Sydney Lemmon Wants to Get to the Bottom of the Internet

Sydney Lemmon

Sydney Lemmon, photographed by Nicolaia Rips.

Not to give anything away, but in the new play JOB, written by Max Wolf Friedlich and directed by Michael Herwitz, Sydney Lemmon has a gun. And when a gun is fired (and I’m not saying it is, no spoilers!) there’s always a recoil—an expression of energy released from that trauma. JOB, a gripping eighty-minute affair currently running at the SoHo Playhouse, feels like you’re being hit with a recoil. Lemmon, the Yale acting graduate and granddaughter of legendary actor Jack Lemmon, has a number of projects on her reel (Helstrom, Succession, The Walking Dead), but her most recent turn as Jane, a perfect maniac toggling between absolute control and dissolution, is legitimately superhuman. The play is contemporary—one of the rare occasions I’ve seen the present reflected in theater in any new and enrapturing way. When I went on a stormy Sunday afternoon, I was surprised to find the playhouse mobbed by a group of guys who would have seemed at home loitering outside of Aimé Leon Dore but looked extremely out of place at a matinee. They heard about the play on TikTok, they told me, and said “it just looked fucking good.” After watching, I was left with warring feelings of optimism and pessimism about the ease with which opinions are disseminated online. So I stopped by the dressing room to talk to Lemmon about social media, her recent Nora Ephron binge, and why JOB initially frightened her.


SYDNEY LEMMON: I hear you were at the dinner party at Romilly’s last night.

NICOLAIA RIPS: I was. I hear you were almost at that dinner party.

LEMMON: I walked by it on my way home. She is such a good neighbor. How was it?

RIPS: It was great. I walked in the entrance and I was like, “Woah, I’m interviewing her tomorrow.”

LEMMON: That’s insane. I’m going to take my mask off. I don’t understudy, so I have to distance myself just a little bit. When did you see the play?

RIPS: I see the play today!

LEMMON: Oh my god. You haven’t seen it yet.

RIPS: In fact, can you reveal any spoilers?

LEMMON: That’s the last thing you want in a play like this.

RIPS: No spoilers.

LEMMON: The hardest thing so far about doing this play has been friends being like, “So what’s it about?” And just being like, “Tech. I can’t say anything more beyond that.”

RIPS: What do you look for when you’re reading a script?

LEMMON: It’s never one thing. It just has to be something that makes something inside me clamor. It can be a connection, connecting to the humor of it, or the mystery or depth. For this one, it was how this script made me frightened, genuinely. And I know actors are always like, “It scared me, so I knew I had to do it.” But genuinely, it really scared me to the point of being like, “I shouldn’t do it.” But then I did it. And I’m happy that I did.

RIPS: So you started in theater, then went to film and television, now you’re sort of returning in some way to stage work.

LEMMON: It so doesn’t feel like a return in the sense that, yes, I went to drama school and then had a job as an understudy that I adored. That was my first job out of drama school. And I got to understudy this play that was on Broadway, it was really fun.

RIPS: What was the play?

LEMMON: The Parisian Woman. But yeah, you just hope for whatever comes your way. Now I’m just really happy to be doing a play.

RIPS: How do you get into characters?

LEMMON: For this one, I read a lot of books.

RIPS: What was on your reading list?

LEMMON: I read Uncanny Valley, Anna Wiener’s book. I loved it. I read The Art of Cruelty by Maggie Nelson. That one specifically really helped me because a lot of what frightened me about the play was its darkness and cruelty. So that book helped because it sort of looks at the dramaturgy of cruelty and art and helped situate me mentally.

RIPS: How do you unground yourself from that at the end of the day?

LEMMON: I’m still figuring it out. It’s not the easiest thing. I watched Miss Congeniality last night. This sounds very actorly, but sometimes I’ll do a 10-minute vocal warm down. Oh, I watched When Harry Met Sally for the first time.

RIPS: That’s like, the fall New York movie.

LEMMON: It was so fucking good. And I also watched Heartburn.

RIPS: Oh, you went through the Nora Ephron canon.

LEMMON: I did. The algorithm was feeding me. That’s a great movie. too.

RIPS: The book is great.

LEMMON: Yeah, I’m sure it is.

RIPS: So Nora Ephron was married to Carl Bernstein, one of the two guys who broke the Watergate scandal. And when they divorced, she wrote Heartburn about their divorce and how he cheated on her.

LEMMON: Oh, god.

RIPS: Are there any areas of history or pop culture that you’re really obsessed with?

LEMMON: Interesting question. I mean, in terms of this play, I think most of my research was just focusing on the now and the moment, what the internet is and how it operates and what it does. That’s been my obsession recently.

RIPS: What’s going on with the now?

LEMMON: God, I don’t know. I don’t think anybody really knows. And that’s actually what’s been the most thrilling and exciting.

RIPS: What was your first social media handle?

LEMMON: Oh my god. “Magnifisyd.”

RIPS: Magnifisyd?

LEMMON: Yeah, because my name’s Sydney. My dad made it. I was fucking mortified.

RIPS: I know you come from a family of actors. Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?

LEMMON: No, I played sports in high school.

RIPS: What sport?

LEMMON: Volleyball and lacrosse. I loved them, but once I became a junior in high school, I went to a magnet art school in Connecticut. But I don’t think I was very good at acting.

RIPS: Do you enjoy the internet?

LEMMON: No. I don’t think I’m good enough to enjoy it. I see some people who use the internet in this way that’s like, so expansive. I don’t have that relationship with the internet. I feel more addicted to it than I do enjoy it.

RIPS: What’s your screen time?

LEMMON: It’s probably enormous, but the gift of getting to work on a play is, most actors spend their time not working or looking for work. And that’s usually where I find myself. But in this, I get to put all of my attention and focus onto this play. And that’s a really good excuse to not be on my phone ever.

RIPS: What’s your dream role? Or a role you wanted while growing up?

LEMMON: That I’ve gotten to do?

RIPS: No. It could be like, Morticia Addams.

LEMMON: Oh, okay. These questions are hard. Some people are so good with favorites and my favorites change so much.

RIPS: That’s a good answer.

LEMMON: Yeah, I suck at favorites.

RIPS: How do your friends know what gifts to give you?

LEMMON: It’s hard. I had my birth chart read recently and the thing she said that hit hardest and felt truest was that I’m like a snake. And once the skin is shed, it’s gone. And I was like, that’s true. Things just pass, pass, pass.

RIPS: What’s your sign?

LEMMON: Leo. It’s so obvious.

RIPS: Do you place a lot of significance in Astrology?

LEMMON: Yeah, kind of. If it helps, it helps. But not much beyond that.

RIPS: Is there anything that you believe in that you think is strange?

LEMMON: That’s a cool question. I guess it’s strange to believe that theater is important. I really believe in theater and, I guess if you really think about it, that is kind of strange. To have people invite other people to come and watch other people say words and try to move them with your molecules. I think that’s strange, but I believe in it.

RIPS: What’s your coffee order?

LEMMON: Every day, I get Starbucks. I can’t figure out the venti, so I say “large” and that always pisses them off. But, a large pike with cream. It tastes kind of like dirt.

RIPS: Some Like it Hot or The Odd Couple?

LEMMON: Ooh. Odd couple.

RIPS: And what are you looking forward to today?

LEMMON: Looking forward to today?

RIPS: Only today.

LEMMON: We have two shows today and I’m looking forward to the second show.

RIPS: Why?

LEMMON: Because I used to be really afraid of two-show days, but we had one last week and the second show was beyond exhaustion, beyond the ideas of right and wrong. I felt like Peter and I were in this field. We were just fucking abandoned. So I’m excited for the second show today.

RIPS: Wow. I wish I was going to the second show.

LEMMON: I wish you were, too.