The Band’s Visit Star Katrina Lenk on Nail Care for the Tony Awards & the ‘Whoa’ Experience of Her New Co-Star
Katrina Lenk has appeared on Broadway in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Once and Indecent, and, of course, her Tony-winning turn as Dina in The Band's Visit. What began as a small off-Broadway production based on a barely known 2007 Isreali movie of the same name, The Band's Visit has turned into one of the most highly acclaimed musicals in recent memory, winning 10 Tony Awards including Best New Musical. Lenk is currently leading the cast with a mesmerizing performance alongside Broadway newcomer (and original film star) Sasson Gabay. Here, Lenk discusses life since her acceptance speech, how visiting Israel impacted her performance, and why she will never reveal the backstory she created for her character.
Congratulations on all of your success! Has it hit you yet that you're really a Tony winner?
The moment where everything hits you has not happened yet for me, I confess. I have the Tony back now. They engraved it and my name is on it, but I'm still like, "Whose is that? Why is that in here?" So, it feels like it happened to somebody else, or I read about it.
How has life been post-awards season?
I thought it would be super relaxing, but it's taking a while to unwind. This last week was the first time all of us were able to just do the show and realize that that pressure has lifted. Now we can do the show and tell the story and have it just be about that, which is great.
"Now we can do the show and tell the story and have it just be about that, which is great."
Has becoming a Tony winner changed your life?
I don't think it has yet. And I don't know that the expectation of it changing one's life isn't necessarily a good one to have. Getting to work and continuing to work is a wonderful thing, and I hope that it gets to keep happening. I don't know that there's a change. I mean, I am wearing a jacket with a little ruffly sleeve [for the Broadway.com photo shoot], so that's a change.
Did you go back and watch your performance of "Omar Sharif" on the Tony Awards telecast?
Oh, God, no. Oh no, no, no. I have not watched that. No, that Tony performance. No, no, no.
Even though you didn't see it, did you expect your hand to get such an intense close-up?
I'm so glad that I filed my nails before I went on because I kind of had an idea they were going to zoom in on it. I think the less aware I was of what was happening, the better because it was one of the most nerve-racking things I have experienced. I was very nervous.
What moves you about the culture explored in The Band's Visit?
Getting to go to Israel and the actual town Bet Hatikva is based on was an incredible experience. I was reading some Israeli fiction and watching Israeli movies and TV series just trying to absorb as much as I could of the modern culture. Getting to go there—it shifted from something I imagined in my head to something I got to stand in and be among. I would love to go back because we were only there for a short amount of time; there are so many interesting and fascinating, beautiful places there.
In the show, we see the inside of Dina's home and get a glimpse into her life. Tell me about that world.
Everything you see and hear and don't hear in The Band's Visit is very intentional. We had an amazing creative team. When they made the set [designed by Scott Pask], every little thing has a reason that it's there. A lot of that inspiration also comes from the original film and how when you're not told something outright, your tendency to investigate and look in the background to see where you can get details kicks in. I think [that] engages us as actors and audiences. I get more interest or more investment in what's happening and the mystery leads to more thoughtfulness.
"Everything you see and hear and don't hear in The Band's Visit is very intentional…I get more interest or more investment in what's happening and the mystery leads to more thoughtfulness."
Do you ever think about what that night would have been like for Dina if the band didn't come to Bet Hatikva?
Oh, my gosh. Yes. Before I go on stage I imagine what Dina expects her evening to be. Every day you open the door and you expect it to be a certain way. For Dina, I definitely have an idea of what would happen that day, and it wouldn't be that exciting.
Did you create a backstory for Dina's life before we meet her in The Band's Visit?
There's a backstory for Dina, and it can change depending on where I'm leaning any particular night. But since the show is always the same, there's this wonderful flexibility. I will never tell my backstory because I love for people to imagine what they think happened to her or what happened in her life. I'm mostly excited about that.
What is it like working with original The Band's Visit film star Sasson Gabay, who has stepped into the role of Tewfiq?
Working with Sasson Gabay is this bizarre meta thing because I saw the film and I've seen him in other films. I met him in Israel briefly when we were there, too. To now to have the man that played Tewfiq in the film be on stage with me—it's like this weird, "Whoa, what's happening" kind of place. It's also such a gift as an actor to get to work with someone who was there at the birth of this story. And he's wonderful to work with on stage and very present and authentic and generous and so funny and fascinating. I look forward to going and learning things about him every night.
"Working with Sasson Gabay is this bizarre meta thing… It's also such a gift as an actor to get to work with someone who was there at the birth of this story."
You've brought up your obsession with octopuses on Show People and how you would love to play James Bond in our Secrets of the Tony Nominees video. Big question: Would you rather have a pet octopus or be the next James Bond?
Why you make me choose?! Oh, no! A pet octopus or play James Bond? [Long pause.] I'd rather play James Bond because I bet that octopus would not really be that happy being a pet, and it should just be free in the world of water. And maybe while playing James Bond, I could pet an octopus.
Photographed by Emilio Madrid-Kuser at The Jane Hotel | Styling by Sarah Slutsky | Hair and Makeup by Eric Vosburg | Video shot by Mark Hayes and Alexander Goyco | Video edited by Mark Hayes
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.