Three-time Tony nominee Kate Burton, 56, is appearing alongside her son, Morgan Ritchie, in the Huntington Theatre Company’s new production of Chekhov classic The Seagull. The daughter of producer Sybil Burton and the legendary Richard (and stepdaughter of screen icon Elizabeth Taylor), Kate Burton earned a bachelor’s degree from Brown University, where she now serves as a trustee. She later earned a graduate degree from the Yale School of Drama. She’s appeared on Broadway in productions such as Hedda Gabler and The Elephant Man, and her numerous film credits include Big Trouble in Little China, The Ice Storm, Unfaithful and 127 Hours. She’s also appeared extensively on television, with recurring roles on shows like Grey’s Anatomy, but she recently achieved a new level of notoriety for her portrayal of Vice President Sally Langston (who murders her husband) on the hit TV show Scandal. She lives in Los Angeles.
Jonathan Soroff: So have you ever actually tried to kill your husband?
Kate Burton: [Laughs] No. Doing it on television satisfied that particular homicidal impulse.
Well, I didn’t originally set out to act. It’s not what I studied as an undergraduate, but eventually I just realized it was what I wanted to do. I think acting is one of those things you do because you can’t not do it.
I guess in some way, yes. My father, me, my son, we all share some kind of genetic predisposition.
No. At first there’s a certain awareness, but once we get to work, I actually forget that this person is related to me by blood, which might sound strange, but it’s true. It’s also probably a testament to what a good actor my son is.
The Huntington, and I’m not just saying that because I’m appearing there. The physical attributes—it’s just a jewel—and the people involved are all fantastic. Boston’s very, very lucky to have the Huntington Theatre Company.
I guess the standard ones: saying “the Scottish play” and all that. But I’m not a terribly superstitious person. I am a creature of habit, so I tend to do things the same way before going onstage, like the way I put on a costume or whatever. But not much more than that.
I don’t think either of us is at this point. It’s probably someone much younger.
I think probably The Cherry Orchard [a 2007 Huntington production]. It was very draining but also incredibly rewarding.
Oh, sure, you couldn’t help but notice it, but kids are very resilient, and my parents were very good at protecting us from it. I just assumed that was what happened.
Your father and Elizabeth Taylor were sort of the birth of tabloid culture. Do you have any advice for people like Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan?
That’s very true about my father and Elizabeth. It was sort of the start of this obsession with celebrity. But with these young actors, I just feel sad that they live in this environment that almost ensures they’ll behave erratically. You have these very talented, impressionable young people surrounded by assistants and managers and other people with a vested interest, who enable them to behave however they choose. They never hear the word no. It’s no wonder they end up acting outlandishly.
Oh, God. So many. Elizabeth was great. She was a wonderful stepmother to me. I mostly remember mundane things, like eating breakfast together, but she was so funny and great fun to be with. Wonderful with children. Very down to earth and earthy. I was very lucky. I had two fantastic stepparents, because my mother married [actor and singer] Jordan Christopher, who was also a tremendous influence in my life.
No. But they are interesting. It’s an intense amount of work, a lot of dialogue to remember. I have a lot of respect for soap opera actors.
[Laughs] Not yet. I’m not sure he’d want to be associated with my character on Scandal.
I suppose some do, and that’s probably more pronounced in more isolated places, but in a city like Boston, I don’t think so. Bostonians just love the theater, and they come to see it because of that.
The accessibility of nature. It’s a big city, but the ocean and the mountains are literally minutes away.
Not very much, I’m afraid. The theater doesn’t pay the way film or television does. But I guess it’s easier to get work, and I’m just grateful to be a working actor.
Well, I definitely don’t see him that way. We’ve known each other far too long. He is an absolutely brilliant man, though. And from someone else’s perspective, I can see the appeal. He’s a very compelling, magnetic person.
It’s a tie between The Ice Storm and 127 Hours.
Not particularly, but it’s tremendously gratifying. I really enjoy it.
That list is far too long for an interview, but definitely Judi Dench.
Yes, but I don’t think I’ll name names.
Well, my character certainly isn’t sweet on Scandal, so I guess the winds have shifted.