NEW YORK — When father and daughter duo Henry and Jane Fonda acted together in the 1981 Oscar-winning “On Golden Pond,” much was made of their tumultuous relationship on- and offscreen. But Linda Powell, the actress taking on Fonda’s role in the Broadway revival (the play made its debut in 1979), insists there is no such drama between her and the actor who plays her fictional father, James Earl Jones, or with her real-life one — former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“People think it would be a cute angle if I had a rocky relationship with my father, too,” she sighs, clearly used to all the questions about her famous dad. “But I’m sorry, I can’t oblige.” What she has been doing, however, is focusing on her role as Chelsea Thayer Wayne, the estranged daughter of a well-to-do elderly couple spending what could be their last summer on Golden Pond in Maine. For the first time, the play is being performed by an African-American cast (only the mailman is white). “It’s universal,” Powell says of the production, which opened Thursday and highlights themes like alienation and getting older. “We all recognize the stuff that’s going on in that family.”
Since spending her college years at William & Mary and the following two years at the Circle in the Square Theatre School, Powell, 39, has been working steadily. She performed in regional and off-Broadway productions of “Omnium Gatherum,” “Uncle Vanya” and August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson.” And like many New York actors, she has done guest spots on Manhattan-based television shows like “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: SVU,” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”
“Thank God for Dick Wolf,” says Powell, of the show’s creator. She also had a brief but memorable cameo on “Sex and the City.” “My mom won’t watch that episode,” she says, recounting her line in “Attack of the Five Foot Ten Woman,” where Samantha gets an overly generous masseuse fired, causing Powell’s character to sniff at a luncheon, “Who’s going to f–k me now?”
During her formative years, Powell, who turns 40 next week, and her family moved from army base to army base. In each new town, she went straight to the nearest playhouse. “Maybe I picked up the skill of fitting into different environments, which is useful as an actress,” she says. The constant moving around has also given her the need for an ever-evolving space. “I’ve lived in the apartment I have now for longer than I have lived in any space in my life,” she says of the Upper West Side home she bought years ago. “I have to paint the walls constantly to feel like I’m living someplace else.”