Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, a married couple in real life, are playing three different married couples in a pre-Broadway run of Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite." WGBH News' Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu sat down with Parker and Broderick at the Emerson Colonial Theatre following an unveiling of two plaques that honor the playwright, who often ran his plays in Boston and was known for nervously pacing the back of the theater. The two plaques are to be posted fifteen paces apart from each other. Parker and Broderick discussed what this performance means to each of them and how they manage pre-show jitters even after years in the business. The transcript has been edited for clarity.
Sarah Jessica Parker: I love WGBH.
Joe Mathieu: How do you know WGBH?
Parker: How could I not know WGBH? First of all, it's like if you grew up with no television and then a television, you're only allowed to watch PBS.
Mathieu: Then you see those letters all the time.
Parker: Then it's a huge part of your growing up life. But all the great programming came through WGBH early in the '70s because you guys had money. It's incredible.
Mathieu: That's awfully flattering. Thank you, guys. And you, too, are on WGBH now. It's wonderful to meet you both. It's a great thrill for us to be here. We just read the plaques and what a great illustration of the anxiety that precedes the opening of a play. Have you guys been pacing?
Parker: Yes. We pace in our own. ... We don't have as much of a runway as Neil.
Matthew Broderick: We don't get the back of the theater. But we face right behind the set.
Parker: We have a mental pacing that's going on that's not nearly I think as satisfying, but I don't think I've rid mine yet. Have you, really?
Broderick: No, no. I think Mike Nichols or somebody said, "nerves are our friends." I always try to keep that in mind, that it's okay to be nervous and it actually probably makes you better.
Mathieu: So, what do you do with that? Clearly, you've had a lot of occasions in your life to be really nervous — movie sets, Broadway stages. How do you channel it?
Broderick: Well, it helps to be at least somewhat prepared because then you have something to concentrate on.
Parker: And rely upon.
Broderick: Yeah, most actors would say to speak as themselves or public speaking might be very much more nerve wracking to them than somebody else's script.
Parker: A different character.
Broderick: Yeah, so you kind of have these parameters so it's not just you. What I find is [I'm] very nervous before the thing starts, and then once we're on stage, after a little, while I'm not.
Mathieu: So, you guys on top of it are playing three different couples. Do you feel like you're about to start three different plays?
Parker: We do three different plays. Yeah, I do.
Broderick: I do. I mean, the experience of the start of the first play after that's passed, the second and third play you feel like you're already on stage.
Parker: But they feel very specifically different. It's a very different thing, an act break. When you're doing a play that is telling the same story and you're playing the same person and there's an act break, it's a very different feeling than an act break or pause between changing costume, changing wigs, changing voice, changing attitude, changing the way you physically move from the time you enter a room. It is an entirely different experience. So, it feels to me very much like three specific whole plays. They might as well be 120 pages each.
Broderick: So, they're entirely different. The first one is probably about the end of a marriage, maybe. Or maybe not. You don't even know.
Parker: A marriage in crisis.
Broderick: And the third one is just a terrifying moment when the milestone is not going the way it's supposed to go. You know, they're marrying off their only daughter and things do not go according to plan.
Mathieu: Offstage, at least, I'm compelled by the personal nature of this whole thing when I consider both of your histories in a very obvious sense for you at The Colonial, for you and your history with with Neil Simon. There's got to be, I'm assuming, a good deal of nostalgia as you guys kind of connect the dots for your whole careers here. Is that true?
Parker: Yes, in very different ways. You know, this was the first professional theater I ever worked in at a very young age.
Broderick: How old were you?
Parker: I was 11. And it's been amazing. It's the theater. Obviously, it was not in this shape when I was here in 1973.
Mathieu: It looks pretty amazing, doesn't it? We almost lost this thing.
Parker: I know. It's just ... it's an absolutely spectacular place for an actor to work. It's like being inside a Faberge egg. It's like being inside somebody's hand. I don't look forward to leaving here, to be honest. Seriously.
Mathieu: Lastly, Matthew, I'm just dying to ask you, after your career being so closely associated with Neil Simon on so many levels. Did he ever tell you why he cast you as himself?
Mathieu: Did you ever think about that?
Broderick: No, I don't. I auditioned a million times for "Brighton Beach [Memoirs]," and he thought I was good. He thought it was funny, I guess. I mean, he laughed when I auditioned.
Mathieu: And saw himself in you somehow.
Broderick: Maybe. He wrote me a note, that I no longer have, so I can't remember exactly what it said. But it was some joke about I never knew I was so cute and charming and something. ... He said once seeing me, he realized what a great guy he must have been, some joke like that. And it was really funny. I don't know. Something about us clicked, I guess. I hope it still does.
Mathieu: Is he with you in some spiritual way up there, or am I being too cute?
Broderick: I think he is with all of us. I think as soon as the announcement at the beginning, you know, they say turn off your phones, don't do this, you can join [emersoncolonialtheatre.com] and find more information, and says, "and now, Neil Simon's 'Plaza Suite.'" As soon as they say "Neil Simon's 'Plaza Suite,'" the audience applauds because still it means something to say, "now, here's Neil Simon's 'The Odd Couple'" or Neil Simon's whatever it is. It's like, this is good and I'm excited to be here.