The Girl Next Door
Katie Holmes and Norbert Leo Butz Talk About the Sibling Revelry of Dead Accounts
By Harry Haun
Under the brotherly eye of Norbert Leo Butz, Katie Holmes settles some Dead Accounts in Theresa Rebeck's new Broadway play.
The paparazzi have departed. Their dust has settled in Sardi's fourth-floor Eugenia Room, revealing the last two remaining stars of Dead Accounts. At the only table in the room sit Katie Holmes and Norbert Leo Butz, betraying a little relief to be down to the select one-on-one interviews.
Being the last of the Mohicans, I am greeted by Holmes like a light at the end of the tunnel. She has just run the gauntlet of a packed theatre junket, and she has done it with Butz, her top-billed big brother in the play, by her side, assuring that the reporters and television interviewers stick to the subject (the play) and not stray into questions untowardly TMZ-ish.
She is the second wife Tom Cruise has brought to Broadway — and the first to come back for seconds, Cruiseless — and she's plainly pleased nobody flirted with that fact.
"What I was shocked by, just because I didn't know about it when I did All My Sons here, was how warm the Broadway community is," she says. "Everyone is so supportive on Broadway — we send notes to shows on their opening nights, that sort of thing — and I felt this warmth in the room today. I think it's really fun to be here.
"This is such a gift — a wonderful play, cast, director — it's what I've been wanting. It's overwhelming — but in a good way. There are a lot of ideas, a lot of energy, coming at you, and it's important it's coming at you. You're not quite ready to put it back out there, but you know it's sinking in. You address the play, get comfortable, share your heart and" — laughing at her vulnerability — "hope nobody stomps on it."
In truth, the gods of theatre have been pretty good to Holmes, manning her Main Stem second venture with Midwesterners like the author (Theresa Rebeck) and the director (Jack O'Brien).
In Dead Accounts, Butz is a prodigal who returns home, flush with money but without his wife (Judy Greer), worrying his mom (Jayne Houdyshell) and a local friend (Josh Hamilton).
Rebeck tried out Dead Accounts — currently playing at the Music Box Theatre — in her own backyard of Cincinnati, then gave it to O'Brien for an informal reading in New York. Butz starred, seeing as how he won both his Tonys under the directorship of O'Brien (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Catch Me If You Can). "I loved the play, I really did," the actor admits. "It's about a big, noisy, complicated Midwestern family — Catholic, which is my story — and it's so full of true warmth and sentiment, without becoming sentimental. Theresa Rebeck is a writer who really loves her characters and writes them with tremendous depth and care.
"When Katie found the play, it was a go, and I got the call: Was I interested? Heck, yeah! This is a fantastic part — and a great relationship we get to explore on stage."
"You Can Count On Me," Kenneth Lonergan's movie with Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, comes closest to the sibling relationship center-stage here — "although maybe it's switched a little bit," Butz allows. "Laura Linney was the older, more stable sibling in the film. Here I'm the older sibling, and Katie's the younger, more grounded one — so the dynamic is different. It's also a sibling relationship where there's a lot of love — for each other, for our mother and for our father, who never appears on stage but is in a room above us the entire evening and might as well be a character on stage. In fact, he probably is the most important character in the play."
Holmes, the youngest in a five-sibling house, recognizes this home turf: "What I love about this play is how Theresa very simply presents our two characters. The stuff that we converse about in the play starts off like no big deal, and that's how sibling relationships are. You're not always hitting each other, you're not always hugging — "
" — because of the shared history, small, seemingly mundane things can turn into something big," says Butz, finishing her thought.
Holmes nods. "Yeah. They eat out of the same bowls, they drink out of the same glasses — it's not a big deal — they borrow each other's clothes without asking."
"Yet," Butz injects, "they have a symbiotic relationship in the play. Life has just sent them in separate directions. There has been a splintering in the relationship."
"Which I find heartbreaking," Holmes has to add.
"It is heartbreaking, very much so. They have lost touch and chosen very different adult lives. The play forces them into the same room again, and then they have to deal with the fact of each other and how they've both changed. This is a grown-up play. It's a play about grown-ups and growing up."
By this point in the interview, Holmes is comfortable enough to lapse into her fashion-plate pose, hugging her knee and looking like her usual million bucks. She smiles at the compliment. "Thank you, because this morning it wasn't looking good."
(This feature appears in the December 2012 issue of Playbill magazine.)