Columbia alumna performs at Steppenwolf

By Brian Dukerschein

As the casting associate at the Goodman Theatre, Columbia alumna Logan Vaughn is responsible for making actors’ dreams come true. Now, the 27-year-old is herself taking center stage, playing the title role in the Steppenwolf Theatre’s production of “Penelope.”

For Vaughn, “actor” is an addition to a resume that already includes model, dancer, choreographer, theater director and assistant to Academy Award-nominated director and producer Lee Daniels. The Chronicle spoke with Vaughn regarding her transition into acting and where she sees herself heading in the future.

The Chronicle: You were a film major at Columbia. How did you first get into theater?

Logan Vaughn: [During] my junior year, I decided not to do [Columbia’s] “Semester in L.A.” [program] and went to New York instead. I got an internship with Lee Daniels Entertainment. He only had a six- or seven-person staff, so I worked every day with him. He and his producer, Lisa Cortes, were extremely supportive and loving toward me when I was there. Lisa is a huge theater-lover and took me to see my first show in New York, and I expressed my real interest in casting. Lisa recommended that I really look into the theaters in Chicago. I applied for a casting internship at the Goodman, and lo and behold, I got the [position].

The Chronicle: Did you do any acting before “Penelope”?

LV: I’ve done a lot of commercial work on camera, and I was on “The Playboy Club” before its demise. I found acting through dance, but I did not train as an actor.

The Chronicle: What made you want to take this leap into acting, especially in a lead role?

LV: To be perfectly honest, the story is really about the men [in the play], although it centers around me. Sometimes it’s hard when people say, “Oh, you’re the lead,” because it really is [the men’s] story. But I love to be challenged as a person and as an artist, and it was the right time in my life. I felt prepared to do it, so I said, “Why not?”

The Chronicle: What is “Penelope” about, in your own words?

LV: “Penelope” is based on Homer’s “The Odyssey.” It is a play that centers around these four last men out of hundreds who have been in waiting for over 20 years—literally waiting in an [empty] pool in front of the home of Penelope and Odysseus—and they are attempting to win her affection in order to save all of their lives.

The Chronicle: How would you describe your character?

LV: Penelope is a woman who has been alone and in waiting for many years, and when we meet her, she is just hopeful that today will be a different day. She is longing for love and longing for something new.

The Chronicle: What was the audition process like?

LV: It actually was very different because Penelope is sort of an omnipresent character who does not speak, so [the audition] was really a series of conversations that I had with first the casting director, and then I came in and sat down with the director and talked through the play, who I am and how we relate to one another. It was a cool, very different process.

The Chronicle: Did anything in particular draw you to this character?

LV: I really wanted to work with the company, and in particular, Amy Morton. I think she is a phenomenal director whom I’ve learned from just by observing her work. To have the opportunity to be in the same room as her and be directed by her was just amazing for me. I could not pass that opportunity up. I definitely was really excited to work with the company members—Yasen [Peyankov], Ian [Barford], John Mahoney [who had to leave the production because of a death in his family and was subsequently replaced with ensemble member Tracy Letts]. Letts is a fantastic actor and comrade. He’s taken over with such grace. It’s beautiful.

The Chronicle: You haven’t had any formal training as an actor. Did your background in casting help you onstage?

LV: Working in casting and directing has informed my skill and ability as an actor tremendously. I always feel like I would not be where I am as a director without my work as a casting director. I think it has informed my ability as a director in a really profound way, and the same with acting. When you are in a room watching actors and going through that process with them, and you are with directors as they are directing, you take in and learn

so much.

The Chronicle: You’ve already done so much in your career—modeling, dancing, directing, casting and now acting. Is any one your favorite?

LV: I love directing for the stage. It gives me the ability to incorporate other things that I love, like movement, dance and music. I love how quickly you can affect an audience and how it is ever-changing. Unlike in film, there’s no stopping and starting. You have to carry it the entire time, and that’s very thrilling and scary. I love working with actors, and it’s something that I hope to do for a really long time.

The Chronicle: Do you ever see yourself returning to film?

LV: I do, definitely. I feel like right now my career and heart are in theater, but I do feel at some point down the line, I will come back to film. I have to say, though, that I think some of the best directors also direct for the stage, like Sam Mendes and Mike Nichols. They are very comfortable in both worlds, and that’s really where I’d like to be at some point in my life.

“Penelope” is playing through Feb. 5, 2012, at the Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. For ticket information, visit