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Margaret Colin can’t seem to get enough of those mother-of-dysfunctional-children parts. As Eleanor Waldorf, the fashion designer mom to Blair on “Gossip Girl,” she grapples with bulimia, temper tantrums and Upper East Side mean girl drama. Now, on a brief break from taping the hit show, Colin is starring as Queen Gertrude, maternal figure to the famously unstable Hamlet in this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production, opening tonight.
According to Colin, there’s no question about which fictional progeny is more of a handful.
“I think Hamlet’s more trouble….I certainly hope Blair doesn’t dry-hump her mother in bed,” she says of a particularly nasty (and Oedipal) onstage battle between mother and son.
This production is the 50-year-old actress’ first foray into Shakespearean territory. Yet despite the daunting script, Colin had few qualms about taking on the role of Gertrude, a character made famous in film by the likes of Glenn Close (opposite Mel Gibson) and Eileen Herlie (opposite Richard Burton).
“It was really clear that she was a queen, a public figure, a ruler with all of that decorum and history. And that she was a mother with really clear boundaries about her son’s behavior and incredible mother bear instincts,” explains Colin. “As the play goes on, things go pretty poorly for everybody and it’s only going to get worse for Gertrude. But she’s too much of a fighter. She keeps going, which actually I think is something she has in common with Eleanor.”
The actress found her own commonality with Gertrude through their shared Catholic faith. Colin was born in Brooklyn to an Irish-Catholic family of five children and raised in Baldwin on Long Island. She studied drama and dance at Hofstra University and got her professional start on television in “The Edge of Night.” Since then, she has worked in every medium, including on film in “Three Men and a Baby” and “First Daughter”; on Broadway in “Old Acquaintance” and “Jackie,”, and of course, as TV’s Eleanor Waldorf, a role she will reprise when her shooting starts again in July.
If it seems odd that with such a diverse résumé, Colin has only arrived at Shakespeare now (college endeavors aside), it is as much a product of pragmatism as happenstance.
“Frankly, when you’re just getting started, you take whatever you can get. Starving had no appeal to me,” says Colin, who lives in New Jersey and has two teenaged sons. “At this age, with children and a husband and the whole suburban catastrophe, you hope everybody’s OK and then you can do a challenging role that speaks to your heart. You check and see: anyone pregnant? Anyone on drugs? No? Good. I can go for it.”