When Al Pacino walks into a room, as Heather Lind tells the story, everyone takes notice.
A 2001 graduate of Guilderland High School, Lind’s acting résumé is starting to include some prominent people and places in the world of show business. Two years after playing Pacino’s daughter on Broadway in “The Merchant of Venice,” she has landed another plum role as the female lead in “Pygmalion” at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. The show, directed by 2013 Tony nominee Nicholas Martin, opened Wednesday night on the campus of Williams College and runs through July 27.
“Yeah, I’m sort of in heaven right now,” said Lind, who will play opposite Robert Sean Leonard in the Williamstown production of George Bernard Shaw’s play about Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins. “This is a dream role that I’ve wanted to play for a long time. I’ve always wanted to work with Nicky and Robert Sean Leonard. I have to keep pinching myself. I have to look at the cast list and make sure my name is still there somewhere.”
WHERE: Main Stage, Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, Mass.
WHEN: Through July 27 — 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $60
MORE INFO: (413) 597-3400 or www.wtfestival.org
After graduating from Fordham in 2005 and getting her master’s at New York University in 2007, Lind has been a very busy actress. This is her third year at Williamstown, where many Broadway performers and other hard-working actors spend their summers, and among her TV credits are HBO’s smash-hit “Boardwalk Empire” with Steve Buscemi, a Golden Globe winner and a five-time Emmy nominee. Her current co-star in the Berkshires, Leonard, played Dr. James Wilson in Fox TV’s “House” and had prominent movie roles in “Dead Poet’s Society” (1989) and Kenneth Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing” (1993). He also is an accomplished stage actor with three Tony nominations and a win for 2001’s “The Invention of Love.”
As impressive as those two names are, it’s hard to top Pacino.
“I remember him walking into that very first rehearsal a little bit late, and everybody kind of froze,” said Lind, recalling her first meeting with the eight-time Oscar nominee. “We had all been waiting for him to arrive, and I can tell you, his presence is pretty commanding. He’s almost eccentric, but funny and very alive. It was amazing to work with him.”
Lind concedes it took her some time to find her footing with Pacino.
“It was such a great opportunity, and I was a little star-struck by it,” she said. “I’m playing his daughter who betrays him in some way, but I still respect him. That came very naturally to me, but I had to separate myself from this great learning experience because I had to go head-to-head with him on stage. It was hard work, but he was also very inspiring and generous as a fellow actor.”
In Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice,” Lind was Jessica, the daughter of Shylock, played by Pacino. While a prominent role, it was not the lead and nothing nearly as weighty as the iconic character she’s portraying in “Pygmalion,” written by Shaw in 1912.
The story is of phonetics professor Henry Higgins and his quest to turn a Cockney flower girl named Eliza into someone he could pass off as a duchess, “Pygmalion” was a huge hit on London’s stage. More than two decades later, 1938, Shaw adapted his play into a movie starring Leslie Howard as Higgins and Wendy Hiller as Eliza.
Two different stories
In 1956, Shaw’s masterpiece was adapted into a musical, “My Fair Lady,” by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, with Rex Harrison as Higgins and Julie Andrews as Eliza. Harrison reprised his role as Higgins in the 1964 movie with Audrey Hepburn taking her turn as Eliza. Both the stage production and film version were huge successes.
“I’ve loved watching the film with Audrey Hepburn, and the grittiness of it, but when I actually read the play it does feel like two different stories in some ways,” said Lind, comparing the original nonmusical to the later Lerner-and-Loewe creation. “It’s cool to see the similarities between the two, but the writing and the arguments in Shaw’s work are a little more interesting than the musical. It’s a little more complicated, a little more layered.”
Lind also recently watched the 1938 film version with Howard and Hiller and, while she enjoyed it, she’s taking all of her direction for playing Eliza from Shaw and Martin.
“Shaw brilliantly provides a lot of information in the script,” she said. “He’s very specific, and describes a lot of details. He wrote essays to bookend the play, and he was very opinionated about how he wanted people to see the story. It’s such an iconic film and story, but Nicky and I have talked about it, and sometimes there is too much information. We’re going to come up with our play, and not worry too much about the many incarnations that have come before.”
Twin also an actress
Lind first got serious about acting in junior high school. In eighth grade, she and her twin sister, Christina Bennett Lind, played twins in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” and the pair haven’t stopped acting since. Christina, who played soap star Susan Lucci’s daughter in “All My Children” for two seasons (2010 and 2011) accompanied her sister to Fordham. Soon after the women graduated in 2005, they were back in Albany performing together in “Metamorphoses” at Capital Repertory Theatre. Capital Rep artistic producer Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill was happy to cast them as a team after watching them participate in a Shakespeare reading contest earlier in the year.
“Well, you can’t say Heather is incredibly beautiful and talented without also saying it about Christina,” said Mancinelli-Cahill. “They have both done so well and I’m very excited for them. But during ‘Metamorphoses,’ Heather was our comedian. She was able to be extremely inventive and very funny, and she’s very adept at giving her character a little wrinkle that makes you laugh even more. She had to play a few different characters in that show and it was amazing how versatile she was and still is.”
Before their Capital Rep experience, the Lind girls were quite busy at Guilderland High and at Park Playhouse during the summer.
“We had some wonderful teachers at Guilderland who really encouraged us, and we had great fun as part of the Park Playhouse II program,” said Lind. “Both my parents are educators, and my grandfather was a very colorful amateur actor who had a stack of Shakespeare books. They were always encouraging us.”
John Birchler, a veteran of the local community theater scene, was a teacher at Guilderland and directed numerous productions when the Linds were there. He vividly remembers his first impression of the two sisters.
“I turned to my assistant director and said, ‘Why haven’t these girls auditioned before?’ ” recalled Birchler. “I was assuming they were seniors. But no, they were sophomores. I knew right away they were very special. I cast Heather as the mother and Christina as the daughter in “I Remember Mama,” and then the next year, in ‘Picnic,’ I switched them around; Christina as the mother and Heather as the daughter.”
‘They were very special’
Birchler said he doesn’t usually try to plant any delusions of grandeur in his students’ heads, but with the Linds he couldn’t stop himself.
“I tracked them down one day in school and told them to come visit me at the end of their day,” remembered Birchler. “I told them, ‘Hey, this acting thing is something you should pursue.’ Sometimes you feel like you never know how good a person could be, but with them it was obvious. I wasn’t going out on a limb or anything. They were very special.”
Another Guilderland teacher, Andy Maycock, got his first look at Heather Lind when she was a freshman.
“We were doing a production of ‘Once Upon a Mattress,’ and I told her she had to spit into the bucket,’ ” said Maycock, referring to a scene in the play. “That was my first direction with her, and she was able to do it without any question. She is completely without ego.”
Maycock also remembers Lind performing in a Guilderland production of “Singin’ in the Rain,” as silent film star Lina Lamont.
“She was the one with the horrible voice,” said Maycock, referring to the Lamont character. “The thing about Heather was that she was always able to do more than one thing at a time. You might ask an actor to give you sad or angry, and Heather would give you sad and nostalgic, or angry and vulnerable. She could always do multiple things so it’s no surprise to me that she’s gone on to great things.”
With her parents both retired now and living in New Jersey, Lind doesn’t get the opportunity to return to the area that much, but she says she’ll always have a warm spot in her heart for the Capital Region and Guilderland in particular.
“I got a great appreciation for learning and the arts because of my parents and the teachers at Guilderland,” said Lind. “Even when I thought I was maybe taking myself kind of seriously, Mr. Birchler or Andy Maycock would say, ‘Yes, be serious about it, keep studying.’ They told me I could make a living doing this. They treated me like I knew what I was doing, which was so helpful.”
Before heading to the Berkshires for the summer, Lind finished up filming a pilot for American Movie Classics called “Turn,” set during the American Revolution. Lind is the female lead opposite Jamie Bell, who played the title character in “Billy Elliot” in 2000.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” she said.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or email@example.com.