This interview was conducted on January 5, 2011 and later published on February 9, 2011.
Today’s generation knows her best as Ugly Betty’s Claire Meade and Judge Elizabeth Donnelly in Law and Order: SVU. But those who have followed her extensive career over the years will remember Judith Light from the hit 80s sitcom Who’s the Boss? as Angela Bower, the successful advertising executive and single mother who hires a male housekeeper, played by Tony Danza.
Originally a stage actress, Light returned to the theater this past autumn after many years of not having worked on stage. She is currently starring in the role of Marie Lombardi in Broadway’s Lombardi and her performance has garnered rave reviews. I was fortunate enough to see Lombardi in December and even more fortunate to have met with her for an interview at the start of the new year.
As someone who is not an avid sports fan and has little interest in football, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Lombardi. Truth be told, I simply wanted to see it because a favorite actress of mine was one of the stars, but I found that I came away with much more than I ever expected. And even as a journalist, I was glad to see that there were many things relevant to journalism in the show. So like Michael McCormick, the journalist in the play, conducted interviews with the other characters, I held my own interview with the charming Judith Light!
Sitting across from me in the lower lobby of the Circle in the Square Theater where Lombardi is performed 8 times a week, Light is as graceful in person as she is on the screen. I was a little overcome by nerves, what with being in the presence of someone I greatly admire, but her kindness and patience quickly put me at ease and we began the interview.
We first discussed the play and her role as the wife of the renowned football coach, Vince Lombardi, who led the Green Bay Packers to victory multiple times and after whom the Super Bowl trophy is named. As part of her research to become this character, Light read David Maraniss’ book When Pride Still Mattered, on which the play is based. She referred to it as “the Bible for everybody in the entire show.” This was her primary source in discovering and capturing who Marie Lombardi was.
“I wanted her to be this full character that wasn’t a caricature,” she said, stating that the biggest challenge she faced was making her character real.
She chose not to listen to or watch recordings of the real Marie Lombardi as she did not want her portrayal of the character to come across as an imitation. What she did choose to use were the book, aspects of herself and her imagination. Audience members, including me, and theater critics alike would agree that her decision was met with success.
In an effortless performance, Light brought Marie Lombardi to life, embodying a sympathetic woman who dealt with her own struggles while she stood by her husband’s side and supported both him and his career. She even mastered what she described as Marie’s regal New York/New Jersey accent, which is a treat to hear coming from her. The accent combined with memorable one-liners Light delivered throughout the show brought much laughter from the audience.
Light stated that the play was not initially meant to be funny at all and it was the level of laughter that surprised her most in regards to audience reactions she didn’t expect. On the whole, she is pleased with the success the play has had.
Soon we turned towards a topic she is extremely passionate about, her activism. During the span of her career, Light has been an advocate for many important causes for which she continues to work tirelessly, and her celebrity status allows her to spread awareness on pressing social issues.
“I call myself an actor and an activist,” she said. “I think that celebrity is terrific … and I’ve always said that the perks that come with celebrity are terrific. But to me, and this is just me … if I didn’t find a way to do something with the gifts that were given me and the way that I had been blessed, I would not feel OK about myself. So that was something that was really important to me and that’s why I felt that I really had to do it.”
She places much of her focus on the LGBT community and the fight against AIDS, something she has done ever since witnessing discrimination and injustice firsthand and how it affected those near and dear to her. Light said that she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t say something about it. And for those who feel the same way and are interested in becoming activists as well she says,
“Your activism can go anywhere but it’s really up to you what you feel speaks to you.”
For such an inspiring person, Light notes her husband, Robert Desiderio, and her managers as her own daily inspirations, in addition to “the personal need to say the truth about what I see in the world and have support for that.”
Though highly accomplished as both an actor and humanitarian, Light started off much like the rest of us at Mother Cabrini, a young girl with high hopes. She can certainly relate to the students here as she herself once attended an all-girls high school so she knows what it’s been like for us Cabrinians, past and present. As they say, she’s been there, done that.
She also sympathizes with many people, especially the youth, who are discovering who they are and often face difficulties because they happen to be different. One thing she said to me particularly stands out that I think everyone can appreciate.
“Living your life truly as who you really are is incredibly important.”
This has since become something I try to remind myself of every day. And as the interview came to a close, she topped that by saying, “We’re one people. We’re one human body and we just all happen to be different in different ways.”
To hear her speak these words as we sat together is something so very special, it can barely be described. I am thrilled that I was lucky enough to have shared such an experience with her.
What made this even more special was that this happened to be the first Broadway show I had ever seen. It’s a pity that I happen to live in New York and had never seen a show before until now! That has been remedied and now I’m sure that I will make more of an effort to see many more, and all because of this one show.
Others I have spoken to have wondered what the appeal is about Lombardi. I would just like to make something clear about this play. Lombardi is certainly not just about the game of football. It is about so much more that what it seems on the surface.
Light has often said in other interviews that Lombardi is about inspiration and love. And she is absolutely right in saying so. But having met her in person, I find that those very words she uses to describe the play can be used to describe her. And yes, perhaps I am a little biased, but it seems to me that Judith Light herself is the embodiment of inspiration and love.
She is definitely someone I think people, especially young ladies like those of Cabrini, should look up to. I am glad to be able to share my experience with you all and I thank you for letting me do so.
It seems like my time as Editor-in-Chief for Cabrini’s newspaper finally paid off and I can now safely say that my career as an official journalist is well underway!
Lombardi is showing at the Circle in the Square Theatre between 50th Street and Broadway until June 19. Go see it!
This article was written for Mother Cabrini High School’s student newspaper, The Cabrini Courier. Many, many thanks to Judith Light for allowing me to have such a wonderful opportunity.