Running through Feb. 18 at the the Goodman Theatre, the production Highway Patrol works with a script conceived entirely from Emmy-winning actor Dana Delany's (TV's China Beach) digital archive of hundreds of tweets and direct messages
There are only three actors featured in the thriller, with one of the others being three-time Emmy nominee Dot-Marie Jones (TV's Glee; the movie Bros). Jones recently talked with Windy City Times about Glee, cold temperatures and being part of the LGBTQ+ communityas well as once playing a character named Lady Battleaxe.
NOTE: This conversation was edited for clarity and length.
Windy City Times: I imagine you're doing a lot better now that you did when you first landed in Chicago [from California], when it was -400 degrees.
Dot-Marie Jones: You know what? I loved it! I would walk every night for four or five blocks from the theater. It was incredible.
I worked at an ice-cream plant when I was in my early 20s, and it was 20 below in there. It would either get your heart going or it would stop it! [Interviewer laughs.]
WCT: Talking about your career a little, you started with an American Gladiators connection.
D-MJ: Yes. Shirley Eson played Sky on [that show] and she was a bodybuilder who's still in incredible shape. We had met because I used to do deadlifting exhibitions at bodybuilding shows, and we became friends. She got down to LA and told me about these auditions they were having for a new show that was similar to American Gladiators but was medieval-themed; it was named Knights and Warriors.
WCT: I remember seeing you on that.
D-MJ: YeahI played Lady Battleaxe. [Laughs]
WCT: Did you come up with that name?
D-MJ: Oh, God no. But I loved it, though. I was working in juvenile probation at the time, because that's what I had gone to school for. I came down to audition and I got one of the four spots for womenand several hundred women had auditioned. We did the pilot and they say you never know how that's going to go, so I went back to Fresno to work. But we ended up shooting 26 more episodes. I said, "This is more fun than I ever had." If Shirley hadn't told me about those auditions, I wouldn't be doing this right now.
WCT: Of course, a lot of people associate you with Glee. What are one or two things you learned about yourself or the business from being on that show?
D-MJ: It was reiterated that if it weren't for fans, none of us would have a job. It's something I say every day; you take the time to say hello to people. I was so thankful for the fan base that show had, and still has. Glee fans are diehard and I love that. Fans say, "We've seen the whole series four or five times" and I say, "You have a lot of time on your hands." [Interviewer laughs.] But it truly is amazing. They're just full of love.
But [Jones' character of Coach] Bieste had a very different character on therefrom the domestic abuse to the transitioning at the end of season six. Unfortunately, we all know someone who's been through abuse or something like that. You pull from different thingsand it was very emotional. And the transitioning was even more emotional; the choir that was on that episode that I sing with was [entirely] trans. There were 200 trans men and women from across the [country]; it was overwhelming. I think I cried the whole way homethe gratitude and appreciation. To portray a trans man on that show was overwhelming.
WCT: And speaking of representation, there was the movie Bros. Some people criticized it for not being a success at the box officealthough it may become a cult classicbut wasn't it successful on some level in terms of representation?
D-MJ: I think it'll be a cult classic, too. But, yeah, it was successful, on that level. Universal [Pictures] stepped up and [a movie like that] had never been done before; the majority of the cast and crew were LGBTQ+. It was so much fun; I think it took us three days to shoot the scenes in the boardroom. I love Billy [Eichner] and Judd Apatow; I'd do anything for them.
WCT: So, without revealing too much, how would you describe the plot of Highway Patrol?
D-MJ: Dana Delany befriends a 13-year-old boy online who has had several medical issues, and I portray his "nan," or grandmother. And it takes you on a roller-coaster; you have no idea where you're going and sometimes you question where you just were. To hear the audience's response is so gratifying because you hear them getting it. And I think Dana is so brave because it's so personal. A lot of it is just overwhelming. I talk with people after the show and they're, like, "Oh, my Godthat was incredible. At first, I didn't know what the hell was going on and I'm not sure I do now but the play was fabulous," I'm, like, "That's a good answer!"
WCT: Had you worked with Dana Delany before?
D-MJ: No. I met her back in May, I believe. I had sent in a tape and I met with Dana and director/co-creator Mike Donahue, and sort of did a workshop in LA. I just loved these people and I was praying I'd get the role. When I did, I was obviously very happy. I love working with her.
WCT: I'm going to ask you a question I've asked several other people: For you, what is like to be part of the LGBTQ+ community in today's America?
D-MJ: I think there is a lot more acceptanceand I hate using that word. There just is, as it should be. I've always just lived my life; that's why it's called a private life. If you're in my circle, you know; if you're not, then you really don't need to know. It shouldn't matter if you're gay, straight or whateverit should not matter. Just be a good person. There are a couple states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws, like Texas and Florida, but I didn't want to go there before those laws came along, although I've been to Texas for work.
For more about Highway Patrol, visit www.goodmantheatre.org .