‘Gossip Girl,’ ‘Independence Day’ star dishes on Arena Stage play

September 28, 2023 | WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Margaret Colin (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — You know her as Margo Hughes in “As The World Turns,” Eleanor Waldorf in “Gossip Girl” and Jeff Goldblum’s ex-wife Constance Spano in “Independence Day” (1996).

Now, versatile actress Margaret Colin is climbing inside the skin of a politically active Georgetown socialite in “The City of Conversation,” now at Arena Stage through March 6.

“It’s about politics, which is why I’m so excited to do the play here. I play a Georgetown hostess. … She puts together great parties for great minds and moves a social agenda forward. … At what price does what you believe in bang up against who you love?” Colin tells WTOP.

The production marks the D.C. debut of a play that originated at Lincoln Center in New York City.

“I was one of the lucky people who did get to see it in New York and I was haunted by it. … Am I like that? … Is my list of what is OK to do and not OK to do enough to separate me from the people that I love? … It got really personal, which that’s the best theatre, isn’t it? If we can live something out on stage for you so that maybe you don’t have to make those mistakes in your life,” Colin says.

Colin plays Hester Ferris, who opens her home for political foes to hash out differences over drinks. Her proudest story is a dinner party where President John F. Kennedy visited with Joseph Alsop and Isaiah Berlin, who advised him on Soviet behavior on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The play also spans the administrations of President Jimmy Carter and President Ronald Reagan, namely Reagan’s 1987 nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, which was ultimately rejected by the Senate. By the end, it closes with the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

“She’s liberal and she’s Democrat, and she has a son and he comes home with a girlfriend, who turns out to be a fiancee, and they are not liberal and they are not Democrat. This is huge news to Hester.”

Colin invites both progressives and conservatives to come to Arena Stage.

“Playwright Tony Giardina addresses that need for conversation from both sides. … The young Republican people in the play talk about the rights of fetuses as an emerging majority … and that comes smack right up with Hester’s opinion that that’s not nearly as important as women and blacks … and that battle is alive and well and represented from both sides really fairly I believe,” she says.

Above all, director Doug Hughes stresses how family relationships are strained by the politics.

“That moment that you realize your son is dating someone that you don’t like, perhaps it’s the same with daughters, I don’t know. I am a daughter so I knew in a second if my mother liked or disliked who I brought home, and probably went for the ones she disliked. It’s part of the breaking away deal.”

While Colin lacks a real-life daughter, she mothered one of TV’s most famous daughters in “Gossip Girl” protagonist Blair Waldorf, played by Leighton Meester, who joined WTOP this time last year.

“How lucky I was that I was her mother. She’s a lovely young woman, and she’s a married lady with a baby now, and I got to meet her baby just a few months ago in D.C. I think she’s terrific. … I toured China with ‘The Pentagon Papers’ … But everywhere I went, I was ‘Brer Mama’ (Blair’s mama).”

Colin says the Manhattan setting of “Gossip Girl” allowed her plenty of career flexibility.

“The best part about it was shooting in New York. I could do Gertrude in ‘Hamlet’ in Shakespeare in the Park at the same time I was shooting a (TV) series that reached a huge global audience. I could do feature films and independent films and I wasn’t under contract, so I had a lot of freedom.”

Of all of her feature films, none is more famous than Roland Emmerich’s blockbuster alien-invasion smash “Independence Day” (1996), which remains the No. 39 top grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation). She played both Bill Pullman’s White House aide and Jeff Goldblum’s ex-wife.

“What stays with me was how charismatic Will Smith was, very prepared and every time he hit the set, he was working his Will Smith charisma. I said, ‘How nice to have such a young kid, beautiful, so enthusiastic coming on the set everyday.’ … Jeff was delicious and charming and sexy and handsome and smooth. Bill I had just seen in a couple of films … so we hit it off right in the makeup trailer.”

September 28, 2023 | Margaret Colin shares 'Independence Day' memories (Jason Fraley)

She says it was hard to stay calm amid such a massive production of Oscar-winning visual effects.

“The scale of it, the scope of it, going to see the aliens in that set was mind blowing. The biggest direction Roland gave me was, ‘Cool is the rule.’ … It was really fun and of course it was character driven, so people really were hooked in the relationships … So it reached a really big audience, and like with all really good films, if the characters draw you in, then you’ll go on the ride with them.”

But don’t expect to see her in this summer’s sequel “Independence Day: Resurgence” (2016).

“The only ones who don’t make it that lived through the whole (original) film was Will Smith and myself. Everybody else is back. … I’m boycotting it. I’m not in it! I’m dead. I actually called them up and said, ‘A flashback? You know? Something?’ No,” Colin jokes with WTOP.

So if you think you’ll miss her presence in the “Independence Day” sequel, you might want to head to Arena Stage to see the versatile Colin tear it up once more in “The City of Conversation.”

“It’s about this city, so come and see if we got it right. Come and throw all that D.C. brilliance at me on stage. Let me feel what it sounds like to take you to church in your own building. Are you buying it? I think you will. I wanna know what you think. I wanna feel that D.C. energy, that intelligence that I feel when I come down here,” Colin says. “I want to feel it in a theatre and take the play to another level.”

Click here for ticket information. Listen below for the full interview with actress Margaret Colin.

September 28, 2023 | WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Margaret Colin (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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