Despite their similar career trajectories, Janeane Garofalo and Lili Taylor had never worked together before starring in the Broadway revival of the play Marvin's Room. "But it felt like it," Lili Taylor said, turning to her co-star on stage at the Bell House. Standing next to each other, Garofalo and Taylor seemed like they really could be sisters.
Set in the 1990s, Marvin's Room concerns a difficult family reunion. Taylor and Garofalo play sisters, Bessie and Lee, reuniting after being estranged for 18 years under difficult circumstances — Lee with her two troubled sons in tow, Bessie with the burden of a recent medical diagnosis. Though the subject is serious, the play doesn't treat its subjects gravely, and is frequently darkly funny. Taylor, a seasoned veteran actor, talked about what drew her to the story: "It felt very pure... there's an innocence to it." An innocence, she said, that might be lost if the play were to be modernized out of the 90s. And for two women whose big break came in the 90s, it can feel very comfortable — "Being in that world, it's like, oh my god... if only!" Taylor said.
Janeane Garofalo made her name as an "alt-comic," a scene she simply defined as "doing standup in a place that is an alternative to a proper comedy club. It's sort of stand-up-meets-storytelling." Garofalo's prominent role in that scene launched her into the cultural consciousness in the early 90s, including parts in the film Reality Bites and the TV series The Larry Sanders Show. Around the same time, Lili Taylor was quickly becoming the darling of the independent film scene and making her mark in Mystic Pizza and Say Anything. Since then, she has proved herself time and again to be singularly versatile, appearing in everything from dark comedies to horror films. So what does the woman who's played every role want more of, acting-wise? "I wish more women were in power, it kind of has to start there. We're a ways away from dealing with this bias. My [goal] is just to show all the different kinds of women that could exist. It's not just three types."
In a tribute to the many varied roles of Lili Taylor and Janeane Garofalo, we quizzed them on their own lines. We read a line from a work one of them starred in, and they buzzed in to tell us who said it!
CECIL BALDWIN: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Cecil Baldwin here with guest musician Julian Velard. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Thank you, Cecil. Before the break, our contestant Greg won his way to the final round at the end of the show. We'll find out a little later who he will face off against. But first, let's welcome our special guests. From the Broadway revival of "Marvin's Room," please welcome Janeane Garofalo and Lili Taylor.
JANEANE GAROFALO: Thank you.
EISENBERG: So let's talk about your current project. Janeane, Lili, you star in "Marvin's Room" on Broadway where you play estranged sisters who haven't seen each other in 18 years. This was originally written and staged in the 1990s. Lili, you've been on Broadway numerous times. But what was it about this play that you had to be part of this production?
LILI TAYLOR: Well, I love the Roundabout Theatre, and I'd worked with them before. And Anne Kauffman's the director. And she has a great vision. And the play felt really pure. And it felt like someone could get in there and re-imagine it...
TAYLOR: ...In a way, for today.
EISENBERG: Yeah, yeah. Janeane, you know, you've obviously done comedy in theaters across the country and the world, but this is your Broadway debut. So, I mean, how was it? Was it frightening or exhilarating?
GAROFALO: Well, you know, the thing is is it's very unusual for me as a stand-up not to be able to interact with the audience. And also, you have to say the same thing...
GAROFALO: ...On a nightly basis, which, if anyone's seen my comedy, that is difficult for me, as I am undisciplined. But you do it, and I'm very glad that I've done it. I don't know that I would do it again.
GAROFALO: And I don't mean that mean. I don't mean that in a glib way. I'm just saying, I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.
EISENBERG: Janeane, did you know each other before this?
TAYLOR: But it felt like it.
GAROFALO: We knew of each other.
EISENBERG: Sure. And then you have to play sisters who love each other but obviously don't have the best relationship.
EISENBERG: Conflictual and you're dealing with a very stressful situation that you're both under. So when you're preparing for that role, are you hanging out and just establishing a rapport or is it save it for the stage?
GAROFALO: Well, actually, because it was such a, like, a condensed rehearsal time and Lili has so very much on her plate - she's in every single scene. And so once we started rehearsing, boom, that was it. And then all of a sudden, oh, my gosh, we're doing it. So there really wasn't time to hang around, which actually worked out well because we're not supposed to know each other.
EISENBERG: Right. It was realistic.
GAROFALO: It was very realistic.
EISENBERG: Yeah. And, Lili, you said this play is relevant for now, even though it was written in the '90s. You know, there are some artifacts from the '90s in the play, especially the phones that all have cords. And some of them are on the wall.
TAYLOR: Landline. Landline.
EISENBERG: Landlines. You know, what are the reasons why we need to see this play now?
TAYLOR: Anything that gets into a family, you could see at any time.
TAYLOR: And we can always - I feel like I could always reflect back on my family, who I am, where I'm going, all that, it's just - for me, it's infinitely interesting.
EISENBERG: And I know Anne Kauffman, the director, you know, when she decided to redo this play, she didn't modernize it. She said it had to be set in the '90s. It had to be true to that. Janeane, why is that?
GAROFALO: Well, I think it wouldn't be helpful if we had cell phones and Facebook and stuff. We wouldn't be so estranged. So it wouldn't work.
EISENBERG: That's true.
GAROFALO: You know, we would have been much more in touch with each other.
TAYLOR: There's an innocence to it that I just don't think would hold up if you put it now, like, without it being in that time. I just think it's - being in that world, the '90s is like - oh my, God, if only we could...
GAROFALO: You know, yeah, oh my, God.
TAYLOR: Oh, my God, you guys, the '90s.
EISENBERG: So originally, this was a movie starring Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton and Leonardo DiCaprio. Did either of you watch this movie?
GAROFALO: I did, actually. After I auditioned for it and after I found out I got it, I thought, well, I'll watch it. But it actually is so - it's different. And also, just the take that Meryl Streep, who's - that's the part I play that Meryl Streep played.
GAROFALO: I know. I know. The take that she did on it, I was like, I'm just not going to do it that - not for that reason. But it's like, I can't just mimic what she did because that would be bad. And plus, she's not that good an actor.
GAROFALO: She's really not, you know?
EISENBERG: So I have to say, Janeane, when I - I moved to New York in the early 2000s, and you had started a show in the Lower East Side in the '90s called "Eating It" at a now...
GAROFALO: Oh, no, no, I didn't start it. I was just one of the people first into it.
EISENBERG: First into it.
EISENBERG: It used to be, like, a good try out room - right? - where stand-ups could go and just try whatever they wanted, anti-mainstream in the sense that you could, I guess, talk about your life, you could do whatever alt comedy was back then.
GAROFALO: Right, which just means to me - alternative comedy, to me, just means you're doing stand-up in a place that is an alternative to a proper comedy club. Sort of more stand-up meets storytelling, and I'm sorry to have to say that. But it's just longer-form things without a lot of punchlines and hopefully people find it humorous but...
EISENBERG: Right. Do you think alternative comedy still exists or has it all come together?
GAROFALO: Oh, absolutely. In fact, it has become in many, many ways the norm.
EISENBERG: Yeah. So I - you're right. I just think it's interesting how it - I think alt comedy has become everywhere.
EISENBERG: Lili, people say you are a versatile actor, but I think that is, like, the smallest way to describe the acting roles that you have done. What do you wish there was more of when it comes to roles?
TAYLOR: Oh, brother. Well, I wish more women were in power.
TAYLOR: It kind of has to start there. It's - look. We're - you know, there's some problems. There's some big problems. And I would say maybe 500, 600 years at least. You know, we're a ways away from dealing with this bias. You know what I mean? But we just keep chugging along. So my thing is just to try to show all the different kinds of women that could exist, you know, so that it's not just three types, you know, and just to make - to get ideas out there like, oh, I didn't know a woman was like that. Oh. And so the consciousness has just been expanded a little bit hopefully.
EISENBERG: Yeah. Lili, you also have a hobby that satisfies so many of our listeners. You're a birder.
TAYLOR: Really? Listeners like birds? Wow. Yeah. That's another thing I'm trying to get the word out about - birds.
EISENBERG: So, OK, how did you get into birding?
TAYLOR: Basically, I've always loved birds. And I didn't know there were other people who liked them, too. And it was really through the iPhone that I found out, like, through Twitter and all that that like someone was like...
TAYLOR: ...Twitter the bird - was like, oh, there's a great bird in Central Park. And I was like, oh, really? And so I would go. And I would just hang back and see these people with binoculars. And I was like, oh, there's a tribe. It's just wonderful. And birds are great.
EISENBERG: OK, so what is...
GAROFALO: Have you heard of the Audubon Society?
GAROFALO: I think they - there's a lot of them, and they like birds.
TAYLOR: Darling, I'm on the board of it.
GAROFALO: Oh, OK. So - OK. So - no. No. That's OK. Well, now you know. She knows. She knows. I just - she said she didn't know there was people who liked birds.
EISENBERG: So there's got to be a universal bird that everyone hates though, right?
GAROFALO: Are you going to name it?
EISENBERG: I don't know. What's - there's got to be a mean bird but, like, hates other birds.
TAYLOR: Wait. I hear a calling out. What's...
EISENBERG: Vulture? Oh, people are...
TAYLOR: Vultures are great. They're the garbage men of the environment.
TAYLOR: They clean up all this dead stuff.
EISENBERG: Blue jays. People say blue jays are mean.
TAYLOR: No, bad rap. You know what they do?
TAYLOR: No. Blue jays give the alarm call to the other birds that there's danger. So when you hear them squawking, it's like, get out, there's something that's going to eat us.
EISENBERG: OK. All right.
EISENBERG: Pigeons. Pigeons. Come on, pigeons.
TAYLOR: I haven't come around yet but, I'm going to get there. I'm going to get there. I hear they're great. And I'm open to them, but I'm just still like - I just can't yet.
EISENBERG: OK. So what is it? You were asking me if I know, but I don't know.
TAYLOR: House sparrow.
GAROFALO: Is that - just a common...
TAYLOR: Just a common little guy we see all over. And I have a problem with them because they take over other birds' boxes and they killed all these little birds I was trying to care of. And I had my neighbor shoot it.
GAROFALO: This is NPR. This is NPR. How did you just...
TAYLOR: It's legal. They're an invasive species. It's legal. True. It's true. It's true. It's true. You can email me if you have questions and we can talk about that. I'm serious.
EISENBERG: All right.
TAYLOR: OK. Onward.
EISENBERG: This is going to be fantastic. All right. Are you guys ready for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
GAROFALO: Very. Let's go. Let's go.
EISENBERG: Let's welcome Cecil and Julian back to the stage.
EISENBERG: OK. Janeane, Lili, this game is called Did I Say That?
EISENBERG: The rules are simple. We're going to read you an out-of-context quote from a project that either of you starred in. All you have to do is buzz in and tell us who said it. Did you say it, or did the other person say it? So be careful. If you guess incorrectly, your opponent automatically scores the point. And the winner will receive and ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube.
GAROFALO: They already gave us some backstage.
EISENBERG: Here's your first quote. What the hell do you think Leona really puts in this pizza?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
GAROFALO: That would be Lili Taylor from "Mystic Pizza."
EISENBERG: That is correct.
EISENBERG: By the way, what did they put in that pizza?
BALDWIN: Next clue. This dress exacerbates the genetic betrayal that is my legacy.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
GAROFALO: Janeane Garofalo, "Romy And Michele's High School Reunion."
EISENBERG: That is right.
GAROFALO: I wouldn't expect you to know that. She's like high-brow. She's not going to know some of that.
TAYLOR: Are you kidding?
GAROFALO: That's kind of not fair.
TAYLOR: I know that stuff. I do.
EISENBERG: This next one is a musical clue. Julian Velard, take it away.
JULIAN VELARD: (Singing) That'll never be me. That'll never be me. That'll never be never be me.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
TAYLOR: Corey - "Say Anything."
BALDWIN: Next clue. I'm bitter. Who's drunk and yelling at a dead woman?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
GAROFALO: I don't know why I did that. I'm sorry.
TAYLOR: I get the point. I get the point.
EISENBERG: Janeane, do you know who said that?
GAROFALO: I don't know what that is.
EISENBERG: Lili, do you know who said that?
EISENBERG: That - it was you.
TAYLOR: Was it?
GAROFALO: What was that line again? Was it "Six Feet Under"?
EISENBERG: That's right. It was from "Six Feet Under."
TAYLOR: Dead. Should have known.
GAROFALO: She should get it. She should...
TAYLOR: No. No. No. No. Take it.
TAYLOR: I believe we're even, 2-2.
EISENBERG: That is correct, Lili. Here's your next one. If I was a guy, I think women would, like, line up to go out with me.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
GAROFALO: Janeane Garofalo, "The Truth About Cats & Dogs."
EISENBERG: That is right, yes.
BALDWIN: Next clue. I hope it's not jumbo shrimp because I'm allergic to oxymorons.
(SOUNDITE OF BELL)
GAROFALO: That is what "Wet Hot American Summer, Janeane Garofalo.
EISENBERG: Yes, that is correct.
EISENBERG: All right. This is your last clue.
BALDWIN: Where are your boys? Couldn't you get Hank out of the mental institution?
EISENBERG: Bessie, we don't like to call it the mental institution.
BALDWIN: What do you call it?
EISENBERG: We call it the loony bin or the nut house to show we've got a sense of humor about it.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
TAYLOR: Both of us.
GAROFALO: Both of us.
TAYLOR: "Marvin's Room."
GAROFALO: "Marvin's Room."
EISENBERG: That is correct. That is correct. Puzzle guru Cecil Baldwin, how did our special guests do?
BALDWIN: You both did amazing. However, Janeane took it by one point.
TAYLOR: Let's give her a hand. I can't wait to get that second Rubik's cube.
EISENBERG: Everyone needs a home and travel version. Well done. What a pleasure. Thank you so much. Janeane Garofalo and Lili are starring in "Marvin's Room" at the Roundabout Theatre on Broadway. Give it up one more time for Janeane Garofalo and Lili Taylor.
(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.