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Carla Gugino Has Range, From ‘Spy Kids’ to Experimental Theater

There is no doubt that Maggie [in “Fall”] was the best role I’d ever had the opportunity to play at that point. It was a crazy thing for Michael Mayer to cast me because he had so many seasoned Broadway actresses to choose from. What was freeing is that I knew every intricacy of a set but I didn’t know how theater worked. There was something wonderful about going, “O.K., I know how to act but I don’t know if a Thursday night audience is better than a Wednesday night audience.” It was really life-changing.

What is it like to rehearse an experimental show like “Anatomy of a Suicide”?

It is one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever had. These three stories are taking place simultaneously, so we are in our scene taking cues from somebody on the other side of the stage. I didn’t know how we could do this without Alice being here at the beginning of rehearsal. And Lileana [Blain-Cruz, director of “Anatomy”] has a wonderful sense of humor, which you really need when rehearsing a play like this. Not to say that a man could not have directed this beautifully, but this play is so deeply female. It is as much a celebration of life as it is an exploration of suicide.

Do you see a through-line in your career?

When I was 13 I set out to be a transformational actor. There are many incredible stage actors who have no interest in doing film, or vice versa, but for me every medium feeds the others. I’m able to explore different genres and different characters, and people seem to know me from different alleys. In a way it represents what I want, but perhaps it’s a little confusing in terms of perception. I never set out to do genre movies, by the way — it’s just that they were where I had the most interesting opportunity to explore a character. But then you can get in that box.

You did the “Karen Sisco” series in 2003, back when film and television were pretty separate.

I remember very clearly I was doing “Spin City,” “Judas Kiss” and Brian De Palma’s “Snake Eyes” all in that span of time, and people were like, “You’re getting these roles in film, why are you doing TV?” Well, because one is a sitcom with Michael J. Fox, who is a genius in that medium so of course I want to do that and learn from him, and then I get to do “Snake Eyes” — why wouldn’t I? It was very delineated at that time.

Do you think there’s a gap between the way you are perceived — often as a bombshell — and what you want to accomplish as an actress?

When I was an ingénue, I never sounded like one. I was at least 10 years too young when I did the “Spy Kids” movie, and I then struggled with the fact that people thought I was much older than I was. So I would be in a situation where they would think I was older than Brad Pitt or the leading man of that moment, and I’d go, “No, no, I’m only 28!” I knew I would hit my stride when I hit 30, when the inside and the outside of me would start to connect more. And my best roles started coming in my 30s and even in my 40s.

What kind of roles are on your wish list?

I’ve long wanted to play the Marquise de Merteuil in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” I’m getting to an age where those towering characters are nearer on the horizon [smiles]. And I do have a soft spot for Noël Coward’s “Private Lives.” I would love to do a romantic comedy, or a proper screwball comedy — “His Girl Friday” was one of the most influential movies for me.

Do you think theater offers better roles to women — and possibly a longer career?

When I was turning 40, I did the movie “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” with Angela Lansbury, who was in her 80s at the time. I said to her, “You know, I’ve decided I don’t want to do anything to my face, so I’ll act in film until they say I’m too old to be a lead and then I’ll do plays and I’ll produce movies, until I can play the really cool old lady.” She looked at me like I was an alien and said, “But you’re so young.” Not for Hollywood!

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