Kenneth Lonergan and Lila Neugebauer Talk Filmmaking, Family and 'The Waverly Gallery'

The playwright and director — who's helming Jennifer Lawrence's next film — swap stories about working with Elaine May, handling personal narratives onstage and making movies.

Kenneth Lonergan wrote The Waverly Gallery in 1992, following his grandmother's death after suffering from Alzheimer’s, so revisiting the play more than 20 years later on Broadway was a powerful trip down memory lane.

“You’re brought back to the real time and the real place and the real people, which is very different,” Lonergan told director Lila Neugebauer, in a thoughtful conversation about the production, regarding the difference between this play and his other work. “I have feelings about this play I don’t have about other plays I’ve written. In a way this production was nice, to see my family again as they had been.”

Neugebauer directed the Broadway production of The Waverly Gallery, which is nominated for the Tony Award for best revival of a play and best actress in a play — Elaine May, who starred as gallery owner Gladys. The play premiered off-Broadway in 2000 so the production is considered a revival. The cast also featured Joan Allen, Michael Cera, David Cromer and Lucas Hedges in his Broadway debut.

The production marked May's return to the Broadway stage for the first time in over 50 years, and she's the favorite to win the Tony on June 9. In his review for The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney wrote, "She's alternately funny, maddening and heartbreaking as a longtime Greenwich Village fixture whose mind is deteriorating faster than her body."

Neugebauer and Lonergan praised May's work ethic and meticulousness. "What really amazed me was how grounded she needed to be in every single particular," Lonergan said. "I’ve never really seen anybody that insistent on the smallest possible moments from the beginning of the play to the end who imbues her performance with that kind of spontaneity at the same time."

"She's unwilling and incapable of phoning it in," Neugebauer added. "It has to be made real in some way." 

Neugebauer also took the opportunity to ask Lonergan’s advice, as she is about to direct her first film, which is set to star Jennifer Lawrence. Lonergan won an Oscar for his screenplay of Manchester by the Sea.

Watch their full conversation below.