I also try to squeeze in 20 minutes of Meditation practice at least once a day. I also find that as grueling of a schedule as I'm on - brief workouts 3 or 4 times a week are so helpful for lowering stress and maintaining sustained energy. It’s not the glamorous life you'd expect, but the rewards of performing are truly glamorous and totally worth it!
RP: What's your favorite part of being in Hand to God?
GC: My favorite part of being in H2G is performing it with such an astounding group of actors! Also basking in the dedication and the camaraderie of all of the incredible behind-the-scenes people who selflessly make it all happen. I've been truly endeared by a generalized friend-of-Broadway vibe that permeates all actors in all the shows, all staff at all of the theaters and the fans of those shows who are SO incredible.
RP: There are some outlandishly great moments - have you ever broken character along the way? Perhaps if someone charged a phone on stage? (wink)
GC: I never break character. (insert giggle)
RP: I imagine that being Nominated for a TONY was thrilling. How has that
affected your career?
GC: Being nominated for a TONY was completely and utterly THRILLING!! I highly recommend it! I got to feel like the home-town girl, which was fantastic!! Seriously, It was such an honor to be placed in that group of internationally recognized and awarded actresses. As coined and cliche as that sounds. There is simply no other way to put it and certainly no other way to think about it. That, in ALL honesty - was the TRUE win. It was a whirl-wind, a flourish of activity, but a welcome one of course. How has it affected my career? Only time will tell.
RP: What is your advice for Broadway auditions?
GC: My advice for Broadway auditions or any audition is this: Be prepared. That means knowing everything you can about the piece, the people involved, where it’s being done, everything. And only go if you want the job. Too many actors go because they want experience - Don’t waste their time or yours.
RP: To end on an inspiring note, what is your best piece of wisdom for aspiring performers?
GC: Here is a piece of wisdom, my mantra of sorts: "The harder you *work, the luckier you get."
Follow Geneva on Twitter @Go_Carr_Go & HYC @HoneYouCraft