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Davis and Harden shine in ‘Carnage’

Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden would like to make something clear right away: They’re not professional rivals in any way.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden would like to make something clear right away: They’re not professional rivals in any way.

Though they share a brainy sensuality, a theatrical versatility and a preference for substance, both actresses insist they’re rarely, if ever, up for the same roles.

Are they sure about that?

As the two chat in a cramped Broadway dressing room, the truth emerges — politely, of course.

“I think there’s something that I wanted that you got — but you should have,” Harden confesses to Davis after mulling the issue.

The role to which she’s referring was Jack Nicholson’s daughter in the 2002 movie “About Schmidt.”

“I wanted that one,” Harden admits.

“I bet you didn’t camp on his door in your sleeping bag like I did,” says Davis.

“No, but I spoke Greek to him,” says Harden, who was raised in Greece, Japan and Germany as the daughter of a naval captain. “I still didn’t get it.”

Davis teases back: “I would have liked that ‘Pollock’ job” — the one that earned Harden a supporting-actress Academy Award.

“Oh, that one?” Harden asks innocently before both women burst out laughing.

It’s a good thing these women get along: In about an hour — and nightly for the next few months — they’ll be trying to rip each other’s heads off.

‘It’s a fascinating look at who people really are’In “God of Carnage,” Harden and Davis join Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini as two yuppie New York couples meeting for the first time to discuss a touchy subject. One couple’s son has struck the other couple’s son with a stick, leaving the injured child with broken teeth and his parents with a thirst for justice.

The evening, which starts off soberly, descends into madness — but in a comic, tragic way. Awfully mean things are said, rum is knocked back and there’s some assault and battery.

“It’s a fascinating look at who people really are — this kind of polite front we put on all of our interactions and what we really want to be saying to each other,” says Davis.

The dark play — by French playwright Yasmina Reza who came to fame with “Art” — was first staged in London last year with Ralph Fiennes, Janet McTeer, Tamsin Greig and Ken Stott.

The quality of the cast in the American version has energized Daniels. “Rarely, once in a while, you get on that gig where everybody’s good,” he says. “When we walked into the room on Day One, everybody brings it. Everybody can do it.”

It’s the fourth time Harden and Davis have collaborated. They’ve appeared also in the films “The Daytrippers” and “The Hoax,” and in a production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with the New York Philharmonic.

“I have to say, part of the reason I signed on to do this play — there are many reasons — but it was Marcia,” says Davis. “I remember seeing Marcia in ‘Angels in America’ and I was just blown away by her on stage.”

“I was thrilled that we would be together,” Harden says, returning the compliment. “We’re like opposites, in a way. And yet we’re both exactly the same — that sort of determined New York actor-mothers. It’s perfect.”

‘She has guts!’Davis, 45, and Harden, 49, both started their careers on stage. Davis practiced her trade off-Broadway and in Chicago, with a breakout role in David Mamet’s “Speed-The-Plow.”

She made small appearances in “Flatliners” and as a French ticket agent in “Home Alone” before segueing into independents such as “Next Stop Wonderland,” “The Myth of Fingerprints” and “Mumford,” and finally to bigger-budget fare with “The Weather Man” and “Proof.”

Harden, who graduated with a master’s in theater from New York University, toiled on stage for years before landing a part in the Coen brothers’ “Miller’s Crossing.” She has earned a Tony Award nomination for “Angels in America” and snagged film roles in “Mystic River,” “Space Cowboys” and “Into the Wild.”

Davis vividly recalls first meeting Harden on the set of “The Daytrippers.” The older woman was shooting a scene at a party, which required her to bellow her lines as if there was lots of noise and music.

“I remember you did your take and I just thought, ‘She has guts!’” Davis says. “I remember being so impressed with how you handled that. I was so new to filmmaking. I was completely terrified about doing anything. You made a real strong impression on me.”

“But did you see ‘The Daytrippers’?” asks Harden with a smile, waving away the compliment. “The sound is not near high enough to mask me barking!”

Meryl Streep fan clubThey have something else in common: Meryl Streep. The mention of her name brings squeals from the two actresses. Davis worked with Streep in Charlie Kaufman’s “Hope Leaves the Theater” and Harden did so in a 2001 Central Park production of “The Seagull.”

“She’s a goddess,” says Harden.

“She’s a goddess,” agrees Davis, who happily recalls being called out of the blue by Streep and kindly offered a ride to the production in her Subaru.

Returning to the stage after long absences for both women has been a tonic. “This feels like home to me. It feels like my base,” says Davis. Harden agrees: “It made me remember how much I love acting, doing this play.”

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The darkness of the material has also been an unexpected boon at Davis’ home, which she shares with her husband, actor Jon Patrick Walker, and their two young daughters.

“I’m ever so grateful when I walk through the door after this and I see my lovely husband,” she says. “I’m kind of aware of how harmonious my house is.”

Davis’ home is so harmonious that she says she never even tells her husband to shut up.

Harden — apparently the more scrappy of the actresses — has a different take. “In my fights, I say far worse. I’m reckless. I’m angry,” she admits.

But her husband — documentary filmmaker Thaddaeus Scheel — recently unveiled a foolproof way to parry his wife during a recent spat.

“My husband’s best line of the whole fight was, ‘Save some for the play.’”