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August 20, 2019

Hitting the Notes

Daisy Eagan has gone from a childhood Tony win to being in Good Trouble.

Cecily Knobler

When one's career in the entertainment business spans over three decades, you half expect them to be in their golden years.

This is not the case for Daisy Eagan, who began delighting audiences on Broadway as a young child.

Her portrayal of Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden, in fact, was so esteemed, she broke the (still unbeaten) record of becoming the youngest actress to ever receive a Tony Award at age 11.

From the stage to the screen to becoming an award winning writer, Eagan keeps her charming wits about her as a mom and an activist for women's rights, LGBTQ issues and so much more.

When did you first realize you were a performer?

My dad was in a little local play and I didn't have much exposure to theater growing up. I'd been so horribly bullied in school. And seeing my dad on stage, you know, obviously I knew he was my dad, but he got to be somebody else. So that was really appealing to me - the idea of getting to be "not me" for awhile.

I asked my parents if I could try it and they were very hesitantly supportive. They heard a lot of horror stories of child actors gone wrong, so they really didn't want me to go down that road. And I think they thought I would do community theater and get it out of my system. Honestly, I didn't grow up with much of a stick-to-it-ivness. So I think if I hadn't had success so quickly, I would have probably backed out.

So it wasn't necessarily a drive…

Once I started doing it, I realized it was fun! I got to leave school early and I got to hang out with weird adults all the time. I was already weird and different so I guess I got to be validated for being weird and different!

Was Les Miserables right away?

Yes. I did a little musical called Tiny Tim's Christmas Carol in I guess what must have been 1988? Then I booked Les Mis very shortly after.

You played both Young Cosette and Young Eponine. Did you have a preference?

I'll tell you, I was actually also the understudy for Gavroche. Because my hair was short when I auditioned. So honestly my preference was Gavroche!

But with Eponine and Cosette? I liked Cosette more because she gets more stage time. But it was fun to be Eponine too because she got to be bratty and I guess I got to exercise that part of myself that wasn't acceptable in real life.

You were so young when cast as Mary in The Secret Garden. Where did you draw your performance from?

I was extremely familiar with the book because I had read it a bunch before the musical was even a thing. It was my favorite book growing up and I used to act it out in my room.

I think I was drawn to the tragic hero figure, as inherently I've got a darker personality. And I think I did even back then. So I identified with Mary.

I re-watched your speech at the Tony Awards. Was that Audrey Hepburn who gave you your statue?

Yes!
Did you know at that time what that meant?

No! I don't think I really knew what any of it meant. It all happened so fast and I didn't come from a theater family. And I didn't even have time to hope to win a Tony Award. It wasn't anywhere on my radar, so it was all very foreign! And it took me many years to realize, oh that's not normal - that's not a normal life.

I have a picture of me and Robert Redford and I don't' remember meeting him. Because I was young but also it was par for the course. I thought, "Oh I'm successful and famous now, I'm going to be for the rest of my life." I had no real awareness of how special and how rare it was.

Also you were too young to even know you should be nervous to meet Robert Redford.

Apparently I told him I loved Sneakers, which is true! But he and my dad looked at each other like, "What?" I was 11!

So what was next after such a high?

My mom got diagnosed with pretty late stage colon cancer about two months after the Tony Awards. And I left the show about a year into the run. I think actually a year to the day of our first preview in '92. And her illness created a different path, so my life went in a different direction than it might have.

I kept auditioning and working, but it's funny - after winning a Tony Award, nothing seems to measure up. So for many years I thought I was a failure and then of course, looking at my career compared to 98 percent of people who call themselves actors, I was having tremendous success. It just wasn't at the level it had been.

You set the bar so high so young.

Exactly! Impossibly high. And auditions felt tremendously scary because I felt like everyone was expecting a Tony Award winning audition. And on top of all that, I was becoming a teenager. And my mom died in '93 so it was a lot at the same time.

That is such a high and a low in such a short span of time.  

Yeah and it wasn't until I was older that I realized how quickly it all happened. When you're a kid, time goes so slowly. It wasn't until I was in my 20s that I realized that it was all from 8 to 13 - only 5 years! And they're the most seminal years in terms of development.

But honestly, it might sound like weird and hashtaggy and trite, but I'm actually really grateful for all of it because I got my son six years ago and I wouldn't have him if my life had gone another way.

You guest-starred on Girls. It was so meta, as you played a character who was playing Lena Dunham's character in a movie.

That was so interesting because when Lena's career took off, I was on a break from acting. And people would tell me frequently that we looked alike, especially back then.

So when that role came up, it was perfect! And I was lucky because I had auditioned for another part on the show and I didn't get it.

It was the final season and it all just sort of felt like kismet. Initially at the audition, I didn't do an impression of Lena or anything like that. I did a screen test with her and with Adam (Driver) and they asked me to come back and do an impression of Lena, which is actually harder than it sounds?

Well that was kind of it! Every word just goes up?

It's funny, she actually doesn't do a lot of up-speak. The woman who parodied her on SNL was really kind of just doing "generic, millennial girl." But Lena is very staccato and it's like she's - thinking-of-everything-as-she's-saying-it.

But then they decided they didn't want an impression after all because that actress wouldn't have met her anyway.

It was such a fun team!

Let's talk about Good Trouble. You play Alice's love interest, Joey.

Season one, Joey sort of swooped in at a good moment because poor Alice was just in this terrible codependent relationship with a woman who was walking all over her. I think a lot of people have experienced that kind of relationship and we think it's love, right?

One of the things I love so much about Joey is they're very healthy about the way they approach relationships - at least they're trying to be. So Joey came in and basically said, "No. You don't have to take care of me. I'm an adult. That's not what relationships are." And then on top of that she's helping Alice, not figure out who she is, but to be honest with herself and the people around her.

When Joey comes out as non-binary, it seems as if Alice has some trouble with it.

Yes, I really love the way Good Trouble is dealing with how one can be affected by someone else's coming out. Even if our loved ones are supportive and happy, it's gotta be really hard. Especially around trans issues because pronouns are difficult and we've been raised in this very gender-binary world. So asking someone to completely upend everything they thought they knew about gender is a lot!

It's great there are TV shows that now deal with this.

Yeah, and I think Joey has been pretty good about saying, "Hey, I'm upset about what you did" but then realizing this is my issue. It's my thing to figure out, not your thing.

There are some episodes coming up that Joey has some trouble with. It's funny, I was talking to my sister about this last episode where Joey is wearing a binder. We had the same reaction to Joey which is to give Alice a little bit of a break.

Sometimes we get triggered and respond poorly to each other and I think the nice thing about Joey and Alice is they sort of recognize it and deal with it, which you don't see a lot of on TV.

You're off to the Fringe Fest in Edinburgh to do among many shows, 30 Minute Musicals. Tell us about that!

They're a small theater company and they've been around awhile. The first play I did with them was Hook where, essentially I played Julia Roberts. And they reached out to say we're going to Edinburgh and we're gonna prepare three shows and the audience will vote. Before I was even done reading the email, I thought…yes!

What are the three shows?

It's Die Hard, Top Gun and Jurassic Park. I play Maverick, I play John Hammond in Jurassic Park and I also play the goat. And then in Die Hard, I play a random terrorist and the deputy chief of police.

Is it all music?

It's a musical, but not an opera with all songs. But there are scenes with songs, and ridiculous dances. In Top Gun, we do shirtless volleyball. It's so silly!

And what else can we expect to see from you coming up?

I'm writing a lot! I'm in preproduction for a short film I wrote. It just won its third best Short Screenplay Award. And I've got the second half of season two of Good Trouble and a lot on the horizon to look forward to!
 

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