A Sit Down With Casey Hartnett

Re: The Girl with the Red Hair, A play by Anthony Laura 

To sit and talk with Casey Hartnett about a character like Hayley Jones in a play like The Girl With The Red Hair is a complete breath of fresh air. Casey is casual but focused, soft yet stern and friendly but direct. All of which show exactly why Anthony Laura cast her as his lead in this play. The character of Hayley Jones is a delicate one; The scene is set in a psychiatric facility and Hayley is battling her inner demons the entire play between her personal trauma and mental illness while trying to maintain relationships. And she does all of this while on the brink of a manic episode. 

The show, The Girl With The Red Hair is getting its second run in December, after much praise for the first run. While I didn’t get to see the play for the first time, after sitting with Casey Hartnett and reading the script I will most definitely be there in December. 

Ali: Casey, this play is filled with difficult scenes, why were you drawn to this specific role? 

Casey: So Anthony called me after reading the script asking “Do you want to do it? It’s kind of a beast of a role…” And I was like “Yup.” I wasn’t thinking about the beast of a role, the script is very good, the flow is solid, I just felt a connection to the character right away. And I said, I’d love to see where this goes.  I really admired the script in general and I really loved Hayley. I really like misunderstood characters. And we were talking about how he was inspired by the women in his life and how his writing is very relatable, he writes very real women, very complex portrayals of female characters, which I think is such a gift. So that’s one thing I love about his writing and all of his projects that I’ve read or been a part of so far. A dream role of mine was to be Laura in The Glass Menagerie and when I played her in acting class I got very protective over her because she reminded me of someone I know and love. So now with Hayley I get very protective over her and of all of those types of characters. We were just talking about how long we hoped to be working on this play for and it was one of those things where no matter how long this show goes on I don’t want to think about anyone else playing this role. Not in a selfish way, but I am still learning about her in so many ways, It’s such a sensitive role and you feel like you just want to protect her and do her justice, and all of the girls in similar situations to Hayley. I want to protect these misunderstood characters and when you feel that in a script its very powerful.

A: Can you talk about your working relationship with Anthony? And why you would want to work with him again in the future.

C: I feel like we are very good collaborative partners. He’s very open to hearing the ideas from his actors.  It’s just a very trusting environment, like if we try something and we fall on our face, it’s fine – he doesn’t make it a scary environment. But a lot of times things work in ways that we didn’t even expect and its magical. Collaboratively it’s been really fun because there is a lot of trust and respect there. 

A: So, this show is a tougher subject, is that something you generally look for in a role? Or did you just find that you’re good at it jumping in? 

C: (laughing) I didn’t know I was good at this! When he called me and said he thought I could do this I was like, wow. I’m a very soft-spoken person, people say I’m like the best friend, girl next door, sweet innocent character. And I think because I am so soft spoken this isn’t something that I’m used to people being like “I think you’ll be good at this.” I had to work through to really be okay to express anger and rage on stage, I was very quiet and reserved growing up. So I guess this is the first time someone has said they feel like I can do something this emotionally diverse. Anthony clearly saw something, and that was just really nice.  Reading it I was like okay I think I can do this but there were parts that just scared me. I don’t always submit myself for roles where it’s like this badass woman but I think this has given me more confidence in that way.

A: The show is getting a new run, which is very exciting. What are you interested in or excited about exploring in this new run?

C: Well I think we just didn’t have enough time to dive into the bi-polar disorder and childhood sexual abuse, which are both very intense topics and so in depth. So really for me, I’ve been doing a lot more reading, for me it was always so important to try and do justice to those two things. Because they do correlate with one another really well. So working with the trauma and the mental illness, they correlate but diving deep into what that depression looks like, what that mania looks like. Last time we just didn’t have enough time.  We’re using this time to do research and workshop. I think for me the scariest thing as an actor is doing this and having someone coming to the show leaving feeling just as misunderstood as when they walked in. But at the same time I don’t want to think about it too much because I am going to do what I do… but I just want to be sensitive towards that. It’s gonna be great just to get the opportunity to dive in more than last time.

A: In the second run Anthony is adding the character of “Young Hayley.” How do you think the addition of young Hayley propels the play forward for the audience?

C: I think it’s definitely going to have a stronger effect, seeing the difference between someone pre trauma and the same person post trauma so many years later. Anthony was just talking about how people who were abused as young kids are always afraid they are going to become abusers. And I hadn’t thought about that. But when I’m Hayley and I recognize that that’s me, young Hayley, and knowing what’s going to happen to her and there’s nothing I can do about it… Having those moments was tough. You know you can’t go back and fix it, even though she’s right there.  I feel like there’s a point for most people where something happens and there’s a divide between when you were carefree and naive and then when you’re older. That divide that makes you more of a realist. I think that in itself will be more of a relatable thing. I think it will be a universal understanding of Hayley for the audience.

A: You’re obviously very passionate about Hayley as a character, what do you love about Hayley so much?

C: I think Hayley is an open minded person and a really caring person, especially towards the other people in the hospital. Because she is so smart and intelligent and she does have this open minded, I am not going to judge you and I’ll accept you for who you are mentality. And she doesn’t judge others illnesses because she doesn’t want that for herself. I think there is an underlying quality about her, it’s easier for her to distract herself by caring about other people than focusing on herself. It makes her feel normal in a world where she doesn’t always feel normal. That’s definitely something that I love about her. 

A: After revisiting the character, what are the biggest challenges you’ve faced with Hayley?

C: The biggest challenge for me was braving the rage scenes, the violence and the mania. Because I am not a violent person, when I get angry I tend to just hold it in. I’m not as temperamental towards anger, that’s just not how I express myself. So when I read that in a character I don’t know if I can do that. So that is definitely a fear I had. For me, embracing and just letting myself go there and just really diving into the mental illness and making that as truthful and honest as possible. When I was a kid I had so many people tell me to do film and not theater because I didn’t have a big personality. 

A: What do you hope the audience gains from seeing this play?

C: I would hope that the play opens up the conversation about mental health a bit more. And the people who see it go home and are just more open to talking about it – whether it’s friends or their own self just being okay to talk about it and not being judgmental. Anyone can find themselves subconsciously judging another person and not doing it in a way of disrespect but making a snap judgment. When we started rehearsing I was working with the homeless and I think from doing that work and learning about very vulnerable people, it just completely changed my stigmas around homelessness. So I would hope that when someone sees Hayley and sees her struggling to like try to will it all away, that Hayley didn’t ask for this, so you just hope that people leave the theater open minded and understanding, less judgmental and continue learning and having conversations about it. Just not treating people like their crazy or anything like that. 

A: There are a lot of characters arcs for every character but Hayley can’t seem to connect with them. Throughout the play she loses a lot of friends and Tabitha is really the only one who can stay friends with her. What do you think of the significance of losing Cortney, and then gaining her back? 

C: I think Cortney is a great character honestly, I mean, they all are! But Cortney is just unique because with her there is always that, you can see it as a really close friend. You know everyone decided they were scared of Hayley and her mania, Tabitha put up with it and was there to console Hayley but Cortney is like; let me give her some space. She was scared of Hayley but for a different reason, because of a physical attraction.  I think also Cortney and Hayley might not understand everything they are going through but they have this level of I hear you, I see you – I may not understand, but I’m here for you. And I think there is just that love between the two of them. I think Cortney really wants Hayley to know that she is there and always will be there. I can’t talk about the last scene but there is a level of scary for Hayley that someone could care about her that much and for who she really is. 

A: So what was your favorite line of the play?

C: I was thinking about this, but I think my favorite is when Janice is telling Hayley about Dr. Watkins’ own personal situation. Because I loved Dr. Watkins character and how vulnerable but tough Vivien was with the role. It is wonderful to work off of. And then you hear Janice say this about Dr. Watkins: So if Dr. Watkins has her problems, and I have my problems, and your mom has her problems, you have your problems, God even has his own problems… Who is really going to be able to help you? Because we’re all going through our own stuff. It broadens the whole thing from just about the patients to no I’m your nurse and she’s your doctor and we all have our own stuff going on. Like when therapists see therapists.  You know everyone is just trying to figure it out. That line just stands out for me. It’s a powerful thing to just put that into perspective for people, you don’t know what someone else is going through and you don’t need to know but just understand that they’re human. But that’s probably why I love that line, if only we could all be doing that the world would be a different place. 

A: Is there anything specific you do before the opening act?

C: Well we do a pre-show. I’ll be sitting onstage in the space as Hayley, just there, before the show. When doing the pre-show for the July run and all of these people started walking in and of course they are looking at me but I didn’t want them to look at me. I got really self-conscious. You know I’m in Hayley’s mind frame and I didn’t want them to look at me like I was crazy. It brought out this self-consciousness in Hayley before the show and it probably helped me. And I always was wondering if that was why Anthony did it. But it felt like they were in my space, I started getting emotional with it and I had to turn away for a moment just to be like its okay that they are here. I think it was also knowing what I was going to do in front of these people, it got weird, but a good weird. I just felt emotionally connected and prepared for the role that I didn’t want people to judge me. 

A: So Anthony told me a little about your life outside of the theater, I want to talk about what you do volunteer-wise! 

C: So I volunteer with #HappyPeriod and its an organization that collects menstrual products from homeless and low income families. And we distribute them to shelters and on the street. It started in LA and the woman, Chelsea Vonchaz who started it would walk up and down skid row handing out these kits and I’ve been involved since the beginning of 2016! I’ve been mostly doing drives in NY. My friend and I had made a web series, a comedic sketch series about women on their periods in different time periods. Just a fun little quirky thing we wanted to do. From there we researched period positive organizations and my friend found #HappyPeriod and that they do donation drives, we got in touch with Chelsea and at our screening we did a donation drive for New York. After that we stayed in touch with Chelsea and became the New York chapter for #HappyPeriod. Now it’s a small group who organize drives and events and we all work together. It’s tough because it’s all volunteer based it’s hard to stay consistent with the volunteers. I don’t want it to stop, and if me and a few other people stopped the New York chapter would stop, so we don’t want that to happen. I also started working with Breaking Ground a homeless outreach program. They do street to home housing. And it really works. I felt like I could do it for a long time but then I got back involved with theater and had to stop working with the homeless. Now that the play is going on I really only have time to do #happyperiod and the show. 


Written and interviewed by Alissandra L’Hommedieu

For show dates/times visit: https://www.facetofacefilms.net/thegirlwiththeredhair

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