Heather Litteer began her career playing the roles of prostitutes, drug-addicts and strippers, notably “the nameless girl on the other side of a sex scene” with Oscar-winning actor Jennifer Connelly in the film Requiem for a Dream. She tells Giverny Masso how she hopes to empower other women with her autobiographical show Lemonade, which is running at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe…
What compelled you to make this show?
I was sitting there one day thinking about all the roles I had taken; the hookers, junkies and strippers. It was like a poem. I used to tour with an avant-garde group and while I was doing that, I’d already started looking at this as a piece. It’s something I always wanted to do. There are so many different layers of my show. It’s about sexual empowerment. This is for the girl that doesn’t have a name, this is for the girl from the other side that doesn’t have the chance to have a voice. This is to let other women know that they are not alone and they can take their power back. I am sharing a lot of things in this show, and it’s healing for me, it’s therapeutic. It means I can put that in the past now.
Were there any roles you played during your career that particularly affected you?
Requiem for a Dream. That kind of followed me around. Maybe I was naive, but I knew what kind of scene it was. I was 28. I remember there were four of us there and when I was picked to do it I thought it was going to catapult me into the next role of the century. I have a monologue in Lemonade recalling when I bumped into [the director of Requiem] and he didn’t say hello, and I was like: “I can’t believe you would ignore me.” I don’t want to focus everything on Requiem for a Dream, but it was like: “Don’t you know who I am?” I don’t know how long after the film it was, but you don’t forget, it’s a pretty major scene. I can’t believe it, it made me feel invisible, I felt like I melted into the sidewalk. That movie helped his career, but it followed me around for 17 years.
Why did that role have such an impact?
I found it hard to escape, especially being a woman. There are so many double standards. If a woman has sex with a man she is a slut, but if a man has sex it’s like, “Yeah!” I was that girl who would go that far. You start questioning who you are. I don’t know if I would do it again now, it would have to have much more meaning to me.
What other parts of your life does Lemonade explore?
My relationship with my mother. She is a Tennessee Williams kind of character. I play her in the show, too. It was like she just walked out of a Tennessee Williams play; she’d always be asking things like: “What time did you get home last night?” My mother had been sick for a while and she passed away while I was writing the show. Writing a show about her has been super intense, but it has been therapeutic.
How did you go from living in Georgia with your mother to becoming an actor?
When I was 18, I took off from Georgia to New York. New York City was the epicentre of everything – everything I had read in books or seen on television. I felt like I had finally found home. I was a wild character throughout the 1990s, I was a big party animal and I lost my way a bit. I started taking acting classes [when I moved to New York], and I did a lot of underground stuff. I love that, it’s really fun and freeing and there’s not as much judgement as the mainstream, there is more opportunity.
CV: Heather Litteer
Training: Barbara Pitcher, William Esper Studios with Terry Knickerbocker, Deena Leevy, and Joe Paradise
First professional role: Elvis the Last 5 Minutes, Bruno Walter Theatre (1992)
Agent: Smith Talent Group