Netflix bingers might know Annie Golden best as Norma, Litchfield Penitentiary’s mostly mute inmate on Orange Is the New Black, which returns for its fifth season on June 9. From May 26 through June 25, however, Golden will take on a very vocal role as the gregarious new resident of a retirement community in Huntington Theatre Company’s new production, Ripcord. We caught up with Golden, who had plenty to say, ahead of the play’s opening night.
How did you get involved with this production? Season five of Orange Is the New Black had just wrapped, and it’s kind of the actor’s nightmare that when one full-time job ends, you feel like you’ll never work again. So in January when Jessica [Stone, the director] said, “Do you want to come work with us in May?” I was like “Sure! I’m there!” So my character is Marilyn, and Marilyn is just horrendously upbeat. [Laughs] She will just wear you out with her enthusiasm. … And when I used to do temp work, the temp service used to send me out to anywhere that people would leave in an hour and say, “I’m not working here.” They would send me to those problem positions. So, to quote Marilyn, that seems to be “my area of expertise.”
Do you find stage acting more difficult than television or film? No, it’s actually very exciting. Some people go, “I don’t know how you do it—you were in The Full Monty for two years! How do you do the same show for two years?” But the audience is always different. So that’s what you switch up. And you’re not really giving the same performance every time. I just saw Alan Arkin on a talk show, and he was talking about how he couldn’t really stay in a play for very long because it was very boring for him to do the same thing for more than six months. And that’s really an art in itself, to keep it fresh for yourself, and therefore for your audience.
Have you ever forgotten a line onstage? Yes, I just did that! I did Big River at City Center in New York. I had been given a note by the director before that evening’s performance, something about pacing, and the top half of my monologue was crucial; it was plot points. Huckleberry Finn had come to this old lady in the woods, on the bayou, and was trying to get some gossip from her. … And I just forgot a whole sequence because I was applying the note! I was thinking, “I have to move this along.” So I raced through it and I lost my place. And it was only me talking! I wasn’t in a scene with anybody else.
That sounds terrifying. Well, it was terrifying, because I was sitting there in a rocking chair, and the beautiful boy who was playing Huckleberry Finn was sitting there, and he knew and he couldn’t help me, because it was just a stream of consciousness of plot points. And I got off and just thought, “What did I forget to say?” So I beat myself up, but then the next day I said, “I’m going to make sure that never happens again.”
On OITNB, you play a mute woman. Does acting without words pose unique challenges? It does, but it’s also a lovely gift. On the set of a TV show, particularly with a big cast and a lot of hubbub, where it takes a lot of collaborative effort and a lot of people to put it together, there’s a lot of chaos around before they say “Action.” And because I don’t speak, my prep is that I don’t speak! I get to be quiet while other people are running their lines—which I should have done when I was in Big River! [Laughs] So I just get to be really still. … It’s challenging but it’s such a gift too, because you get to be inside all this clutter, these trapped, caged people, and it’s so loud, and Norma just gets to be serene.
You once made a cameo on Law & Order, as so many actors do. What’s another show you’d like to cameo on, if you could? Let’s see. There used to be this show Deadwood. I so wanted to be a prostitute on Deadwood!