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By Olivia Kiers / November 24, 12:00 AM
Riding the Roller Coaster

 “I’ve played everybody’s mother!” laughs Anita Gillette. And it’s true. A veteran of Broadway and Hollywood, Gillette has performed the role of mother to many actors, from Jack Black, to Jennifer Aniston, to Bill Murray (who once gave her an elephant ride across the MGM lot during the filming of Larger than Life). Now, she is excited to act alongside the Emmy Award-nominated series “Parks and Recreation”’s Nick Offerman as Ignatius Reilly’s mother, Irene, in Jeffery Hatcher’s stage adaption of the cult novel A Confederacy of Dunces at the Huntington Theatre Company.
    Irene Reilly is “like a roller coaster,” explains Gillette. Though she loves him dearly, Mrs. Reilly constantly struggles with pushing her stay-at-home son to do what she wants, from getting a job to giving her a kiss. While Ignatius commands most of the erudite verbiage in A Confederacy of Dunces, Mrs. Reilly is “clever in her own way,” and Gillette hopes that her performance with Offerman reveals the underlying arc of a love story between a mother and son. “The best thing about playing Mrs. Reilly is that Nick Offerman is my son. I’d be on a stage with that man anytime, and especially in a part like this,” says Gillette.
    This is Gillette’s first time on the Huntington stage, though her ties to Boston-area theater go back to the receipt of her first equity card at the North Shore Music Theatre in the 1950s. “Boston is a special place for me.…I love everything that goes on here.” Gillette feels a strong love for theater, as well. “It’s an addiction. When I’m not doing theater, I have a one-woman cabaret show called After All.…There’s nothing for an actor like a live audience.”
    What’s her advice for finding success through theater? “You have to have the tenacity of a bulldog, the hide of a rhinoceros and a good home to go home to, because you have to bounce off criticism, but you have to have that tender part, too. You need vulnerability, as well as strength.” Family is important to Gillette, beyond the many mother-child relationships she has explored on stage and in film. “I don’t have a manager,” she says. “I have children and grandchildren. And I’m happier about that!”

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