Today I am interviewing the beautiful and talented Nike Doukas. (What a name! Love it!) She has been in basically all my favorite plays, from Celebration to Three Sisters to Ivanov to Lady Windermere’s Fan. And now she’s back in Pittsburgh playing not one, not two, but three strong women in Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre’s Don Juan Comes Back From the War, opposite Pittsburgh favorite David Whalen. It was my honor to interview her. Enjoy!
1. Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Nike! So first things first, I am a huge fan of yours! Just wanted to get that out of the way. I saw you in Three Sisters, Ivanov and The School for Lies and you were spellbinding in them all! In the past, you’ve performed in The Bear, House and Garden, Betrayal and Celebration. You recently finished playing Mrs. Erylynne in Lady Windermere’s Fan and now you’re playing in Don Juan Comes Back from the War! That is quite a resume, and a very eclectic one at that! So my first question: you play such an array of characters, from all sorts of countries and times. Is there a particular character you’ve played that has really been a personal favorite to you? Someone who you wish you could revisit?
Playing characters is like meeting new people; some you have an immediate chemistry with, some you grow to love, and some you never quite figure out. My most recent favorite is Mrs. Erlynne. I love Oscar Wilde in general; his wit, humor, perception and deep compassion and wisdom about human nature. Mrs. E was a joy from beginning to end, and to the very last performance I kept discovering things about her. That’s how you know you’re dealing with a good playwright. I was immediately struck by her line: “I have no ambition to play the part of a mother.” What a radical thing to say, even now. She has lived a rather shallow, self absorbed life, and yet she finds herself behaving selflessly and even to her own disadvantage. And still, she recognizes that she should return to her former life, that it would be best for her and for everyone involved. She has such courage, and intelligence, and she’s the smartest person in the room. Fun to play! She also struggles with the hurt she’s caused others, but she can’t completely come to terms with it honestly. I liked that she wasn’t perfect, it made her more human to me.
2. Is there a character that you would one day love to play?
So many: Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire, Mrs Warren in Mrs Warren’s Profession, Serafina in The Rose Tattoo, Mrs. Levi in The Matchmaker, Amanda in Private Lives, and so many more…
3. Blanche! Great character! What are some things you do to get into character? For Don Juan Comes Back from the War, you actually play multiple roles! How hard is it to juggle such vastly different characters?
Every play is different. But I always begin by reading the play as many times as possible,, and if possible I learn my lines before rehearsals begin. I never really understand the words until I’ve memorized them, internalized them. From there, it depends on the play. Don Juan is tough, because the language seems at first to be naturalistic, but it’s actually quite poetic, and so you have to find the truth in there, and make some of your own connections between the lines. Duncan MacMillan doesn’t tell you everything. I thought a lot about her given circumstances, and what it was she wanted from Don Juan. I try to connect on a very personal level, without being self indulgent — it’s a funny balancing act between using yourself honestly, and being true to the character. The Mother in Don Juan is very closed off, very tough shelled; I am much more open with my feelings. But there have to be deep feeling underneath it all. As far as juggling, you just do all the work in rehearsal, then commit from moment to moment. There’s some finger crossing!
4. To move from characters you’ve played to actors you’ve worked with….tell us how it’s been acting alongside the formidable and charming David Whalen? This show is not the first time you’ve played opposite each other.
It’s formidable and charming! David and I have known each other for about 15 years. We met doing “Pygmalion” at South Coast Rep in Southern California. He is actually responsible for my being here in Pittsburgh. When they were casting An Ideal Husband at PICT, David recommended me to Andrew Paul, the then Artistic Director. Since then we’ve done a lot of work together and it is always a joy. He is so committed and present as an actor, so creative and willing to try anything. I admire him so much.
5.Can you describe what a typical rehearsal day is like for you?
I’m not sure if there is a “typical’ rehearsal day — each play is different. Mostly, I show up and try to give my all every time. I realized long ago, that you don’t have much time to get it right, and to never to lose a day with worry or because I just don’t feel like it.
6. Let’s switch gears again. You have an MFA from the American Conservatory Theatre and won the 2011 Lunt Fontanne Fellowship as well. Very impressive! How important do you think education in theater is it to have a theater career?
For me it was critical. In general, if you want to be a theatre actor you need to know alot about history, art, language, literature. In fact, anything you learn informs what you do, and makes you a better actor. In my case, I also needed outside eyes on me; I found it essential to have people helping me with my voice, and level of emotional commitment, etc. Also, at ACT, our teachers were company members, so we could go across the street after class and watch them act, and eventually act with them. Once you’re ready, you learn the most by working with people who are more experienced than you are. That was such a gift. I loved being in school. And I also built a network of incredible friends and fellow artists, who I am still in constant touch with today.
7. What are some of the best things you learned during your time at the American Conservatory Theatre?
Oh, wow, so many things. Maybe the biggest lesson for me was that they helped me find myself in my work. To use what’s really going on inside yourself, to really listen to what your fellow actor is saying to you, to use your whole heart and soul. ACT made me feel like what I was doing was important and valuable.
8. Don Juan Comes Back from the War finishes up at the end of this month. What’s next for you?
Well, I’ll go back to LA and start auditioning for TV and film stuff. And I’ll be teaching a Shakespeare class, and doing some accent coaching. I also coach actors privately.
9. Wow! Good luck with all your auditions! So exciting! And last question: what advice would you give to actors who are auditioning and trying to break into the Pittsburgh arts scene?
You know, I know very little about the acting scene here, because I was lucky enough to be invited in — and I have only worked at PICT. But my general advice for young actors is: do anything that’s offered to you, and SPEAK UP. Tell directors you like that you want to work with them. Write to casting directors and remind them you are around. Actors tend to be so shy about asking for what they want, but I have found that when you ask in a professional and friendly way, people are flattered and pleased when you ask for their help.