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Last Saturday night, while the Jets were engaged in a wild-card battle with Peyton Manning and the Colts, Tom Brady and wife, Gisele Bundchen, were catching the Broadway hit "Lombardi." Rex Ryan, ever the rabble rouser, suggested Brady should have spent been watching the Jets/Colts game instead, as if it were a missed scouting opportunity. "Peyton Manning would have been watching our game," proclaimed Ryan.
Call me irresponsible too, Rex, because on Tuesday night I blew off my Pilates class and followed in the footsteps of Tom and Gisele as I walked down the Circle in the Square Theatre's runway (albeit it with fewer paparazzi) to check out the show that has the NFL world all abuzz.
"Lombardi," based on David Maraniss' book, "When Pride Still Mattered," stars Dan Lauria and Judith Light as Vince and Marie Lombardi. While the play shines a vivid light on the interwoven complexities of Vince Lombardi the man and Vince Lombardi the coach, the real surprise of "Lombardi" is the prominent role of his wife. As producer Fran Kirmser explains, "It's just as much her story as it his story. And it's very much a play for women. It's about this relationship and marriage."
After the show I had the opportunity to sit down with Judith Light, who plays Marie to perfection, to delve into the previously untold story of the famed coach's wife and how playing tackling this role has transformed Light into an NFL fan.
Melissa Jacobs: From all accounts you nailed Marie Lombardi. What additional research did you do beyond reading the book?
Judith Light: The book. It was the book.
MJ: Really, that was it?
JL: Yeah, and the producers gave me some material to look at and listen to. And in particular our dialect coach Steven Gabis said "Here is something of Marie," meaning a tape of her. I started listening to her on the tape and said, "Uh-oh, I'm going to be in trouble if I keep listening to this." So I went to our director and said, "Do you mind if I don't listen to this because I'm afraid I'm going to try and impersonate her or I'm going to make her a caricature in some way?" I would have rather had nothing in my head about her. And I wanted to do that specifically because I'm the type of person that if I get something in my head like that it stays there and then I'd be constantly comparing myself to whether I sounded enough like her. But I've been really pleased that people have come, people in her family including Susan Lombardi (Vince and Marie's daughter) and they said, "You've got her down." Susan was actually crying on opening day and she said, "You're my mother." So it's been very heartwarming for me to have that type of experience.
MJ: What initially drew you to the character of Marie Lombardi?
|Judith Light was drawn to playing Marie Lombardi because of her emotionally deep and complex nature.|
JL: I'm drawn to women who have an emotionally deep and complex underbelly. That was one of the things really important to me when I read Marie. I also thought it was very important to portray a woman so that other women could see that if you were supportive of your mate's process and vision that did not make you weak. That, in fact, made you very strong. Your love for the person, and seeing what they can do in the world, is what guides you. That's the truth of Marie.
MJ: Why do you think Marie was the only person Vince ever truly listened to?
JL: He really never had another girlfriend other than Marie. When they met each other they knew -- well, today we call them soul mates. I don't think they knew what that meant, but they understood each other. When she met him she went to her father and said, "This is the man I'm going to marry." But Marie knew how much Vince loved her, and he knew how much she loved him. They had an argument one time, and they were going to break up. He came back home to his apartment to find her sleeping in his chair. She had just wept and wept and wasn't going to let him go. So they both knew that no matter what they said or what they did, they were both there for each other. She knew that he honored and respected her opinion.
MJ: On the stage you mention Vince has "no brain space beyond the Packers and his players." Was that "soul mate" comfort her saving grace?
JL: Vince drove home one night and drove into someone else's driveway because he was so preoccupied. She totally understood it and made herself the Queen of Green Bay. She didn't just let him be the King, she became the Queen. She did all the charity functions and stuff with the wives. She's the one that told Vince he had to get them (the players' wives) a present after they won games. He said, "OK, I'll get them a little something." She said, "No you won't, you'll get them all mink stoles," which he did.
MJ: Do you know how the other women of Green Bay perceived Marie at first -- a strong woman, from New York -- in a "Mad Men" era?
JL: Fran (co-producer Fran Kirmser) can probably answer this better because she had gone to Green Bay for research purposes.
Fran Kirmser: Yeah, we had gone to Green Bay and talked with a few of her friends, and they did say in the beginning that the Lombardis were definitely outsiders, but still, they spoke about her like she was everybody's mother, everyone's keeper, everyone's rock.
MJ: Talk about Vince and Marie's special gesture of love.
JL: Here's an example. Vince and Marie were out at dinner one night, and Vince would get crazy if people were late. "Lombardi time" is if you're not 10 minutes early, you're considered late. These people were late to dinner, and he was getting crazy. She finally said to him, "Vince, sit down and shut up." He did and he really behaved himself. She would also do this [shows curved pinky] and they'd interlock pinkies, which meant to calm down. As if, "I'm here, I love you, calm down." It was about their connection. So when Marie would enter the hospital room in Washington, D.C., where Vince was dying, Vince would hold up his pinkie, and they would sit there for hours. The pinky thing signified their real love connection. Sonny Jurgensen (who had driven Marie to the hospital) and Sam Huff, when they saw the play, said it was a very big deal for them.
MJ: How did Marie handle it when Vince eventually succumbed to colon cancer?
JL: She was distraught when he died. They had made some money and bought an apartment in Palm Beach, and she just sat there smoking and smoking and smoking and listening to his tapes over and over again. She was just devastated.
MJ: I heard through the grapevine that you weren't much of an NFL fan entering this project, but considering the cavalcade of NFL dignitaries that have seen the show, have you become more of a fan now?
JL: You are going to find this so funny. You know like Marie Lombardi said before, yes, I actually love it now. What's amazing is I used to take the sports section of the New York Times and get rid of it. Now I find myself reading it, and watch myself reading it, and I think, "You're reading about football?" It's partly because the NFL has been so great to us. I also look at what it takes to be a football player, and it is literally the same discipline that is required to be an actor. You must be in top physical form all the time. You have to be present every moment. So we have a lot in common. I've been more of a basketball and tennis fan in the past, but I've grown to be really connected to football. I'm very interested in what's happening in the process of the game now and how people are reacting to it. And you know about this whole thing with Tom Brady and Rex Ryan, which is so fabulous. So fun.
MJ: Would you say you're actually a Packers fans now?
JL: I'm actually a football fan now. Yes, I'm a Packers fan but I'm also (whispering) a Giants fan. Is that OK?
MJ: Of course, the Giants aren't in the playoffs, so you can root for the Packers this weekend.
To learn more about "Lombardi", click here.