“I read the play and laughed so hard I was sweating,” exclaims actress Julie White of the new play “POTUS.” The Broadway veteran portrays Harriet, the White House Chief of Staff tasked with covering up a disastrous gaffe by a bumbling president. Her riotous performance as the beleaguered politico earned White her fourth career Tony Award nomination. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“What occurred to me in doing it, is it took this young woman to see things differently, and be like yes I can write a farce. And the engine of this farce can be a woman,” notes White of “POTUS” playwright Sarah Fillinger. White’s character Harriet is that comedic engine, always at the center of the swirling madness and mishaps that plague this fictional White House. The actress confesses that she loves being the driving force of the funny business, as far too few comedic plays place women at their center. “I’m the part that Nathan Lane would play, or Gene Wilder,” she suggests.
If White is doing her best Lane, then her co-star Suzy Nakamura is her Matthew Broderick. Her co-star is essential in helping sell one of the best bits of the play: the curtain rises and White is shouting a certain four-letter word which the president has just uttered on camera, sending Nakamura’s press secretary into a tailspin. Though, when I use the “shouting” descriptor with White, she is quick to interject: “I’m not shouting, my voice is just loud!” In fact, audiences are likely to hear a different delivery of this curse word if they go back for repeat viewings. “I say it a little bit different every night,” reveals White, in a cheeky effort to provoke unexpected reactions from her co-star. “It’s funny in a number of ways!”
Even if White is a strong “comedic engine,” she is quick to point out examples like the one above, which highlight the importance of the ensemble. “This is really fun to get to work in a team,” she gushes. “We are so bonded together. We call ourselves the Magnificent Seven.” In addition to Nakamura, the seven all star performers include Vanessa Williams, Julianne Hough, Lea DeLaria, Lilli Cooper and Rachel Dratch, who is Tony-nominated alongside White in the Featured Actress in a Play category. She actually advocates for a Best Ensemble Tony category considering how essential each woman is to the experience. “I’m only as good as each one of us,” she states.
Though the events of the play are not describing any real life president, White has come to marvel at how a farce has the power to speak to charged feelings surrounding the current political landscape. Especially when it comes to women. Hough’s character delivers a straightforward line about female reproductive rights, but following the leaked Supreme Court decision regarding Roe v. Wade, the reaction to this one piece of dialogue has totally shifted. “The audience just stood up, screaming and applauding,” marvels White. “Women, you could hear it was women. And it was a place to put your rage.” She is thankful that “POTUS” now feels like a safe space, where one can take solace in laughter as the world around them is more likely to produce tears. “Laughter is really cathartic,” muses the actress. “It releases endorphins in you. You are changed by it.”
White won a Tony Award for her performance in “The Little Dog Laughed.” She earned additional nominations for “Airline Highway” and “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus.”
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