Provincetown first welcomed critically acclaimed actor Lili Taylor, best known for her work in independent films and on TV in Six Feet Under and American Crime, in the 1990s, when she and her husband, poet-memoirist Nick Flynn, began coming here as a couple.
When the pandemic hit, Outer Cape arts programs, performances, and fellowships suffered an avalanche of cancelations. Flynn, who has frequently taught workshops and given readings at Provincetown’s Fine Arts Work Center, and Taylor helped launch its “Opening to Wonder” series of virtual talks on Zoom, or “craft conversations,” which have been ongoing through the fall.
It’s an effort to keep the creative community of the Outer Cape connected. The conversation slotted for Thursday, Dec. 10, presents a rare opportunity to engage with Taylor, who will be interviewed by Billy Hough.
Taylor and Hough, a nightclub performer, keyboard musician, and underground celebrity, go back a long way. She has made occasional cameo appearances in Hough’s Scream Along with Billy act (with guitarist Susan Goldberg) at Provincetown’s Grotta Bar. And she has joined Hough’s crew (which includes author Michael Cunningham) when he performs in Manhattan at Joe’s Pub.
Speaking by phone from Brooklyn, Taylor describes the Covid lockdown as stopping her short, a feeling, she says, akin to “a racehorse ready to go out of the gate” when, suddenly, the clock stops. Taylor, Flynn, and their daughter, Maeve, temporarily left the city for their place in upstate New York.
“Everybody had a moment, and everybody’s moments were changed,” Taylor says. When the energy came back, Taylor turned to projects close to her heart.
The first was Birdland, a one-woman live show she had been working on. “I was getting ready to workshop it right before Covid hit,” she says. The narrative arc of Birdland is “about coming from the darkness into the light with the help of birds and acting.” Taylor is not new to the stage: she’s done off-Broadway productions and, on Broadway, Chekhov’s Three Sisters (with Amy Irving and Jeanne Tripplehorn) in 1997 and Marvin’s Room (with Janeane Garofalo) in 2017.
“I have a way in [to writing] that’s different from most other writers,” she says. And that is: “speaking and recording” the work in progress.
Taylor is also working on a book about avian life, a passion of hers. “It’s observations about birds, and observations about other things, as well,” she says. She sits on the boards of the National Audubon Society and the National Birding Association.
“What I find is important — what I know as an actor — is discovering what impacts people,” she says. “I know what’s working, and what’s not. I know, when I’m dealing with audiences, when the audience is alert and when they’re leaning back in their chairs and looking away, bored. I know what’s not connecting, and what a playwright needs to do, to connect and make something happen. What matters is the desire to tell a story, and the audience getting it.”
At age 21, Taylor was cast in the surprise hit Mystic Pizza, a 1988 rom-com in which she is the first of her gal pals to marry; the film launched the careers of Taylor and costar Julia Roberts. In 1991’s Dogfight, River Phoenix, as the military bad boy mother warned you about, never steals the show from Taylor.
Saluting the 53-year-old Taylor’s many contributions to the underfunded world of independent film — from Nancy Savoca’s Household Saints (1993) to John Waters’s Pecker (1998) to the Charles Bukowski adaptation Factotum (2005) — the Provincetown International Film Festival awarded Taylor its Excellence in Acting award in 2006.
One performance in particular stands out. As Valerie Solanas in the 1996 real-life drama I Shot Andy Warhol, Taylor found a role whose possibilities matched what she had to give. In the hands of writer-director Mary Harron, Warhol is satirized, but Solanas — his would-be assassin and a tenacious lesbian activist who argues, in her “SCUM” manifesto, for a world without men — is elevated.
“This film’s extraordinary centerpiece is Lili Taylor, giving a great, funny, furiously alive performance that deserves to put her on the mainstream map,” wrote Janet Maslin in the New York Times. Viewed anew, the film retains its political power.
“Mary Harron had boxes of research material on Solanas,” says Taylor. “There had been very little public mention of her. Creating something with Mary was a real collaboration. It was shot at the right time, when independent film was at its pinnacle, so the sky was the limit in terms of creativity.
“I have so many things inside of me,” Taylor adds. “That’s what empathy is. All of us can empathize with anything, really — an actor knows that. And that’s good news for humanity.”
Scream Along With Lili
The event: Billy Hough interviews Lili Taylor, a “craft conversation” presented by the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown
The time: Thursday, Dec. 10, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
The place: Zoom via fawc.org; pre-registration required
The cost: $25 minimum donation