Who is Tracy Letts and why is he so f’ing talented?

Will Tracy Letts win the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play on Sunday, June 9? It wouldn’t be his first Tony Award, but it would be his first for acting. He previously won for writing August: Osage County, a play that also won him a Drama Desk Award and a little thing called a Pulitzer Prize! How does one person reach such high levels of success both as an actor and a playwright? That is, why is Tracy Letts so fucking talented?

Tracy LettsTracy Letts is a talented actor. He is a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble. That fact alone is an enviable achievement.

Tracy Letts is a talented playwright. His first three plays (Killer Joe, Bug and Man from Nebraska) have been widely performed. Bug and Killer Joe were both made into films. Man from Nebraska was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Again, if that’s all he had done he would have an enviable career.

Then Tracy Letts wrote August: Osage County.

 August: Osage County premiered at the Steppenwolf in Chicago. It went on to Broadway and London. It won the Tony Award for best play. It won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Are you impressed yet?

The movie version of August: Osage County comes out in November. It has a few actors you may have heard of in it like Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis, and Sam Shepard.

Look at that cast. Did Tracy Letts sell his soul to the devil or something?

All of the above shows that Tracy Letts is pretty fucking talented and probably a bit lucky too, but wait, there’s more!

Tracy Letts, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Tracy Letts in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow

Back to acting, Tracy Letts appeared in a show that moved from the Steppenwolf to Broadway and for which he’s gained critical acclaim. He didn’t do this in some new play for which he could set the bar for how his character should be portrayed. (Although that would still be admirable.) He did so playing George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a play for which most of the audience enters with a preconceived notion of George and the rest of the characters based on other stage productions they’ve seen or from Richard Burton’s Oscar-nominated performance in the film.

Now, Tracy Letts is nominated for a Tony Award for that performance.

Unfortunately for Tracy Letts many people view Tom Hanks as the favorite to win Best Leading Actor in a Play on Sunday. Actually, New York Times critics Ben Brantley and Charles Isherwood both predict that Tom Hanks will win while both list Tracy Letts as who should win. If the predictions are right it’s still nothing to be ashamed of. As they say it is an honor just to be nominated. Just because it’s a cliche doesn’t make it bullshit.

Whether or not he wins on Sunday I’ll toast Tracy Letts with a cocktail mixed from equal parts admiration, inspiration and jealousy (and possibly a little vodka).

Tracy Letts, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Tracy Letts in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow


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