Clad in a wine-colored lace dress, she moves self-consciously, illustrating a physical awareness endemic to performers. Though she began her career as a teen model, her comfort level posing for pictures has faded, leaving something very human and relatable.
"You fall in love with her," says Carolyn Cantor, who directs Bledel in the world premiere of Matt Charman's
Photo by Sebastian Piras site:here
"Regrets," which opened at Manhattan Theatre Club March 27. "She's so genuine and so honest. She's incapable of lying."
With "Regrets," Bledel is abandoning cameras altogether, and—aside from a brief stint in Nora and Delia Ephron's "Love, Loss, and What I Wore" Off-Broadway in 2011—she's taking on the stage for the first time. Set in 1950s Nevada, "Regrets" centers on a desert retreat center where men go to secure a quick divorce. When young Caleb Farley comes from Hollywood to establish residence, his presence prompts suspicion and allegations.
Best known as the strait-laced Rory on "Gilmore Girls," her first professional acting gig, Bledel, 30, radiates the innocence she displayed in roles as varied as Winnie Foster in "Tuck Everlasting" and Lena in "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." She's charting new territory in Charman's work as prostitute Chrissie, who has an abusive father and craves an escape from small-town life.
Being associated with a role—particularly one that captured America's consciousness from 2000 to 2007—is a blessing and a curse. When Bledel sits down to talk, she wears a preppy sweater ensemble, reminiscent of her television alter ego, but the identification doesn't extend beyond appearances.
"If you work really hard and you're able to present a lot of different sides of yourself to casting directors, they're going to see that," she says. "If people like your work, they'll want to hopefully see you do other things. It's just up to you to do the work."
Perception wasn't a problem with "Regrets," however, as Cantor wasn't overly familiar with Bledel's film and television experience. Bledel participated in an early reading of the play, and when her agent told her auditions were being held, she put herself on tape. Cantor and Charman watched Bledel's tape together and were captivated, but Cantor needed to meet her to seal the deal.
"When she walked in, it felt like she had a great combination of sassiness with innocence that we were looking for," Cantor says. "She just gave a great audition. I worked with her a lot, and she was really flexible. It just felt like a great match between an actor and a role."
A New Stage
Bledel moved back to New York from L.A. three years ago with her sights set on working in theater, but auditioning for the stage was a new experience. "You have to use the space," she says. "The first few were more uncomfortable than anything else and probably not that impressive."
Bledel works one-on-one with acting coach Alan Wynroth, who encourages her to embrace auditions as an opportunity to perform. "It doesn't really intimidate me, because if you go in completely prepared and you do the best you can do, then that's all you can do," she says.
Bledel also learned to translate the intimacy of working on film to the stage. Her sweet, soft-spoken nature lures everyone in the room to her level, but speech projection was something she had to develop.
"There's some safety in working in front of a camera," she says. "This is a great challenge because it almost teaches you how to speak properly." One would think that a mastery of language would have been a side effect of Amy Sherman-Palladino's infamous, jargon-filled "Gilmore Girls" scripts, but Bledel calls Sherman-Palladino's rat-a-tat dialogue a "blitz of language."
"When I get out of the show at the end of the day, I'm much louder than usual," she says. "I have so much to say because it does unlock something that can be locked up sometimes."
Though Bledel got her start performing in Houston, where her mother put her in community theater to help her overcome her shyness, she says that she didn't identify herself as a performer then. Instead, Bledel's creative pursuits began behind the scenes. In high school she put together a production of the "Seinfeld" "Soup Nazi" episode for stage and wrote a play, which gained her acceptance to the writing and directing program of New York University's film school.
While at NYU, Bledel filmed an acting class at Stella Adler Studio of Acting, so the students could watch their scene work. "That was where I actually wanted to start acting professionally," she says. "I would watch how they got to make choices as to how to play the scenes, and I started getting my own ideas for how I would do it." One of her first auditions, which she landed through her modeling agency, was "Gilmore Girls."
"It wasn't like something I planned for a long time," Bledel says of being cast, filming the pilot, and having the show picked up. "It was something that was decided for me."
Alexis Bledel in "Regrets" (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
Being thrown into the "whirlwind" of work on a television show can be daunting. "I was pretty overwhelmed for the first two years," she says, adding that once she grew accustomed to the technical aspects and established a rhythm, she began to feel more comfortable.
After seven years as Rory, Bledel admits she became lazy sometimes and only showed certain sides of her personality.
"That's not the job!" she says, exasperated with herself. "The job is to be active the whole time you're on camera and deliberate to a certain extent about what you're letting an audience see, and there should be a reason why. It's more fun when you're intentionally getting something across that people pick up on. It's very satisfying to learn how to do that."
Working onstage is a different process from that of film or TV, though Bledel says the demanding Hollywood call times prepared her for the grueling eight-show-a-week agenda. And the extended rehearsal process, something unheard of for camera work, helped her unearth different sides of her character.
"Being able to present five different ways of playing a scene, you don't learn that doing television," she says. "And what you get out of it is that habit of the movement, and you're able to feel comfortable doing it. If it was the first time you did it, it would be terrifying. It's amazing to work with so many great actors who do so much theater here. I try to pick up as much as I can from them."
Bledel is in good company in "Regrets." She's not the newest kid on the block (that would be high schooler Ansel Elgort, making his professional acting debut as Caleb Farley) and co-stars with Tony-winner Adriane Lenox, "Man and Boy" 's Brian Hutchison, "Boardwalk Empire" 's Curt Bouril, and "Orphan's Home Cycle" 's Lucas Caleb Rooney. Another cast member, Richard Topol, guest-starred on "Gilmore Girls," and Bledel says having worked with him has helped build cast camaraderie.
The collaborative rehearsal process, with Cantor at the helm, allowed Bledel to develop the role for the play's world premiere, and she worked closely with Charman on creating the character. To prepare, Bledel watched old Elizabeth Taylor films because Chrissie dreams of Hollywood stardom, and she spoke with Cantor about a woman's role at the time. Most of all, Bledel wanted to make sure she retained an honest approach.
"When a moment feels false to her, she kind of drops out of it," Cantor says of Bledel's strengths as an actor. "She has a very strong truth radar."
Bledel may have found herself in a serendipitous acting career, but she discovers that the more she does it, the more she can't stop.
"It's an outlet for a lot of emotions and things that you don't necessarily experience in your real life," she says. "Once you do it for a long time, it's so much a part of you because you are your instrument. That's what you're using to do your work, so if you're not using that anymore, it just feels bizarre."
- Her first language is Spanish.
- She was an extra in Wes Anderson's "Rushmore" in 1998. She played a student.
- In addition to Chrissie in "Regrets," she played a prostitute in "Sin City" in 2005.