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Laura Benanti says each scene was 'really fraught' in 9/11 film 'Worth'

Karen Donato (Laura Benanti) tells Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton) why she doesn't want any compensation for her husband's death in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on New York. Photo courtesy of Netflix
Karen Donato (Laura Benanti) tells Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton) why she doesn't want any compensation for her husband's death in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on New York. Photo courtesy of Netflix

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 1 (UPI) -- Laura Benanti, who plays a 9/11 widow in the Netflix movie Worth, out Friday, said she felt a responsibility to represent families who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center 20 years ago.

Benanti plays Karen Donato, the wife of a firefighter -- a composite character of real-life spouses of first responders.

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"It could easily tip into melodrama, which you don't want to happen," Benanti told UPI in a phone interview from her New Jersey home. "It's really, for me, just about being as honest as possible, so it didn't seem like an actress acting, but that you're watching a person suffering."

Worth tells the story of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton) was responsible for calculating how much money each victim's family could receive.

By 2003, 97% of families of 9/11 victims applied to the fund, in return for agreeing not to file lawsuits against the airlines whose planes were involved in the attack. Worth delves into the specifics about how Feinberg readjusted his formula to satisfy as many potential claimants as possible.

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When Feinberg first proposes the fund, Karen refuses to accept any compensation for her husband's death. Benanti said her character represents many families who shared her viewpoint.

"She represents a large swath of people who felt like there is no amount of money that replaces my lost person," Benanti said. "I think that's how a lot of people felt in the beginning."

Benanti said she knew people who worked in the World Trade Center towers, but were not aware of the fund Feinberg set up for their families. Benanti was 22 years old and living in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I was definitely focusing on the emotional part of it," Benanti said of the aftermath of 9/11. "I don't think I was digging deep on the logistics certainly at that age."

The opportunity to play Karen came in 2019 while Benanti was portraying Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. She also was in production on the TV series, Younger, in which she played antagonist Quinn Tyler.

"It was really hard, but I appreciate all the productions for figuring it out and working around each other," Benanti said. "I would have to get up really early in the morning and film all day, and then go do the show at night -- and I would choose to try to see my daughter in-between."

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The subject matter of Worth meant that those days began in an emotional state. Benanti said each of her scenes required the same intensity to convey suffering.

"Every scene was really fraught," Benanti said. "There wasn't a lot of room for levity."

Benanti continued with My Fair Lady, nevertheless. Benanti said the musical helped balance the work she was doing on the film during the day.

"There's something about singing that is such a magnificent release that in some ways it felt like healing to do that at night," Benanti said. "To get to lift my voice in that way felt like a relief."

Benanti's first Broadway credit was a 1998 production of The Sound of Music. She began as an understudy for the role of Maria Rainer, and ultimately performed as Maria.

Benanti said her 2008 production of Gypsy and 2009's In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) also were emotionally intense. However, Benanti rates Worth her most dramatically intense assignment.

"To play a person who's grieving the loss of their husband to an absolute tragedy, there's nothing like that in terms of the depths of darkness," Benanti said.

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