By Kathryn Shattuck
Feb. 25, 2007

WILLOWY and patrician, Eve Best is hardly the “ugly, overgrown lump of a woman” Eugene O’Neill imagined in Josie Hogan, the slatternly Connecticut farmer’s daughter at the center of “A Moon for the Misbegotten.”

“O’Neill describes her as a giantess, a cow, and I said I hoped someone was going to manufacture a fat suit for me,” Ms. Best said in a telephone interview from the Yorkshire Dales in northern England, where she is playing Rosalind in “As You Like It.”

“But Howard said it’s not about that, but rather how she feels in herself and her self-esteem — it’s not just that she’s a freak show,” Ms. Best said, referring to Howard Davies, director of the Old Vic production of “Moon,” which is transferring to the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Broadway. (Previews begin March 29.) She stars with her London cast mates: Colm Meaney as Phil Hogan, Josie’s rascally father, and Kevin Spacey as Jim Tyrone, their womanizing, alcoholic landlord and her beloved, if only for a night.

And so Ms. Best donned huge boots — the kind doled out to the male cast members — during rehearsals to find Josie’s physical heft, not just her psychological and emotional weight. “I think Josie is more about how you carry yourself,” she said.

Despite some inevitable comparisons with Colleen Dewhurst’s and Cherry Jones’s earth mothers, Ms. Best, 35, earned critical raves and a second Olivier Award nomination for best actress. (She won last year for “Hedda Gabler.”) “Is there better acting to be found anywhere?” Benedict Nightingale wrote in The Times of London. “I’d be surprised.”

Ms. Best said her enthusiasm for the character stemmed from Josie’s essence as a life giver. “ “Most of the large classic roles for women are destroyers,” she explained. “If you think of Lady Macbeth, Electra, Hedda Gabler, Medea — all of their energies are always focused negatively. But Josie has an extraordinary strength of generosity, and the greatest generosity is the greatest liberation in the end.”

Known to her friends as Emily (Ms. Best took the name Eve, after a grandmother, when she discovered an Emily Best was already registered with Equity), she considers herself more of “a country girl than a Londoner,” she said, recounting tales of boarding school and grandparents who lived on a farm and by the sea. “I don’t go to clubs, I don’t go to galleries. I’m hopeless.”

As Ms. Best remembers it, she landed Josie after bumping — somewhat tipsy — into Mr. Spacey soon after he had done “Richard II” and she had done “Hedda Gabler.” She begged for a job at the Old Vic, where he is artistic director.

In Mr. Spacey’s version he stalked her after seeing her Hedda. “She was remarkable and tough, and it’s such a dark piece,” he said.

Having already found Josie’s footing, Ms. Best now faces a better kind of problem: remembering her lines. She said she had never before shifted back and forth between characters, as she is doing with Josie and Rosalind, a part she booked before she knew “Moon” would be heading to Broadway. “I gave myself a real fright the other day when I couldn’t remember a word of what Josie said,” she added. “But I feel certain that she’s in there somewhere.”

NY Times