SAN DIEGO — Some people complain about working on Christmas. Not Lise Hilboldt, who is spending her holidays starring as free-spirited heiress Linda Seton in Philip Barry's "Holiday," playing at the Old Globe Theatre through Jan. 17.
"I love working over Christmas. We (actors) are like doctors. Someone has to entertain people."
Entertainment is not a job the brown-eyed, honey-haired actress (and, between jobs, professor of film at USC) takes lightly.
"The arts are a way to experience and celebrate life. It's a way to enable audiences to understand and forgive themselves and their own unhappinesses and tragedies.
"Comedy itself is extremely healing. People will come to theater with problems and they will forget. They'll laugh. It's like giving them all a present."
The speech may sound charged in newsprint, but it's nothing compared to the intensity with which Hilboldt delivered her words in person.
It is that force of feeling that Hilboldt is proud of sharing with the character she plays.
"The thing I love about Linda is that she's extremely passionate. She's so headstrong--like a great racehorse. And that's the way I am."
Research is one of the components Hilboldt feels passionate about using when "constructing" or "cooking" a part, as she calls it. She extemporized easily and fluidly about the accent--"not as flat as upper-class accents" and decidedly "not as East Coast" as that of Katharine Hepburn (who played Seton in the movie). Then she segued to 1928, when "Holiday" takes place, expounding on the psychology of manners.
"It was a time of tremendous confidence. People's carriage displayed this confidence. Women didn't cross their legs. They touched one leg to the other. They (people) spoke beautifully. Their sentences were longer, richer and more descriptive. It was before the days of television, which simplified language."
But once the background work is done, Hilboldt stressed, it should become invisible as the actor starts to "look at the world through the characters' eyes (and) listen to the world through their ears.
"Every night (on stage) I cry real tears from the play itself . . . I think of acting as human poetry . . . (It) needs to come from the heart and brain and guts all coming together. You have to use your own experience in life . . . Even the terrible things that happen to you.
"I came from a broken home. My parents divorced when I was 3. . . . My childhood was splendid (in some ways) but full of lots of pain. But I found a way to deal with it. I found a place to speak."
For Hilboldt, finding a place to speak meant resisting what she calls her Wisconsin family's "upper-middle-class Scandinavian" values that decreed she should forget her career and find a husband.
Hilboldt not only pursued acting first at the University of Wisconsin, which she left before graduation to take a scholarship at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, but she also declared to her family that she would never marry.
It was a different choice than the ones open to Linda Seton who, because of the era in which she lived, did not have the same option to choose a career, Hilboldt said.
"Linda's like an extraordinary bird caught in a golden cage . . . Then she meets this totally self-made man who articulates what she believes. And at the end of the play she finally sees a way out, takes her life in her own hands and goes off to seek her future."
Hilboldt failed in one pledge to her family--she did get married, eight years ago, to Allan Mayer, a New York-based editor and publisher. But she proved good on the other, accumulating numerous professional credits in the last 11 years, including Broadway ("To Grandmother's House We Go"), film (co-starring with Alan Alda in "Sweet Liberty") and television ("Pudd'nhead Wilson" for American Playhouse and "Nancy Astor" for Masterpiece Theatre).
Coming up in the spring is a part in a new series, "The Clinic," which Hilboldt described as an "L.A. Law" in a psychiatric institution. Her work keeps her bouncing around three cities which, she said, can pose an unusual set of problems.
"I have three different apartments with clothes and make-up scattered all over," she said. "I have a skirt here, but the belt is in New York and the shoes are in L.A."
She took this job on the heels of taping "The Clinic" because she was challenged by the "complexity" of Linda and had been waiting for years, she said, for the opportunity to work with Jack O'Brien, the artistic director of the Old Globe who directed the show.
"I have terrific respect for his (O'Brien's) work. We inspire each other. People who are passionate fanatics inspire each other."
Hilboldt expressed a similar excitement over seeing the work of Karmin Murcelo as the mother in "The Boiler Room" on that show's opening night at the Old Globe's Cassius Carter Centre Stage.
"She (Murcelo) gave such a spectacular performance, it made me fall in love with the theater all over again. I think I was one of the happiest people in the audience."
The inspiration she felt after the show, which she saw the day before she herself opened in "Holiday," still seemed with her as she reflected on her aspirations--which ranged from everything from becoming a major film star to directing or writing short stories. The one word that colors all her plans, however, is the one that is clearly her favorite--passion.
"Bob Fosse told his actors to dance in timpani heaven," she recalled with a smile that--just for a moment--relaxed and softened her earnest countenance. "That's what I want to do. Dance in timpani heaven."