Interview with The Last Match's Natalia Payne
Natalia Payne Spills All About "The Last Match"
Photos by Jim Cox
The Old Globe's first-run production of Anna Ziegler's play The Last Match has been dazzling audiences for the last two weeks. Now, FINE magazine got a chance to speak with Natalia Payne, one of the stars of the play! Payne plays Galina, the girlfriend of young Russian tennis star Sergei. In terms of comedy, Payne absolutely steals the show as the thick-skinned, yet lovable Galina.
Natalia Payne is a graduate of Yale University's Theater Studies program. In the past, she has worked in New York, performing in plays such as Novel, New Jerusalem, and Me, Myself, and I. Payne has also guest starred on television shows including Dark Matter, Law and Order SVU, Reign, and Defiance. Check out our interview with her down below, and be sure to see The Last Match at The Old Globe!
This is your first performance at The Old Globe! How do you like it (and San Diego, for that matter)?
This is my first time ever in San Diego, actually, and I’m loving it so far! The Old Globe is a fantastic place to work as an artist — the entire staff has been so welcoming and helpful, and you couldn’t ask for a more beautifully situated workplace. My daily walk to the theater, past the San Diego Zoo and the Botanical Building, has become one of the highlights of this gig so far.
You’ve guest starred on a number of different TV shows such as Reign, Defiance, and Law and Order SVU. What’s the difference between acting on TV and acting on stage?
Guest starring on a TV show feels a bit like running a sprint — the whole experience is completely immersive for the few days you’re on set, and then it’s over and you’re back in your apartment wondering what just happened. Stage acting is more like running a marathon — you have to pace yourself and be careful not to peak too early. Especially with a world premiere, like The Last Match, you are incorporating rewrites and changes up until the final preview performance, so you really have to roll with the punches, keep an open mind and keep exploring until the end. Getting to repeat the show so many times in front of an audience means you discover lots of new things about your character and their relationships along the way. Some nights, a moment will feel incredibly funny and other nights it will be more poignant. It all has a cumulative effect and, hopefully, by the end of this run, I will feel like I know this character inside out.
What drew you to The Last Match? What makes this play stand out?
I’ve known our playwright Anna Ziegler for years - I had acted in other shows of hers in New York - and was already a huge admirer of her work. When I first read The Last Match, it floored me — I had never been a tennis fan, didn’t understand any of the scoring or lingo in the script. But, to me, this play was about the life of a professional performer — the indescribable rush you feel when doing the thing you love in front of a live audience, and also the costs that come with choosing that kind of life. I could definitely relate to the characters’ struggles and triumphs. And when I read Galina I just thought ‘this is the most hilarious, fun character I will ever get the chance to play — I’ve got to do this part!’
The Last Match takes place in an arena-type theater. What are the challenges of working in such a venue?
The obvious challenge is that you’ve always got your back to part of the audience, so you need to be conscious of sharing your performance with the whole room. I had never worked in the round before but, I must say, I love performing in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. It feels grand and intimate at the same time. The audience is so close to you and also all around you. It actually feels easier to share my work with the audience in that unique setup. And the floor plan of the theater mimics a tennis stadium really effectively, so it helps to place me in the world of the play.
You play Galina in Anna Ziegler’s production of The Last Match. How would you describe Galina? How, if at all, do you relate to her?
Oh, Galina! Where to begin? I instantly responded to Galina when I read the script. Galina is Russian; my mother’s family is Ukrainian, and I was immersed in a lot of that culture growing up. I have encountered several Galinas throughout my life and have always been drawn to Eastern European characters — their unique dramatic flair, their bold sense of style, their grit, their passion, and their incredible humor. Galina is all of those rolled into one. If just a tiny fraction of her confidence and unapologetic gusto rubs off on me, I will be forever grateful. Playing her onstage is a pure joyride.
The cast has a lot of chemistry. Do you have any anecdotes or stories about the rehearsal process?
Troian Bellisario and Patrick J. Adams (who play the American couple in the show) are engaged in real life. I’ve loved getting to watch them rehearse together, because they bring so much of their natural chemistry, humor, and familiarity to their characters. There’s a lovely shorthand that develops between actors who know each other well offstage, who can read each other’s gestures and expressions, and who trust each other. Alex Mickiewicz (who plays Sergei) and I have known each other for about a year — we met doing an early workshops of this play, actually! You won’t meet many more charming, funny and charismatic fellows than Alex, so building chemistry with him onstage has been pretty easy. I think our offstage friendship has really helped us find Sergei and Galina’s unique rapport. There’s a lot of passion, bluster, humor, but also tenderness between them — they like to push each other’s buttons.
The Last Match runs at The Old Globe until March 13th, 2016. Tickets can be purchased via The Old Globe.