Amanda Peet’s career spans more than two decades, with various roles in film, television, and theater. But in recent years, her writing has taken center stage, and this month (June 19), the curtains will go up on her latest playwrighting venture, Our Very Own Carlin McCullough. We chatted with Amanda about the play, helping select its lead actors, and the challenges of writing for the stage.
Have you always had an interest in writing? Or did that develop over time as your career took off? AMANDA PEET: I was doing it in college and I dabbled a lot over the years. But I never was able to get past page 15 or so. Then I took Robert McKee’s class, and I tried to understand plot, but I really didn’t. I started dating David [Benioff], and he is a stickler for plot. He’s not into bad writing, so he pushed me a lot and I started to take it more seriously. I’m really indebted to him because he really pushed me to take it seriously.
You made your playwrighting debut with The Commons of Pensacola and are now following that up with Our Very Own Carlin McCullough. Tell us about the new play and what made you want to tell this story? AP: The play is about a single mom who’s trying to make ends meet, and then she discovers her kid is a tennis prodigy. I was really fascinated by a love story between a mother, daughter, and a man; the idea of a crush with the same man. I was really interested in that idea. And tennis is like the entertainment business. When you’re celebrated, the world is so fancy, but when you’re discarded, it’s so brutal. I’m sure, having hit middle age, among other things, I was really interested in the idea of the fall from grace and what happens if you don’t hit the bulls-eye.
Do you prefer being in front of the camera or being behind the scenes and writing? AP: I really love both. It depends on the kind of writing that you have. If you have really good writing as an actor, there’s nothing better. But if you’re getting lousy roles, then it can be more exciting to write because you’re in control and you can make things much more interesting. I find that when another actress does one of the roles that I wrote, it’s deeply, deeply satisfying. It’s a huge honor and it feels very exciting. I feel like I won the lottery.
Do you find one more challenging than the other? AP: Finishing a play is really challenging! When I gave birth to Molly, my second child, I took a lower dosage of the epidural because I have low blood pressure and I was having some kind of weird allergic reaction. So I tried to take very little, and when she appeared, my mom and my husband and the OB were like, “one more push and she’s here!” And I felt between my legs and I felt her head and then I looked, and I was overjoyed and felt such a massive sense of relief. Then my OB looked at me and said “now you just have to push out the shoulders,” and I was like, “are you fucking kidding me?” So that’s how it is with writing; there’s nothing more brutal than thinking you’re done, and then having somebody you respect tell you you’re not as close as you think.
How does writing allow you to express yourself differently than acting? AP: It depends. With the role I got on Togetherness, I was able to channel a lot of very personal feelings. She was struggling with hitting middle age and all those kinds of feelings of wishing you were younger, and what it means to settle down. That was a role that really spoke to me. But obviously with writing, you’re just expressing what you’re going through always.
You have some great talent in the play. How much of a hand did you have in casting the show and what drew you to Mamie Gummer and Joe Tippett as leads? AP: I’ve seen Mamie in a few things, and I saw her at a restaurant once, and went over to her and was like, “I like you!” I think Mamie is really, really funny, and I don’t know if a lot of people know that about her. She’s been on my mind for years. Whenever I write something, I think about her. And I saw Joe in this Erica Schmidt play in New York, and thought he was insane. I had no idea if he’d be willing to come out to LA. It’s sort of a strange thing, coming to do theater in LA. Here’s this New York theater actor, but luckily he was willing to do it.
What’s next for you? Any Broadway plans in the future? AP: Not that I know of, I hope so! And hopefully I’ll work with the Duplasses again.
What are your favorite things to do in LA? Any favorite hot spots, or places you go to unwind? AP:[Laughs] My bedroom! I’m very much a homebody. I love Sushi Park. Sushi Park is like the prize; it’s a family thing, whenever somebody does something really special, it’s usually the family treat for a big thing. And I really love the Geffen, it’s like my home away from home right now. I love all the UCLA students walking around and all the little restaurants. It’s a beautiful old building. But seriously, I’m a homebody.
Previews of "Our Very Own Carlin McCullough" begin at the Geffen Playhouse on June 19, and opening night is June 27.