NEW YORK – The storied Kennedy family has produced a president, ambassadors, an attorney general, senators and plenty of congressmen. But not a professional actor.
Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy hopes to change that.
The 25-year-old granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy is making her professional stage debut off-Broadway this month in, of all things, a Greek tragedy.
Kennedy plays the title role in Antigone, the Sophocles play about a young woman willing to die in order to defend her family’s honor and defy the state.
“I’m really lucky,” Kennedy said this week during a break in rehearsals. “I’ve grown a lot just studying this part and I hope I can do it justice. I couldn’t really ask for a better story to tell right now. It’s just sort of magical that everything fell into place.”
Kennedy is a Stanford University graduate who has appeared on TV in shows such as The Newsroom, Gossip Girl and Curb Your Enthusiasm. She acted onstage in college and at summer camp but knows this is a big step.
“Doing something the first time is scary,” she said, wearing an ankle-length black dress in the empty 90-seat theater inside the Church of Notre Dame, close to Columbia University.
She’s aware that people might be curious about a Kennedy onstage but hopes no one makes the trip to upper Manhattan for that reason alone.
“Hopefully one day people will come see me for something that doesn’t have to do with my last name,” she said. “For me, it’s just two different things. This is a job. That is my life.”
Peter Dobbins, the artistic director of The Storm Theatre, which is co-producing Antigone, met Kennedy at the reading of another play, and “she kept coming into my head” when Antigone was being discussed.
He said she combines a steely resolve with a deep vulnerability. “You’re drawn into her,” he said. “She’s someone who when onstage you definitely go out to her. She doesn’t have to work hard to go after you.”
This version of Antigone is adapted by Jean Anouilh, who wrote it during the height of the Nazi occupation of France. His interpretation became a symbol for freedom fighters. This version sets the play in a fascist near-future.
Dobbins said he’s seen flashes of the Kennedy clan’s pride in the young actress’ Antigone, as when the heroine cries out, “I am a queen!” Says Dobbins: “I can’t see that many people saying that in a way that it resonates.”
Kennedy is named after her great-aunt Kathleen, who also had the nickname Kick and worked for the Red Cross in London before and after World War II. She married a lord and died in a plane crash in 1948.
Her great-niece grew up in New York, the daughter of environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his first wife, Emily Black. Her stepmother, Mary Richardson Kennedy, hanged herself in 2012.
The notion of a curse on her family is to her a ridiculous notion. “We’re an ambitious family and there are a lot of us. And with a lot of numbers comes some painful things here and there, and also a lot of joyful things,” she said.
Kick Kennedy put on plays as a young girl and later made movies with her close friend Annie Starke, Glenn Close’s daughter. Acting was as natural as her love of falconry and deep-sea diving.
“It’s just been the funniest thing for me throughout my whole life,” she said. “Here I am and I’m giving it a go. It seems to be the thing that I like doing and people tell me I’m kind of good at.”
While her family is most closely associated with politics, environmentalism and public service, Kennedy said acting isn’t that different.
“Everyone thinks it’s so crazy and I’m such a tangent from this tree, but I see it all kind of relating, personally,” she said. “I mean, if you break down what a lot of politics is you get stage presence, charisma and, more importantly, a search for truth and the desire to serve a common good, which I believe theater does.”
Kennedy, who is dating singer-songwriter Paul Simon’s son Harper, isn’t sure what her next acting gig will be, but suspects her famous last name won’t help.
“It’s all about the performance at the end of the day,” she said with a laugh. “I certainly don’t think my name is going to help me in this world at all.”
(Mark Kennedy, AP Drama Writer)