This story first appeared in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
One of them is a grande dame of British theater most famous for portraying a queen. Another is a Puerto Rican singer and dancer who brought Anita to life onstage in West Side Story in 1957, years before Rita Moreno won an Oscar for the part. Still another is an Oklahoma-born actress who landed her first Tony 16 years ago for playing Charlie Brown’s little sister (and later turned Wicked). But the six women in this photograph — three nominated for best lead actress in a play, three for musical — have lots in common. For starters, they’re all vying for the one trophy that means as much to an actor — well, almost — as an Academy Award.
“I fell out of bed when I heard I’d been nominated,” says Chita Rivera, 82, up for best actress in a musical for The Visit. “Fortunately, I didn’t hurt myself.” Kristin Chenoweth, nominated for her turn in On the Twentieth Century — and who’ll be co-hosting the Tonys on June 7 with Alan Cumming — found out she’d made the shortlist when her manager woke her with a phone call. “There’s just nothing better,” says Chenoweth, who won in 1999 for playing Sally in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and also was nominated for Wicked. “But then my Maltese needed to go to the bathroom — that quickly brought me back to reality.”
“When I was little and wanted to be an actor, I had visions of Broadway,” says Carey Mulligan (second from left). “Lightbulbs around my mirror, the fire escape outside my window. And that’s it. That’s how it is.” From left: Kelli O’Hara (The King and I), Mulligan (Skylight), Helen Mirren (The Audience), Chita Rivera (The Visit), Kristin Chenoweth (On the Twentieth Century) and Ruth Wilson (Constellations) were photographed May 5 at Milk Studios in New York City.
All of these women have made the deliberate choice to place the stage, not the film set, at the center of their professional lives, at least for the time being. And that includes the ones who’ve reached Hollywood’s peaks. “When I’m watching a really great show, I sit and go, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to get on the stage!’ ” says Oscar-nominated Carey Mulligan, up for lead actress for Skylight. “I never sit in a cinema and go, ‘Oh, I want to be in that film!’ “
Even Helen Mirren, the only one here to have starred opposite Bruce Willis in an action franchise and won an Oscar (for 2006’s The Queen), prefers the stage. For Mirren, up for her second turn as Queen Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s play The Audience, the only question is which side of the Atlantic to perform on. “British audiences are like, [skeptically] ‘OK, what have you got?’ And American audiences go, [excitedly] ‘OK, what have you got?!’ It’s just that little difference.”