Posted 6/1/17 | © Photo courtesy of All About Bette
She looked at me, and I looked at her, and she went,Bette!!and we screamed and hugged and we've been inseparable ever since. Morgana Shaw on meeting playwright Camilla Carr
Bringing to life the legendary Oscar-winning actress who dazzled big-screen audiences for more than six decades, local actress Morgana Shaw now portrays Bette Davis in the currently-touring show All About Bette. A hit at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, the work also received both Best Performance and Best Play awards at Bogata's Iberoamericano de Teatro, (the largest theatre festival in the world).
Less about cheap character imitation or exaggerated television drama and more like an in-depth personal interlude, the one-woman play written by Camilla Carr delves below the surface for an insightful look into the woman considered to be one of the greatest actresses of all time. The Flash List caught up with Morgana Shaw for a quick conversation as she was finishing up a promotional photo shoot complete with fitted vintage dress, classic Hollywood hairstyle, and vodka-filled martini glass.
TFL: What is it about Bette Davis that sparks a passion within you?
MS: I relate to so many things as I dig deep and find who she is, the way she feels about what she loves, doing the work, having respect. Every time we open the story, I find another level to Bette and she becomes more and more incredible. I have the utmost respect for her because she made such a difference in the industry and she fought for the gritty roles. One of the things that I relate to is that Bette never felt like she was pretty in a platinum blonde bombshell Hollywood way. I relate to that completely. When I started in the industry, I had people saying,
You need to remove this mole, and you need to do this. And I did all of that, but I finally got fed up and thought,
You know what? They'll change their tune when I book something, and then it will all change. And that's exactly what happened. I became me, I found out who I was. I knew I was a chameleon and I like to change my looks. I'm not afraid to look ugly on camera, and a lot of actresses are. I really started booking because I was so raw and was such a chameleon. I could change my look from a Sissy Spacek country look with no makeup to a glamourpuss if needed. But the femme fatal or ingénue roles I've never been a fan of for me because they seem boring, and she feels the same way. So, as I started doing my research on Bette, it was scary how much I related to her.
TFL: So then, how has she changed you?
MS: She has a confidence; she gives me strength. And it takes that to do a role like Bette. You have to be a fighter. I've always been a fighter, but I might be a little bit nicer a fighter than Bette was. When Bette comes into the picture, I find myself a lot more aggressive and stronger. But I have to be to stand up, to get it right, and to do what needs to be done. I've always had a confidence about myself and I've always known,
I can do that. I will do that. That's a role I want to do. I like the changes; I like the journey. I want to discover who [people] are and what makes them work that way. The thing about a lot of the old Hollywood stars is that you see them 'acting' and doing their melodramatic things, but Bette always had truth. Even when she was over the top, there was truth in it. That's why you loved her – because you couldn't take your eyes off her. For me, that's what it's all about – finding the truth. The best compliment someone can say to you for your work is that they believed you. Other than that, it really doesn't matter.
TFL: What aspects of your personal life prepared you for this role?
MS: Well, that's an interesting story because my daddy – the Texan in me comes out when I talk about my daddy – he said I came out of the womb acting. But I was very shy and very quiet in school. I kept it all in because of peer pressure. I wanted to fit in; but I just didn't fit in, so I kept it to myself. I was this red-headed scrawny little stick. I knew I was going to do things, but it would be after I got out of school. The funny thing – that I didn't know or see coming – is that I used to have a nickname and it was
Bette Davis Eyes. And this was waaay before I was a dancer or was acting. I even had a cat that I named
Bette Davis. Back then, I still didn't really know who she was; but when I looked her up, I saw the resemblance. I saw why people said that about me since I had these big eyes.
Fast forward after doing several shows at Theatre Three and getting a resume of acting at theaters across the Metroplex, [Theatre Three Co-founder and Executive Producer] Jac Alder called me and said he had this project that he wanted me to look at because he thought I was perfect for it. He said,
Just check it out and let me know what you think. I read that script and literally felt goosebumps all over my body. I had this feeling that my life could change with this role because it was so good, and I knew that I could play it. What I didn't know was that he was offering the role to me. As an actress, I've learned that you don't expect. I thought he was just telling me that he was interested in me, so I didn't think I had the role. I didn't know until we started rehearsal that I was cast in it. But he said,
You were picked for it. I've been called
Bette David Eyes all my life, so it kind of blew my mind. What I was really nervous about was meeting Camilla [Carr, the playwright] because I'd never read such a good script. I was terrified to meet her because what if she did not see me as Bette? What if I met the woman who wrote this masterpiece, and she said,
Oh no, I've got somebody else I know that can do this?
SEE ALSO: INTERVIEW WITH PRODUCER MICHAEL JENKINS, DALLAS SUMMER MUSICALS MANAGING DIRECTOR EMERITUS
TFL: And so, how did Camilla feel about you for the part?
I was cast, and we had a table workshop. She was coming in from London to meet with us, so I was dressed in a vintage long skirt, my big movie-star sunglasses, a little button-down shirt, and a big hat that made me feel the part. I walked through the doors of Theatre Three, and there was Camilla in a big hat, a skirt, and glasses! She looked at me, and I looked at her, and she went,
Bette!! and we screamed and hugged and we've been inseparable ever since. She saw it immediately, and I knew she was amazing.
TFL: What are your long-term hopes for this production?
MS: That it tours and that the world gets to see it because it shows a different side of Bette that nobody ever sees. It's not a caricature, it's not over the top, and it shows her human side. A lot of love has been put into this show. To see it recognized and to bring her back in an honorable way would be the ultimate.
All About Bette is scheduled to be presented in Dallas at the Margo Jones Theatre at Fair Park June 7-10 at 8:00 PM, in Fort Worth at Stage West August 11-12 at 8:00 PM, or in Addison at Stone Cottage August 18, 19, 25, and 26 at 8:00 PM. This tour is produced by seven-time Tony Award-winning producer, Michael Jenkins' Starlight Entertainment in collaboration with Ken Orman's Dovetayle Productions, LLC and Ryan Matthieu Smith's Giant Entertainment. Additional tour dates are in the works and expected to be announced soon.
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