Karen Landry, who worked in television and film and on the Twin Cities’ major stages, died from cancer on New Year’s Eve, with her family around her in Venice Beach, Calif. A native of south Minneapolis and graduate of the University of Minnesota, Landry was 65.
“I’m losing my acting coach,” said her husband of 34 years, Minnesota-bred actor Chris Mulkey. “All of the stuff I’ve done, she was a part of it. I always would ask her about a role and we’d pick it all apart together.”
After earning a BFA in studio arts in 1972, Landry acted for three seasons at the Guthrie Theater. Mulkey, who grew up in St. Paul, first saw her on stage as Stella in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“I was working at Children’s Theatre and I remember on a night off watching her and leaning over to a friend at intermission and saying, ‘That woman playing Stella is the best thing on the stage.’ And the first time she saw me, I was riding on a white horse in ‘He Who Gets Slapped’ at CTC.”
However, the two did not actually meet until 1980, at a party in Los Angeles. Shortly thereafter, they drove back to Minneapolis together because Landry was disillusioned with Hollywood.
“I always say that we fell in love by Des Moines,” Landry said in a 2004 interview. They married in 1981 and split time between Southern California and a home in Roseville.
“They are one of those couples that really sought each other’s company, made each other laugh — best friends,” said Mixed Blood Theatre artistic director Jack Reuler, who knew Landry since she worked at the Guthrie and the Cricket Theatre.
Landry appeared in several independent films, most notably as the star of “Patti Rocks.” The 1988 film, which earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination as co-screenwriter, was filmed in the Twin Cities and achieved notoriety in no small part for Landry’s fierce performance in the title role.
“She approached the work as a life lesson for the audience,” Mulkey said. “She figured out how the story enveloped the audience and then she thought about her role.”
In television, she worked in “Six Feet Under,” “Chicago Hope” and “St. Elsewhere,” among other shows. In Los Angeles, she also taught acting.
Landry, though, had a passion for her home state and its theater. She performed in Rita Dove’s “The Darker Face of the Earth,” a Guthrie/Penumbra production in 2000. She and Mulkey acted on stage together for the first time in Minnesota in 2004 in the world premiere of “Flags” at Mixed Blood. She returned to Mixed Blood several times, including in 2009 for “Pure Confidence,” a production that later moved to off-Broadway.
“She had the biggest heart,” said actor Regina Marie Williams, who worked with Landry in “Pure Confidence.” “She would talk about her students but never about herself — you know, she was never bigheaded. I had no idea who I was working with, what she had done, until other people told me.”
In recent years, Landry acted several times at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul. Her last performance on a Twin Cities stage was there, in October 2014, in “33 Variations.” She was taking treatments for cancer at the time, but director James Rocco recalled that she never mentioned her illness, nor did she let it affect her work. In a poignant comment on real life, she portrayed a musicologist with ALS who works feverishly to complete research on a series of Beethoven compositions before she dies.
“She was the light for all of us, and we all wanted to come up to her level,” Rocco said.
Landry is survived by Mulkey, daughters Amelia and Elizabeth, granddaughter Willow Anderson and three sisters — Mary Nienaber, Ruth Grant and Susan Macpherson. A Twin Cities memorial will be held at 3 p.m. Feb. 13 at Unity Unitarian Church, 733 Portland Av., St. Paul.