By Erin rilEy
photography By Evan sung | October 31, 2014 | Food & Drink
Gretchen Mol and Josh Radnor sample the brunch menu at Gemma’s wine room.
Friends for more than a decade, actors Gretchen Mol and Josh Radnor recently wound up some high-profile TV gigs—Mol finished her last season of Boardwalk Empire; Radnor, a nine-season run in CBS’s How I Met Your Mother. Despite these successful ventures, both craved the chance to do theater again and eagerly signed up to costar in Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Disgraced, which opened at the Lyceum Theater on October 23 (it runs through January 18). The one-act, 90-minute play, which tackles issues of Muslim identity in modern America, follows a dinner-party conversation between two married couples that ultimately shatters their views on race, religion—and their opinions of one another.
Gotham joined Mol and Radnor at Gemma at The Bowery Hotel (335 Bowery, 212-505-7300) for brunch—and for a much calmer meal than the one they enact in the play—to discuss their roles in Disgraced, gearing up for winter in New York, and the ever-changing Lower East Side.
Josh Radnor: You don’t remember the first time we met?
Gretchen Mol: I do. But I don’t remember where.
JR: We went to some dinner party in Brooklyn, which is where I had a two-hour-long conversation with your mom, and I was like, “This is a great woman.” That was early 2000, a long time ago.
GM: She probably loved you and you probably loved being loved. [Laughs]
JR: Well, that does happen.
GM: You were shooting your show in LA for nine years, right? So we didn’t really cross paths after that.
Ambrosia organic granola with yogurt and fruit.
[Entrées arrive: Mol has ordered the ambrosia organic granola with yogurt and fruit, and Radnor gets the Protein Breakfast, with grilled chicken, scrambled egg whites with spinach, and sliced tomato.]
JR: There’s a lot of chicken here. Would you like some in your granola?
GM: No thanks. Can’t imagine that tasting very good.
JR: [The Protein Breakfast] is my go-to. I would always get it when I stayed at the old Bowery Hotel.
GM: I’ve lived here for 22 years, and the Lower East Side has totally changed. That’s what you learn living in New York, to never get stuck on the old.
JR: I lived on Ninth between First and A when I was in grad school for a year, and I had a bathtub in my kitchen. Then I got a better but still weird apartment on Fifth Street between B and C—the bed was lofted over the kitchen. This was before the East Village turned into the Left Bank of Paris.
GM: Those types of apartments are very specific to the East Village.
JR: I haven’t had a winter here in years, but I heard last year’s winter was delightful. It was weird when I was packing because I realized it was for three seasons.
GM: It’s amazing to have seasons. Whenever it first snows in New York, it’s so magical. You feel this level of privacy, but you’re sharing it with the rest of the city.
Spremuta Rosse smoothie (made with apples, beets, and carrots) and Spremuta Verde smoothie (made with kale, cucumber, parsley, pear, and lemon).
JR: Now I’m excited for winter. After my show ended, I had these two offers to do plays. And I felt like that’s what I should be doing, because theater reminds me of why I love acting.
GM: Exactly. At the beginning, when you’re trying to become an actor, all you do is theater. Now it’s this dormant part of me, and it’s a treat to return to [the stage]. But I never feel confident about it, which is good. It’s good to feel nervous.
JR: You’re very good in the play.
GM: Thanks, Josh. Everyone in the cast is very talented.
JR: I feel like there are some plays that read very well, but as you start working on them, you realize they are held together by glue and straw. But with this play, all the edges are sealed appropriately. You can really feel the mechanics and just how propulsive it is.
GM: That’s what was so exciting to me when I first read the play: how much it works and how much you’re thinking about it once you finish it.
JR: That’s the way it felt for me too. It was the bigger picture… being a part of something that felt so culturally relevant. That and working with Ayad. I read Ayad’s novel American Dervish (Little, Brown & Company, 2012), and I loved it so much that I wrote him a fan letter. That’s how we became friends.
GM: I didn’t know that. When did this happen?
JR: Three years ago. We had this three-hour coffee in New York and we traded scripts. He sent me Disgraced to read and told me later that he always thought of me for the role, but I was never available. He’s just a writer whom I want to be around—a really beautiful marriage of head and heart. [This kind of play] is why I wanted to get back into theater, to do New American plays that speak to our moment, and now, it feels even more relevant than it did two years ago.
Radner and Moss leaving Gemma after a hearty breakfast.
GM: Even when I initially got involved, which was in spring, there wasn’t this feeling of upheaval like there is now. It had receded a little bit… and here we are again. Every time we rehearse the play, all I have to do is listen to what is being said and it’s enough to upset you; you don’t have to work at it.
JR: I also like that it takes place over [the course of] a dinner party at an Upper East Side apartment. There’s this feeling that everything happening geopolitically is affecting what’s happening in that apartment. You feel like you’re tumbling forward, and the heroes and the villains keep shifting. My character has certain progressive, humanist values that I feel a New York audience would understand, but then he behaves in ways that are a little duplicitous. And I like that. No one is entirely virtuous in the play.
GM: It’s this sort of ready-set-go, and there’s no stopping. You just have to trust the play and the work you’ve done.
JR: It’s one of those plays that is impossible not to want to talk about afterward. How you feel about it when the curtain comes down might be different than three days or even a month later.