Laurie Metcalf, the First Lady of American Theater


Besides her two Tonys, she got a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for playing the angry, controlling mother in “Lady Bird,” directed by Greta Gerwig. In a fun bit of casting, Ms. Metcalf plays Jim Parsons’s mother on “The Big Bang Theory,” and her daughter Zoe Perry plays the same character in the prequel, “Young Sheldon.” Ms. Metcalf is the voice of the mother in the coming “Toy Story 4,” a preview of which made her cry.

Yet she prefers the stage, she said.

“The camera has always intimidated me,” she said. “It’s so close. It shows every tic. I have to work really hard to hide that I’m scared, so I kind of shut down a little bit and I don’t feel as free as I do when I’m on a stage. Like I would never do a nude scene on camera, but I would do a nude scene in the theater. It’s not permanent. It’s like a shared experience between just those people.”

Ms. Metcalf is single, after being married and divorced from two actors. I paraphrase Tom Stoppard’s line from “The Real Thing”: “To marry an actor once is careless but twice is inexcusable.”

She laughed. “I worked all the time, and I only knew other actors,’’ she said. “But actors are also, you know, initially, really charismatic people.”

I suggest she get a younger boyfriend.

“No,” she said, flatly. “I’m done. Done. I so love being on my own. And in hindsight, I always did. I’m not cut out to share a life with somebody. I don’t want to compromise. I don’t want to answer to anything. I don’t want to share. I’m very much a hermit anyway. Kids and acting are the only things that get me out of the house. I do a lot of car-pooling.”

She has four children; the youngest, a 13-year-old girl, is the last one at home.

“It’s a horrible constant guilt trip that never ends,” she said. “But they have forgiven me a lot. And some part of me wants to think that it’s good that they see me doing something I absolutely love and I throw a hundred percent into it.”


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