Amber Tamblyn Says Neil LaBute's 'Reasons to be Pretty' Is 'Lady Porn'

Michael Lamont
Shawn Hatosy and Amber Tamblyn

Tamblyn and Alicia Witt star in the play, which runs at L.A.'s Geffen Playhouse through Aug. 31.

In a telling moment in a new staging of Reasons to be Pretty, the boyfriend (Shawn Hatosy) of Amber Tamblyn's character describes her face as "regular" but that he wouldn't trade her for a million dollars. Even so, it's a big mistake and it's all over between them. That offhand remark is overheard by Carly, wife of his best friend, who phones Steph and sets up the epic confrontation that opens Neil LaBute’s acclaimed play, Reasons to be Pretty, at the Geffen through Aug. 31.

“I’d punch him right in his solar plexus,” Tamblyn tells The Hollywood Reporter about any guy that would dare to say she has a regular face. Either her character overreacting or there’s an unbridgeable gap between men and women on the level of outrage warranted by the comment. Writing for The Guardian, critic Michael Billington called Steph’s response “wildly disproportionate,” but co-star Alicia Witt, who plays Carly, sits steadfastly on the side of Team Steph.

“This is definitely an example of something that a guy says meaning it one way and a girl hears it completely differently,” Witt groaned. “A guy would probably respond similarly if you made a discouraging remark about his dick.”

Picking up on that that notion, Tamblyn imagined an alternate version of the play where Greg freaks out “at Steph over something I said about his dick, the size of his dick, the shape of it, his balls, anything to do with that general vicinity, he would flip out.”

The play fits snugly into LaBute’s trilogy exploring America’s obsession with outward appearances. The other two plays are Fat Pig, about a guy who can’t bring himself to commit to an overweight woman despite his feelings for her, and The Shape of Things, about an art student who attempts to sculpt her new boyfriend into the perfect man. As might be expected of Hollywood actors, it’s an obsession Witt, 38, and Tamblyn, 31, have been wrestling with ever since they started going on auditions.

Tamblyn was the star of her own show at the age of twenty, Joan of Arcadia, and later starred in House M.D. She currently plays Jenny Harper on Two and a Half Men, and will be seen on the big screen next year in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight

“I definitely spent a lot of my twenties grappling with that and figuring out what kind of person do I want to be,” says Tamblyn. “Was I going to vie to try and be some sort of sex symbol, or was I going to vie to try to be a chick with a foul mouth and small teeth who likes whiskey?”

Witt got her start at the age of nine in David Lynch’s Dune, and has worked consistently in bit parts on the big screen and bigger parts on the small screen including shows like Cybill, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and more recently Justified. She turns thirty-nine later this month, still young by normal standards but then again Hollywood doesn’t abide by normal standards.

To portray a woman who suspects her husband is cheating, Witt recalled her own experience with a wayward boyfriend and how it made her stronger. Tamblyn found Reasons to be Pretty cathartic in a different way, calling it “lady porn.”

“Women are always being shamed for their emotions, their inner violence,” she admonishes. “This is a play where all of that gets thrown away and you get to see what women would be like if they were truly feral creatures. In that regard, I think there’s going to be a real sense of lighting some sort of fire in a lot of women who see it.”

Despite the divisive nature of the play, both actors bet on true love to win in the end. Tamblyn married comedian David Cross in 2012, and Witt is just coming off a relationship with singer Ben Folds, whom she dated for a year.

After rehearsals one night, Witt and Tamblyn found themselves moved at the sight of an elderly couple holding hands. “You got the sense that they were married since they were eighteen,” says Witt.

“I delicately took Alicia’s hand and made it real weird,” jokes Tamblyn.

“It went on all night,” laughs Witt. “In fact she’s still holding it.”