Home cover story Marcia Gay Harden

Marcia Gay Harden

by devnym

By Jane Godiner
Photography: Riker Brothers

“… You can never have enough heart —or enough humor.”

For an actor with as much range and impact as Harden, the slogan seems more than fitting. Her body of work including many, many amazing and memorable productions – think Miller’s Crossing, Broadway’s Angels in America and God of Carnage and critically acclaimed tv shows like The Newsroom and How to Get Away with Murder – is witness to a broad and nuanced talent.

Appearing in television, theater and of course movies since the 80s, she has had tremendous success topping out with an Oscar, a Tony and several Prime Time Emmy nominations. ( If her latest role of Margaret Wright in CBS’s So Help Me Todd keeps up the quality it has shown so far and lands the 2023 Emmy she will get her Triple Crown of Acting – one of the most
lauded achievements in Hollywood!) While So Help Me… is primarily grounded in legal drama, Harden believes that it has a little bit of everything. “It’s not your normal show. It’s an hour-long procedural with comedy, drama, family, and a clue trail. To me, it’s not your regular procedural about fire, or crime, or whatever — it’s not just gore and guts.” Her character navigates a relationship between herself, Todd, her son and a private investigator with dry humor and wit through well observed interactions and dialogue.

By Jane Godiner Photography: Riker Brothers

For Harden, it’s important that she has a voice in the creative and generative process of storytelling. In her latest tv manifestation, her insight and experience have had a meaningful impact on the show’s production. “I’m a writer, myself, so I’m very much about the word. I also come from a theater background, so I have the opportunity to discuss language and scene, and to finesse the writing.” While she might be willing to re-arrange, re-write or even compromise, there’s one hill that she’ll die on when it comes to Margaret’s character. “One of the really important things for me is that she remains smart. There’s humor about her – she’s constantly doing malaprops, which is really fun – but she always has to be a very smart lawyer.”

“I also feel like it’s important that the show doesn’t just live in a vacuum — that the things that we’re going through, the things that we’re solving as characters, and the things that we’re going through in life aren’t just specific to this little family in Portland.” So far, Harden’s efforts have addressed current and difficult social justice issues, such as “Gloom and Broom,” in which Margaret represents someone on death row wrongfully convicted of a racist murder. While telling these stories is necessary, Harden believes that simple writing is half of the battle. The other half, she argues, is writing them in nuanced ways. “Margaret is the head lawyer, but when she discusses this case, we didn’t want her to seem like the white savior. Everybody listened, and we all worked with some of those ideas.”

Both inside and outside of her job, Harden’s passion for advocacy is palpable. From discussing gentrification in New York City, to recounting the power of her appearance in “Angels in America” during the AIDS epidemic, to explaining her desire to see a more diverse entertainment industry, it’s clear that she’s committed to making her community more equitable. “In certain states in this country, they’re trying very hard to exclude human beings for simply being who they are. It’s more important than ever that we change that now.” She also challenges those who argue that diversifying modern television and film casts might deduct from the “authenticity” of certain historical worlds. “It’s exciting, to me, to say, ‘What are all the many ways that we can tell and reimagine stories about time and neighborhood and imagination?”. If we’re telling ‘more realistic’ stories, let’s really be more realistic with it.” As someone who has dealt with a wide range of life experiences, she believes that it’s of the utmost importance to bolster as many voices as possible.

Dress: Tom Ford

Harden (who relates to many of Margaret’s triumphs and challenges) says that playing this role has not only been professionally fulfilling, but personal, too. “I have grown children. I am divorced. I’ve been a working woman since God knows when, and I provide for my kids almost entirely. I have a world of experience that would allow me to understand Margaret, and I feel like there’s a lot of parallels between us.”

In a world that is constantly innovating and modernizing, it’s important to her to keep up. Although she’s curious about the development of new technologies, from artificial intelligence to the newest James Cameron films, she argues that there’s still a place in the entertainment industry for traditional media. “I’d like to believe that there’s always going to be a world of actors and storytelling, because it is so ancient. For the same reason people still love paper books — [it’s] something you can feel, something tangible and sensual.”

“I think people should communicate. I mean, you know, women particularly. Women – we do have our own sort of oral history. This tangibility, she says with a twinkle in her eye, is what fuels much of her acting craft. “When I’m on paper, things hit my brain differently.” In order to figure out the emphasis for her lines, Harden will even write them out by hand. “I’ve tried to use an app [to rehearse lines], but it doesn’t work the same for me. “There’s not a connection; there’s not a kinetic moment to it.”

Photography: Riker Brothers Styling: Bailey Grooming: Richard Marin Jenna Anton Dress: Michael Kors

In a social-media-oriented world, however, Wentworth acknowledges the benefit in never having been an ingenue, overly reTo say that Harden’s plate is full is an understatement. In the midst of traveling back and forth from shooting Uncoupled in New York and So Help Me Todd in Vancouver, helping her daughter navigate the college admissions process, and supporting her son’s casting in the Fringe Festival, she’s also cooking up a children’s mindful bedtime podcast called “Snories”—complete with affirmations and jazz music by Nana Simopoulos. However, and despite all of the current momentum in her life, she can’t help but feel that she’ll eventually return to the stage. “I’ll always go back to the theater. Right now, I only get to be an observer of it….[but] Theater is an old love.”

From studying in Greece, Germany, and Texas, to making a name for herself in Washington, D.C., to attending graduate school and continuing to build her career in New York, it’s safe to say that Harden has lived a lot of lives. When she speaks about New York, it’s evident that the City has got to her. “New York is a magnet for me. There’s this eclectic, espresso energy on the street, and it’s moving. It’s never stagnant.” When she thinks about going back to the world of theater, she seems to also think of New York. “It is in a wonderful place; a wonderful, lush haven of theater and culture.”

It’s a different world, and today’s teens do have the strong benefit of more teenage role models. From Greta Thunberg to the survivors of the Parkland shooting, it’s okay to be an activist. “And they need to be, because the adults aren’t doing anythRegardless of where Harden has been, or where she will go, one thing is abundantly clear: she is ever- grateful for the present. Her composed confidence, desire to continue learning, and empathetic warmth, coupled with a very real awareness of the world, speak to her broad range of lived experiences… and her longing for more of them.

Skirt and coat: Vintage Celine Hat: ClothedLA Shoes: Larroude

After all, as she says, “Life is long.”

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