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Lecy Goranson: To Show Up As I Am

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

A Conversation, December 12, 2015

When Lecy was 13 years old and taking classes at Piven Theatre Workshop, Joyce Piven suggested she audition for a new sitcom that was looking for Midwestern actors, called Roseanne. She quickly got the role of Roseanne’s oldest daughter, Becky, which she played from 1988 until 1992 when she left to attend Vassar. She returned to the show briefly in its eighth season, which was supposed to be its last. When it was renewed for a ninth season, she left again.

My name's Lecy Goranson, and I'm an actress. I'm 41 years old. [Laughs.]

Why does that make you laugh?

Because it just––I don't know––because it's silly. Especially maybe because we’re sitting here in the home that I grew up in. It's just kind of a strange thing.

When you were growing up was acting something you always wanted to do?

Probably not. I guess because I started my career so early, I feel like I didn't really have a chance to think about that in a more fleshed-out manner. But I was a dancer as a kid. I was dancing when I was in elementary school, and I auditioned to be a dancer in a play. They said "We want you to act."And I said, "Well, why? Are you trying to say something about how awful my dancing is?" They said "No, we just know that a lot of kids aren't as extroverted and outgoing as you are, so we need you to do this."

I was maybe eight. I loved dancing, see.

Then I studied at June Willhite [Creative Dance] at Noyes Cultural Art Center. The Piven Theatre Workshop is right down the hall from where June Willhite used to be. I used to kind of scurry past the workshop on my way to the drinking fountain and peek in the studio. When you think about it, here we were in the ballet studio and we're wearing pink and then, right down the hall, there’s this more exotic black box situation. At first it was like, “What is that?”

I decided to try out Piven, and I felt an immediate connection. I think a lot of it was because of the Pivens as a family. They had a little mystical quality about who they were and what they were doing. Also, at that time, I was going to church, but I feel like, even as a child, I was seeking something with more depth for my life. Something more connected, I think, something that was about soul, not just about religion.

A lot of actors go into acting to be famous, and to earn money or for the notoriety and Joyce just never about that, it wasn't even on her list. It was so much about the work. So it was very strange when I suddenly, at 12 or 13, found myself out in Los Angeles, because there was an assumption that I was another child actor who was gunning to be famous with a “momager.” In reality I was in a completely different environment that I wasn’t used to, but I still carried with me that Piven wisdom. I just can't imagine what it would have been like if I hadn't had that. It's amazing how they helped me in such a short time.

Byrne and Joyce and Jeremy and the Cusacks all were connected with an agency, Geddes Talent Agency in Chicago. They would have open calls. Joyce said to me, "Oh, they're having open calls, they're looking for Chicago actors. Why don't you go to the agency?"

The first audition I did was for that movie, My Stepmother is an Alien, and then the second one was for Roseanne. My mom and I just thought it was kind of interesting. There was no real ambition in terms of I gotta get that role. It was just kind of like, Joyce suggested it so why not. Really, very casual. Then I got a callback. And then I got a call to read the scene with Roseanne in Los Angeles. I went with my mom, and I was kind of like, “OK, we're in Los Angeles, that's weird; I wonder what the mall looks like.”

My mom said "Maybe you want to look over your sides?" And I said, “Oh OK, yeah, whatever.”

Meanwhile the girls there were all saying to me "You know, you're the only blonde and Roseanne's a brunette, so it's not likely"––trying to, I guess, psych me out, but I was too oblivious to be psyched out at the time—or, no, not oblivious; I just liked my life here in Evanston, you know? I was happy here, I really was. I wasn't seeking anything else to make myself complete.

That must have been a kind of an advantage for you.

Right, exactly. Yeah, it's really weird.

I’m imaging all these other girls at that time desperately wanting to get that job.

Desperately! And their moms! My mom was just like, "I have to get back work [as a high school English teacher]. I have papers to grade."

What was your aspiration at that time?

Nothing. I was 13. I had been looking forward to being in the Young People’s Company at Piven. I was still dancing. I was playing sports. There was nothing that was lacking in my life, I felt.

What was life like for you, in L.A.?

It was really intense. Very, very intense. My whole life had turned upside down, pretty much, and the show got very big very quickly. I felt very concerned about not being grounded. For good reason. At home, I was always living in the familiar. But I didn't have roots out there. I really wanted to find that Piven kind of energy out there, which was extremely difficult. It's a different world out there. It took me a long time to find some soul. I started taking yoga, and I found the crunchy vegetarian restaurants, and whatever else I could to find that peace in myself so I didn't feel like I was just flailing around. And also, as an actor, playing a character that I felt was very unlike me. It was very uncomfortable, at first, because I was judging the character of Becky.

Did you fear losing yourself in all this?

All the time I felt that way. My mother's from Gary, Indiana, my dad's from Moline, Illinois. My history is people who are working class, connected to the earth. I don't have the kind of values [I saw in L.A.]. I didn't see a lot of greediness in my own childhood.

Did you see that in L.A.?

Oh yeah, definitely. All the time. I mean, that's why people gravitate to that place. As we Chicagoans know, we don't have Hollywood and we don't have Broadway, we just have art here. That's a different kind of motivator.

One thing that really helped is that Laurie Metcalf and Natalie West were on the show. First of all, Laurie was just a goddess here [in Chicago] at the time, and my family didn't know of anybody else [in the show]. Maybe vaguely John Goodman because he was in Raising Arizona [1987], but Laurie––I was just so in awe of her when I was a kid. I was so intimidated by her. I so wanted her to like me.

But the three of us, Laurie, Natalie, and I, we were saying, “This is television, this is not theater, what do we do? What is it like, what is this? Is what I’m doing too big? We have an audience, which feels like theater, but it's not the same.” Being able to talk to them like that and them saying the same to me, I felt like OK, we’ve got some Chicago actors, I'm gonna be OK.

But, after a while, I was very unhappy, and I really missed flexing my intellectual muscle, so to speak. I wasn't in class, I wasn't around intellectuals. I felt, again, like I was seeking something that was connectedness, which I think is also an intellectual thing. I just felt that all the creative things in me and the trust had kind of fallen away.

Meanwhile, I was desperately wanting to reacclimatize into my peer group. Be a high schooler. I missed high school. I took those four years off, but I really wanted to read books, I wanted to discuss the books, I wanted to talk to people my own age. I did that when I came back to Evanston. I was very diligent about going to Camp Echo, going back to Piven, working there, but that was a little part of the year. That wasn't enough. I knew that I couldn't have both things. So I left the show.

Was that hard to do?

It wasn't hard because I was ready, but it was hard because I did have so many people who I cared about that I had been working with.

The writers created a storyline for Lecy in which Becky elopes. Lecy then made a handful of appearances on the show during the fifth season, and also the eighth. She attended Vassar from which she would graduate in 1995. In 1999, she had a major supporting role as a friend of Hilary Swank’s in Boys Don’t Cry. She now lives in New York where she mostly does theater work.

I don't know a lot of Chicago actors that really do the red carpet and want to self promote––actually don't know any who do. I'm trying to think; no, I don't know any who gets into that. I'm not going to speak for other Chicago actors, but I think that it's just a strange thing to us. It's odd, why would you do that? I know some actors and actresses that are so afraid of the notion of not being famous that the thought of it is unbearable. I think Chicagoans are OK with that. I think we're OK with being an actor and not being a celebrity.

I feel like being from Chicago and not having been established [as an actor] here, but having this as my place of origin allows me to show up as myself, whatever that means. I just did a movie in upstate New York, and I was there with my Bears jersey on and my Bears knit hat, which to me is very glamorous, but a lot of people don't expect that from an actress. But that's who I am. That's what you're gonna get.

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