One-On-One With The Oklahoman Behind 'August: Osage County'

Thursday, November 14th 2013, 11:24 pm
By: News On 6

Oklahoma is justifiably famous for its wealth of musical talent, but one Oklahoman is making a name for himself on the stage and the big screen.

In fact, with the overwhelming success of "August: Osage County," some believe that, in the end, he could be the most famous of them all.

We had a rare opportunity for a one-on-one interview in the Chicago home of Tulsa native Tracy Letts.

When it comes to awards and accolades, Tracy Letts has a resume no other Oklahoman can match. In fact, no one on earth can match it.

Terry Hood: "You are the only person, I understand, to have ever won the Pulitzer Prize and also won a Tony award for acting."
Tracy Letts: "Yeah, I think so. I'm the only person, yeah."

"August: Osage County" won the Pulitzer Prize and five Tony awards. It's played on Broadway and in theaters around the world. Now, it's hitting the big screen with a dazzling cast of Hollywood's finest.

Some critics call Tracy Letts the next great American playwright, comparing him to the likes of Tennessee Williams and Nobel prize winner Eugene O'Neill.

"I can't compare. I'm not fit to latch the shoelaces of Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams," he said.

6/10/2013 Related Story: Oklahoman Tracy Letts Wins 'Best Actor' Tony Award

Nevertheless, his work is already being studied on college campuses and still there's more. He's landed a role on the award winning TV show, "Homeland," and this spring, he won a Tony award for best actor, beating, among others, a guy named Tom Hanks.

If Tracy Letts' talents are an embarrassment of riches, he comes by them naturally. His mother, who lives in Tulsa, is an award winning author who was chosen for Oprah's Book Club. His father was a Fullbright scholar and an actor himself.

Both taught English at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, but while his parents flourished in their native soil, Tracy felt something of an outcast.

"I'm from there. I come from generations that are from there and I really do love it, but there are also times when I just don't," Tracy said.

So, after high school, he left Oklahoma to make his mark as an actor. He came to Chicago when he was 20 years old, and it was there he honed his craft.

Eventually, he joined the ensemble of Chicago's famous Steppenwolf theatre company, but inside Tracy Letts were stories that needed to be told.

And no story was more insistent than "August: Osage County," which is based on his own family history.

"My mother's father committed suicide when I was 10 years old. He drowned himself in Fort Gibson Lake," Tracy said.

"I guess he overheard a lot of conversations that I wouldn't have wanted him to hear," said Billie Letts.

"I think the secret to its success is that everybody has those stories," he said. "Everybody has tragedy, sadness, heartbreak."

And secrets that can hide even in Oklahoma's wide open spaces.

Tracy also wrote the screenplay for the movie, filmed on location in Osage County. It's already won Julia Roberts a best supporting actress award.

10/24/2013 Related Story: Inside The House That Plays Starring Role In 'August: Osage County'

"I think its important for me to keep my chip on my shoulder," Tracy said. "That's one of the things that gets me up and working."

Tracy said writing the play helped tame some of his childhood demons, but Oklahoma's red dirt is not easy to shake. And he is now eyeing a proposal that could take him back to the heart and soul of his native state--a remake of "The Grapes of Wrath."

"That's a real dream project of mine," he said. "I think there's actually a lot of stuff in that book that's very appropriate to the time we're living in right now. And I was delighted to find that dream of mine was shared by Steven Spielberg."

But, for now, Tracy is trying to simply savor the present, alongside his new bride, actress Carrie Coons.

He's riding high, but firmly grounded, and whatever triumphs or disappointments may be yet to come, he's ready.

"I'm content to just be Tracy Letts."

The movie, "August: Osage County," will be in theaters nationwide on Christmas Day.