Katie Holmes has found her way back home, or as close as the actress can get while still working on the Great White Way. The Toledo, Ohio native is currently on Broadway in Dead Accounts, playwright Theresa Rebeck's new comedy. The show is about a Cincinnati family that must deal with a sick parent and a son who has lost his way. Holmes plays Lorna, the designated parental caretaker, now living again in her childhood home. Midwestern to the core, Lorna is honest, stubborn, low maintenance, family oriented—and drinks her wine out of a box. The play begins with the surprise arrival of Lorna's big brother Jack (played by St. Louis native Norbert Leo Butz). He's been working at a finance job in New York but has come home with a big secret—referenced in the title—that shakes up the whole family. Holmes was eager to get back on Broadway after her debut in the 2008 revival of All My Sons, and she's in good hands with Butz as a scene partner. The Broadway vet made his debut in Rent back in 1996 and has since won two Tony Awards for roles in the musicals Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Catch Me if You Can. We sat down with the pair at legendary Broadway haunt Sardi's to talk about their Midwestern roots and what they love about living in New York.
Katie, this is your second time on Broadway. What about that experience were you looking forward to reliving?
Katie Holmes: I particularly like the theater schedule. You just go and you do it, there's not a lot of waiting around. But you have to think on your feet while you're up there. Sometimes words just don't come out—you mean for them to come out [but] they just don't. Then your costar has to fill in and you feel like a jerk. You spend your next line going, “Oh, God, why did I do that?”
What do you do when that happens?
Norbert Leo Butz: We've both been there. The other day it was my turn in the first scene, and she covered me.
KH: He's very generous. That maybe happened once on his end. It happens to me more often, but he's been doing it a lot longer. He's supposed to be holding my hand!
True! Norbert, how have you found Katie to work with?
NB: I can tend to…well, shall we say, “overdo” my work. Some people call it mugging; some call it overacting. I'm very excitable. Katie is a real listener on stage, and that's the beauty with working with someone who's worked in front of the camera. She feels less pressure—and this is just my opinion—to [show off] and wanted to find a more truthful way of being in the play. She made me [say to myself], “I actually have to look at this person and communicate with her.” So she's been a grounding force for me in the play, and that's very true of our characters. Lorna brings Jack back down to the planet. I think that's why we have good chemistry on stage.
KH: It's kind of a brother-sister thing. Little sisters always watch.
NB: That's the thing, too. I have two little sisters. She has an older brother and many sisters. We're from these big families. And when I found out she was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school, which [was the same for me], it was like, “Oh, I know this person.”
KH: [Laughs] You know what I'm supposed to be. You know what the goal was.
Do you feel that some of your Midwestern qualities have come back to you while doing this play?
KH: Lorna has a line at the end about sharing, not cheating, doing your homework and working a 16-hour day. To me that says everything about the Midwest. You respect it [because] it doesn't go away. It's always there. The reason why you feel safe in the world is because you know that where you're from is still the same. I think that's why I feel a kinship with other Midwesterners. That's what attracted me to this play. I felt like Theresa [Rebeck] really got it right.
NB: I realized early on that Jack is a guy who has lost his soul. He's on a spiritual quest: instinctually, subconsciously, he knows that it's in his home, where he's from. Katie's right—that's exactly what it is. It's that I can take a deep breath and I can relax knowing that all that stuff you learn when you're a kid, it's still there. You went so far from it, but it's still there.
KH: And you can always go back.
NB: That's what resonated with Katie and me, and what really resonated with me in the play. Life is hard, adulthood is hard, surviving in this business is hard, raising kids is hard. You can lose your compass. But it's nice that when I'm home I can be around my [family] who stayed in St. Louis and are raising their kids exactly how I was raised. I'm raising my kids totally differently.
Is there anything you guys do with your kids in New York City that reminds you of your childhood in the Midwest?
KH: New York has so many great places. It's particularly crazy right now, with all the people in for the holidays. I'm excited about it. It's like you're part of [something], like walking around Rockefeller Center….
NB: I have three girls. Every year on their spring break we have a day—we've done this since they were little, and they're teenagers now—where we do tea at The Plaza. They were big Eloise fans as girls. Then we go across the street and do FAO Schwarz once over, and then take a carriage ride in the park. It takes about five hours. They really, really counted down the days to do that. That's something that I could never have given them if I were raising them in the Midwest.
What do you guys love to do in New York when you're not working?
KH: I just saw the tree at the MET, which was one of my favorite things. It's gorgeous, all porcelain ornaments. I also love Central Park, MoMA, Chelsea Piers, and I like walking outside of Alvin Ailey and watching the dancers through the window. I love downtown, too.
NB: You're also like the biggest Broadway fan. You've seen so many musicals.
KH: I know. They make me happy. It's nice to live in a city where you know that your spirits can be so lifted. I saw Newsies and Mary Poppins. I live right by the Joyce Theater so I saw Pilobolus, and it was amazing.
NB: I came from living in a small town in Alabama doing regional theater, newly married with no money, to [appearing in Rent], meeting really famous people and kind of freaking out. It was like this Cinderfella kind of story, so I'm still playing catch up. I just went to the Whitney Museum for the first time. Last year was my first time going to the South Street Seaport. I love Amy's Bread. Try the cake; it's amazing. Sosa Borella, right here on Eighth Avenue, has wonderful steaks and great sangria. I also love Union Square and the farmer's market right there.
KH: Yes, and ABC Kitchen is awesome. Get the chocolate cake balls. Yum. I also love this bakery called Two Little Red Hens. The people who work there are as awesome as their treats. And I love the Red Rooster in Harlem, too!
NB: One of the most awesome things to do in New York City is to go to The Strand bookstore. It's so big, and you get lost in these nooks and crannies.
KH: And you go to the top floor for the antique books. I'm going to do that soon for Christmas.
NB: You can just lose yourself there.