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NEW YORK — There is a small cadre of women who secretly wish Blythe Danner was their mother. On screen, she appears poised, strong-willed, comedic and stylish. The bad news for the envious is that, aside from already having a daughter, she’s these same things offscreen as well (even if she may argue with the “stylish” bit). And though she is indeed old enough to be the mother of Carla Gugino, her 30-something co-star in Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer” (which opens Wednesday at the Laura Pels Theatre), their relationship is more akin to peers than mother and daughter.

“We are like each other’s nurses,” Danner says, commenting on the emotional torment both actresses explore in the story. In the end, as Mrs. Venable and her niece Catharine, respectively, Danner and Gugino agree that they carry each other through the tempestuous journey as Mrs. Venable tries to find out the truth about her son’s death.

As the two sit down in Danner’s dressing room, decorated with congratulatory bouquets from old friends and photographs of her family, their conversation comes naturally. “We’re constantly learning from each other,” Gugino says. Still, there are some things that come with age, as Danner deftly demonstrates, cleverly diverting conversation when off-topics arise. Here, WWD joins their discussion of their motivations, vices and fashion faves.

WWD: Why did you both want to do this play?
Blythe Danner: There’s something so seductive about Williams, and this place where you’re being transported. It’s sort of an out-of-body experience for me — without taking drugs. I don’t walk around really wanting to play parts. But I wanted so much to imbue this woman with humanity. She’s not a monster — she wants to preserve her son’s memory.
Carla Gugino: But it is interesting how people do whatever they need to do to survive. I also read it and thought, I don’t know if I can get inside of Catharine. I think a lot of my trepidation was absolutely something inside of me knowing where I was going to have to go emotionally.
B.D.: When we first read the play together, we were both sobbing, wiping tears away in the bathroom saying, “How are we going to be able to do this eight times a week?”
C.G.: But when you trust another actor, you can really jump off a cliff together and see what happens. That’s something that I feel so blessed to have. You are such a natural. You have such truth and such a beautiful command of the stage —
B.D.: Would anybody like hand cream?
C.G.: I told you we should have talked about her in the other room so that I could gush. This is really nice lotion, by the way.
B.D.: If you want it, it’s in here. You can use it anytime.

This story first appeared in the November 14, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

WWD: I see Carla’s brought you food.
B.D.: Every day we’re bringing something to one another. I love macrobiotic and healthy stuff and vegetarian things.
C.G.: And I’m kind of obsessed with it, too. We’ve been eating carob chip cookies and hijiki. There’s the occasional chocolate croissant or a cupcake. You’ve got to mix it up a little. If I had a vice, it’d be dark chocolate.
B.D.: Me too, I love it.
C.G.: I had a friend who said that you can never trust a woman who can’t eat an entire cake by herself. She doesn’t have to, but she has to be able to.

WWD: And what about fashion?
C.G.: I’m a total clotheshorse.
B.D.: I’m fairly lazy about it. I usually try to buy my costumes. My daughter got her style sense from my husband [the late Bruce Paltrow]. I think clogs are stylish.
C.G.: I’m a big fan of Jane Mayle and Tracy Feith. Dolce & Gabbana is sort of cut perfectly — they definitely love the curves.
B.D.: I like Max Mara, which I think is probably predictable for an older lady.

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