Dillahunt, Paulson Make Their Bay Street Debut in ‘Conviction’

Sarah Paulson
Sarah Paulson. Photo credit: Andrew H. Walker/ Getty Images Entertainment/Thinkstock

Bay Street Theater kicks off its summer 2014 season with the world premiere of Carey Crim’s Conviction, a drama about a teacher whose life is torn apart by a damning accusation.

Directed by new Bay Street artistic director Scott Schwartz, Conviction stars Garret Dillahunt and Sarah Paulson, who are known for their various film and television projects. Viewers will recognize Dillahunt from the Fox comedy Raising Hope, while Paulson is one of the stars of the television series American Horror Story. Dan’s Papers spoke with Dillahunt and Paulson about their roles in Conviction, their various projects both past and present, and more.

“Rehearsals are going well,” Paulson says. “We don’t have very much time—it’s a short rehearsal schedule. Actors like to make themselves crazy,” she laughs. Paulson is grateful to be able to have Crim on-hand. “The great thing about a world premiere is that it’s very much a collaborative process. Carey’s a wonderful writer. She’s very receptive when we have questions.”

Paulson notes that rehearsals have been smooth, with only minor script changes, and that she was drawn to the project because of the character she’s playing. “The thing that’s the most extraordinary about her is that she’s even-keeled, pragmatic and she’s an extreme situation,” Paulson says, careful not to spoil any of the plot. “She’s a very strong woman. To me, she’s a mother before anything else. And she’s an ER nurse, so she’s used to needing be in [control]. She doesn’t lead with her emotions.”

Paulson is also happy to be back on stage. “I haven’t done a play since Talley’s Folly by Lanford Wilson last year. I like to do theater, not only because of the collaboration, but also that you don’t have to wait long for it to come out. It’s an incredible thing…being able to have a character’s journey go all the way in one night.”

Due to her shooting schedule for American Horror Story, Paulson chooses her other projects carefully. “I had just come off American Horror Story: Asylum, and my character went through these tremendous acts of violence perpetrated against her. Talley’s Folly, which was much lighter, was certainly the right thing to do at the time.”

Garret Dillahunt.
Garret Dillahunt.
Photo credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Entertainment/Thinkstock

Dillahunt echoes Paulson’s enthusiasm for Conviction. “I read it and it stuck with me,” he says. “I like projects that do that. Something is happening on an unconscious level, and I always listen to that when picking what [roles] to do next.” While Dillahunt may not be a household name, he has an extensive resume of diverse roles. “I don’t think I have a preference, really… theater, film, television. It’s all about the role. Is it interesting? Is it different than what I just did?” Dillahunt has avoided typecasting throughout his career, from playing the violent villain in director Dennis Iliadis’s 2009 remake of Last House on the Left to the lovable young grandfather Burt in Raising Hope. “I always thought that is what actors are supposed to do: stand in lots of different peoples’ shoes. I am grateful that I’ve had that opportunity.”

While Paulson and Dillahunt are starring opposite each other for the first time, they have worked on several of the same projects. “I think [Garret] is truly one of the most underrated actors,” Paulson says. “No matter what he’s in, he’s the best.” Both actors appeared on HBO’s Deadwood and in the film 12 Years a Slave, but never had scenes together. “I am very excited to finally have some interaction with Sarah,” Dillahunt notes. “She is a monster talent whose work I have admired for a long time. Luckily, she wanted to work with me, too!”

Both Paulson and Dillahunt hope audiences will think about Conviction long after the play ends. “It’s different to see a classic play revived. In a new play, it’s exciting to go in knowing as little as possible,” Paulson says. Dillahunt thinks the play will provide audiences with something to talk about. “I hope it sticks with them as much as it did with me when I first read it. If there are after-theater drinks or eats, I expect some lively debate will be sparked.”

Conviction runs from May 27 to June 15 at Bay Street Theater. For tickets and more information, call 631-725-9500 or go to baystreet.org.

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