In life and on stage, Cecile Monteyne plays many roles. As an actor, she’s New Orleans’ chameleon-like leading lady, taking on several meaty and very distinct roles in the last few years: Marie Antoinette, a concierge of a haunted hotel and Maggie the Cat in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to name a few. She also runs two popular theater/improvisational hybrid shows, By Any Scenes Necessary and You Don’t Know the Half of It. In addition, she recently co-wrote a film with her brother in which she stars. We talked to her ahead of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, where Janet Daley Duval, longtime judge of the infamous Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, will “pass the slip” onto Monteyne to take over the role.
Q: The last time I saw you in the Tennessee Williams Fest you played Maggie the Cat. How was preparing for that role? Leading up to that show, actually, every show is pretty nerve-wracking for me. Because when people think Maggie the Cat, they think Liz Taylor. Then you find that’s really secondary to it; you find your own version of it. That was like a dream role come true, and to do it at Le Petit and during Tennessee Williams Fest. We found some of the humor and fun in [the play]; it’s really funny and bawdy, but I think a lot of times people go for the “uhh, it’s so sad.” Williams wrote very complicated women. They want so much, but they’re so damaged.
Q: You also played historical figure Marie Antoinette. How do find something new to bring to recognizable roles? What I try to do is read a lot [about the character] before rehearsal ever starts. And then I always try and get off-book as soon as possible, because that way you can spend more time figuring out how the lines happen. When you’re doing something very recognizable or historical, I think you have to do your homework so you can make it yours, so you have answers to questions or you can find answers to questions. Ultimately it’s always going to be me, just me saying those words.
Q: What’s your goal in producing the shows you produce? I like the idea of pushing the boundaries of, “it’s only theater” or, “it’s only improv.” New Orleans is such a place right now where you can make stuff like that. That’s not really possible in every city.
Q: When you were growing up, what kind of performer did you imagine becoming? I actually didn’t think I was going to be an actor for a really long time. I was like, I’m gonna be an astronaut. Then I was like, I’m going to be a paleontologist. Then I was going to be an environmental lawyer for a long time. All of those things should have been like, “ding ding ding! You want to be all of those things in the imaginary world of theater.”
Q: What’s your movie about? It’s called One Night Stand-Off, and it’s about two people who go home together after a hurricane party, thinking the storm is going to miss. And during the course of the night it changes direction, and then they’re trapped together.
Q: Did that experience make you want to do more film? A lot of the people in the [New Orleans] community are saying we want more native filmmakers – meaning locally generated content. Now everyone’s learned skills on the big [movie productions that come to New Orleans], and we’re all very thankful because there’s so much opportunity and money for the state. Everyone has the knowledge, so let’s find ways to incentivize local filmmakers.
The most exciting thing to see is to see what happens in New Orleans next. There are a lot of people who want to be here. And now we need to find the spaces, and the funds, to keep those people here. We lost another space [the Old Marquer Theater recently closed]. How do we make that new space happen? It’s such a good time to be here because people want it to happen. Moving back here was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
What kinds of roles get you excited? If you look at someone like Marie Antoinette, you go into it thinking, “I don’t like this woman. I don’t have to have any remorse for her.” It’s accepting the challenge of making her a human – yes, that’s what you thought, but here’s the other side. I like the complicated characters. That’s kind of new, playing characters that go to both sides of the spectrum. They can be really funny, or really terrifying, or really sad. Because I think we’re all like that, probably more often than we’d like to admit.
Age: 31 Profession: Actress, Producer, Managing Director of The NOLA Project Born/raised: Lexington, Kentucky (born) New Orleans (raised) Resides: Mid-City Family: Husband: Eric Charleston, Parents: Karen and Peter Monteyne, Brother: Jules Monteyne Education: McGehee for middle school, Newman for high school, Tulane University (Newcomb College) for undergrad Favorite movie: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Favorite TV show: Tie between “Last Week Tonight” and “Law & Order” Favorite band: Bright Eyes Favorite food: All forms of pasta and noodles Favorite New Orleans restaurant: Mr. B’s, especially for lunch Favorite hobby: Baking Favorite vacation spot: Another tie between Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies and France – anywhere in France
For most of my childhood, I was convinced that dinosaurs from Jurassic Park could actually exist. So, I would crawl to the edge of my bed to make sure there were no velociraptors hiding there, which, in retrospect, is both a terrible plan and proof of my over -active imagination.