Topher: When I approach playing one of these women, I have to study movement and voice so closely, just to figure out what’s possible with the big giant body and baritone voice I bring to the table. That’s ended up being so instructive with the men, as well, because I pay attention to specificity and consistency. In a sense, Joan Crawford taught me to be a better actor, which I think she’d be pleased to know.
Mother Superior has been a fun new area to explore because her vow is totally literal. She really sees herself as married to Jesus, and every choice she makes is filtered through that relationship. Being Mrs. Jesus is a pretty big responsibility.
How would you describe this character? Is she Auntie Mame-ish?
Topher: Mother Superior was a girl reporter in the 1940s who fled to a convent after getting dumped by the love of her life. Her best friend came along and became a nun as well. Now it’s 20 year later, and her lost love shows up at the convent, which would be tricky enough, but there’s also a nun experiencing visions and healing the sick, plus a Da Vinci Code subplot and a few musical numbers.
If there’s anything Auntie Mame-ish about her, it’s her absolute unflappability. She just takes life as it comes, which I admire.
DeWayne: She is an everywoman; everyone looks up to her and respects her opinion. She really wants to rebuild the convent they are in and move it into the new century.
Did you do any special preparation or specific research?
Topher: The play’s a mash-up of every movie about nuns, so I re-watched the ones it references —“Sister Act,” “Doubt,” “Agnes of God,” plus that amazingly bad movie where Mary Tyler Moore’s a nun and Elvis is a doctor in the ghetto. Seriously, I am still getting over how bad that movie was.
For my own prep, with each of the female characters I try to send them in a new direction, so the audience doesn’t say, “Oh, Topher’s doing that thing he does when he plays a chick.” I studied Maggie Smith, Cherry Jones, Katharine Hepburn — whiskey-voiced broads who command absolute authority, but seem like they know a few really good dirty jokes.
With Walmart poised to take over the Suburban Plaza shopping center (where Onstage and Process are housed) next year, where will the two theaters re-locate?
DeWayne: We want to stay with Onstage together somewhere within a five-mile radius, and hopefully we can announce something soon.
Top photo: Topher Payne, GA Voice columnist and Best Actor winner in the 2012 GA Voice Best of Atlanta awards, plays Mother Superior in the new comedy ‘Divine Sister.’ (Photo courtesy Payne)