She may be a newcomer to prime time, but Audra McDonald is already winning rave reviews from her co-stars. TV Guide talked to the four-time Tony Award winner, who plays fertility specialist Naomi Bennett on Private Practice.
TVGuide.com: How is life on Private Practice these days?
Audra McDonald: I don't know if it's fortunate or unfortunate for the producers: The cast is a group of people who really like each other. So when we do group scenes, it's very difficult to get anything done because we're having too much fun. They always need to tell us to shut up.
TVGuide.com: Any scenes where that happened recently?
Audra McDonald: Any group scene you see, especially ones in the conference room. Those scenes probably took a long time because we wouldn't shut up.
TVGuide.com: You've won four Tony awards. How does being on Private Practice, and TV in general, compare to Broadway?
Audra McDonald: Well, the live audience certainly gives you a barometer in terms of how you're doing. It forces you to focus in a different way than you focus when someone yells, "Action!" The muscles that are flexed are the same, but there's something about the danger of being in front of a live audience — you only have that one chance; whereas, if you mess up, you can do it again on film.
TVGuide.com: Does your experience on stage help you nail scenes faster?
Audra McDonald: Not necessarily, because it's different. You're doing something over and over again. So you get a lot of chances to do it different ways. What's hard for me is the lack of continuity. You shoot a lot of scenes out of order; you shoot the end before you shoot the beginning.
Audra McDonald: You just have to make sure you've done all your prep work way ahead of time, which can be difficult because with a weekly television series, you don't get scripts far in advance. You get them three to four days before you start shooting. On the other hand, when you're doing a series, it's one character you're living with for a very long time. That makes the work a little bit easier, because the more comfortable you are with a character, the easier it is to get into the rhythm of a scene. I think a lot of Naomi is very close to who I am anyway. I'm a working mother, and a lot of her drive and independence and her strength are certainly things that I can associate with. Naomi is so desperate to do the right thing and be the good girl. That's something that I identify with as well.
TVGuide.com: You and Taye Diggs have great chemistry on screen. Do you get along off screen?
Audra McDonald: Oh, god, yeah! I've known Taye for 14 years. Taye is like a brother to me. It's funny, when he became this huge sex symbol, I was really happy for him. But, at the same time, I was like, "Oh, man, it's just Taye!" When I got cast, I was so excited because I knew I'd feel comfortable with him. I know his wife really well and it's just a very easy situation. You couldn't ask for a better situation in terms of the chemistry on and off screen. That makes a big difference when you're shooting 16-, 17-, 18-hour days.
TVGuide.com: Did you and Taye Diggs work together on Broadway?
Audra McDonald: We worked together in Carousel back in 1994.
TVGuide.com: Wow, you weren't kidding when you said you've known him forever!
Audra McDonald: Yeah. We started rehearsals in the fall of 1993.
TVGuide.com: Did you ever imagine you'd both come this far?
Audra McDonald: It's fate. It's fantastic! I guess it makes you a bit nostalgic, too, when you think, "My gosh, we were just kids when we met!" Look how far we've come...
TVGuide.com: Almost everybody else had meetings — not auditions — with Shonda. Since Naomi was recast, did you actually audition for this role?
Audra McDonald: I came into the game very late. Everybody else had been cast and they'd already shot the pilot. I was doing a show on Broadway at the time. When I flew out for the audition, I knew that I was going to have to read. So while I chatted with everybody else, the main thing was to see if Kate and I clicked. In a way, I think Kate got me the job because I immediately felt comfortable with her. She and I were basically doing what was on the page, but we started improving. We just clicked immediately. So I thought, "Well, if I don't get it, I've met a really cool chick."
TVGuide.com: Were you surprised when you heard they were recasting the role?
Audra McDonald: I heard about it through my agent. When they were first casting, a lot of my friends were going in for it. There was part of me that wished I could go as well, but I was already committed to the Broadway show that I was doing. So when it came back around, I felt like, "Oh, maybe this is meant to be!" I think Merrin Dungey is a very talented actress and I have been in Merrin's shoes before, too. I have been the one let go from a pilot. It happens to everybody. It's not nearly as uncommon as it looks to the outside world.
TVGuide.com: Do you know why they decided to recast Naomi?
Audra McDonald: They didn't volunteer that information to me, so I don't know. I don't know who made that decision. You never know and, even if someone tells you, you don't know if that's true.
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