Rachel Bay Jones won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical at this year’s Tony Awards for her role as Evan Hansen’s mother in Dear Evan Hansen, yet that might not be the most amazing accomplishment of her acting career. Jones found success early in her career, but spent more than a decade away from the spotlight before returning to Broadway a few years ago. In an interview with The Interval, Jones revealed the various anxieties she had about her career and how she learned that it was important to be herself.
Jones moved to New York at age of 19 and after only a few months was cast as an understudy in the 1989 revival of Meet Me in St. Louis. However, she reveals that at the time she still wasn’t sure if she wanted to pursue an acting career. She says, “I had no idea who I was. I wasn’t even entirely sure I wanted to be an actor. That was something that I did. For most of my life, and even now, the thing that I can say is that I love the work and I love what it means to be on stage and guide an audience through a story and an experience. But the life of an actor was never something that I wanted to have, so I resisted that for a very long time.”
One of the many lessons that Jones has learned over the years is that many times directors and audiences just want to see what you have to offer — not what you think they want you to demonstrate. She explains, “The most erroneous thinking is to think that there’s a way you have to be or that there’s a version of yourself that people want to see, as opposed to wanting to see who you are. It has taken me most of my adult life to come to the realization that it’s better to just be honest about who you are and let that hang out. There’s rich stuff to be mined from that, and what makes us unique and special, and therefore valuable in this industry, are our own quirks and our own flaws.” She continues, “Everything we’re trying to do on stage as actors is tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth. Well, first we have to start at home. We have to tell the truth about who we are and how we move in the world and what’s important to us. Then as artists to say what it is we want to say. We have to be clear to be able to say that. But after so many years of trying to be something that I wasn’t or feeling inadequate because my legs weren’t long enough or my nose wasn’t small enough or my face wasn’t proportioned well or my personality wasn’t right, [and the pressure to]smooth everything out and look polished—there are people who walk around like that and they’re living their true lives, but Rachel is just not. I had to be like, ‘All right, oh my god, fuck it. Here I am. This is what I want to say and this is who I am. If you want that, awesome. Let’s do something together. If not, I’ll take my shit somewhere else.’ There’s nothing else you can do. You can’t hide forever.”
Speaking of hiding, Jones took a lengthy break from acting after her initial success and was off most people’s radar until she returned to Broadway in the 2009 revival of Hair. She admits that much of that was rooted in her shyness and fear, explaining, “There’s a lot of terror involved in this business for me. I’ve always been very shy, and navigating the difference between not wanting people to look at me but wanting to be seen has been difficult. But there is a difference. I’ve always been the person who’s like, ‘Don’t pay too much attention, but really see what I’m trying to show you here. Really see what’s here, the truth of what this is, of what I am.’ Auditions were a nightmare and still are, as they are for many people. But it’s very different for me going on stage. That’s home, that’s church, that’s everything. Trying to get a job is very scary in this industry.”