Read All About It: Favorite New York Times Profiles

One of my biggest pleasures is reading the physical weekend papers of The New York Times. I have an online account with the Times, so when I’m at school, I check its site on a daily basis for both breaking news and feature articles. I pass its office building in Manhattan a lot, and get a bit of chill whenever I see the newspaper’s classic font sprawled above the entrance. When I’m home, going through all of the special weekend sections is the perfect way to start my day. My favorite sections include the Sunday Styles, Arts & Leisure, Travel, and Metropolitan, and I love the “What I Love,” “Sunday Routine,” and “Modern Love” series. While I obviously appreciate NYT for the hard news it covers, its profiles of people are my absolute favorite things. I’ve talked a little bit about my love of well-written profiles, and longer profiles in magazines are great, but nothing beats a short and sweet profile in The New York Times. 

Profiles go beyond your standard interview. They find an angle, whether that be something happening in that person’s day, a quirk in their personality, or – in the case of a lot of Times pieces – a notable career change or endeavor. If a reporter becomes truly invested in the couple and their story, even the wedding features can be as interesting and complex as a singular profile.

I wanted to share some of my recent favorite Times profiles and what I loved about them. There’s a theme of profiles covering theater people, because that just happens to be a lot of what my favorite Times sections tackle in their stories. I’m totally guilty of going back and re-reading my favorite pieces, so the little nerd in me loved doing this!

1) “Behind the Scenes With Lin-Manuel Miranda and Family on Tonys Night,” by Katherine Rosman, from June 16, 2016

“After the show, Lin-Manuel, Luis and their wives took a limousine to the Plaza hotel for the official post-awards party. But the main event was the “Hamilton” party, at Tavern on the Green in Central Park. The Mirandas arrived about 45 minutes after the Tonys had ended. “People were telling me, ‘This is your son’s bar mitzvah,” Luis said. (The Miranda family is Catholic.)”

This was a detailed description of how Tony night went for Lin-Manuel Miranda, his wife, and his parents. I would say that it’s actually a great exploration of Lin and his relationship with his father, Luis. Most of the direct quotes come from his dad, and the details shared seem trivial – what kind of suits they wore, how Lin asked his dad not to read his prepared sonnet – but it actually shows just how much Luis influenced who Lin is as a person. Lin is obviously an incredibly intelligent and creative person, and his parents are huge factors in that, but this profile also shows that they’re as normal as any family is in their way of expressing love and care for each other.

2) “First Christian Borle Gets Serious. Then He’ll Be Wonka.,” by Alexis Soloski, from October 5, 2016

“Mr. Borle had dressed for the walk in unfussy attire — a thermal undershirt, gray jeans, scuffed boots, a scurf of razor burn — a far cry from Wonka’s plum-colored finery. He was dryly funny and unnervingly charming. To talk with him is to be held in a tractor beam of pure charisma. Yet he also radiated a Marvin-like sense of something kept private beneath the magnetism, a gravity beyond the jokes. He spent the whole of the long stroll masked behind a pair of aviator sunglasses. Maybe his eyes were puffy from crying.”

When I first read this profile, I loved it so much that I left it open on my computer for the rest of the day. Christian Borle is a longtime Broadway actor who’s only 43 and is already a two-time Tony winner. He’s now in an unique situation because he’s opening as the lead in a limited engagement of the musical Falsettos and will then play the title role in the Broadway’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in the spring. As the article mentions, it may be possible for him to be nominated against himself at next year’s Tonys. Before reading this, I was a little familiar with some of the other shows he’s done, but not enough that I knew a lot about him personally. I think this profile excels at presenting an in-depth look of someone arguably at a peak in his career but still guilty of letting feelings from his work affect his home life. I think this could be hard for actors to prevent, because their job is to literally become someone else and, depending on the role, it could be emotionally taxing.

3) “Danny Burstein and Rebecca Luker in Morningside Heights,” by Joanne Kaufman, from May 15, 2015

“The furniture is a mix of yours, mine and ours. The round dining table was part of the spoils when Ms. Luker broke up with a boyfriend. The rocking chair that the handy Mr. Burstein stripped, sanded and re-stained belonged to his grandmother. The Art Deco-style light fixture in the living room was a gift from his Uncle Marco, who walked onto a construction site and unscrewed it from the ceiling of a building that was being torn down. “He was that kind of guy,” Mr. Burstein said proudly. The barrister’s bookcase and the window bench were part of Uncle Marco’s estate; how he came by them is anyone’s guess.”

I’m pretty sure I read this “What I Love” feature when it first appeared in the paper – I knew what Rebecca Luker had done in theater, and even though this mentions Danny Burstein planning to be Tevye, I don’t think I had an idea of what he had done beforehand yet. Now having seen Burstein perform, the brief description of him here definitely aligns with my impression of him, and he and Luker are adorable together. I’m a softie for those middle-aged couples that are just so content to hang out together and have a peaceful life, and that was the vibe this profile gave me of these two. Plus, I love the idea of city life, and may or may not live vicariously through all of the different apartment situations in the “What I Love” articles.

4) “From Neighborhood Drinks to Wedding Toasts,” by Jane Gordon Julien, from November 20, 2015

“Was their meeting bashert, the Yiddish word for destiny? Or was it the luck of the Irish? As the couple danced, Linda Schmidt, a friend of the bride’s mother, said it was neither: “Sometimes, love is about being in the right place at the right time.”

I love a good New York love story, but the ones covered by the Times often feature couples from very privileged backgrounds whose lives are just difficult to relate to. In addition to being well-written, this profile succeeded in highlighting a fairly normal-sounding couple that met in a perfectly ordinary, New York way – in a bar – but was also connected in an extraordinary New York way – they lived in the same neighborhood, and a photo she once took in another bar had him in the background. Sometimes a featured couple can also come across as stuffy, but I never got that feeling from these two.

5) “Taking Her Tony Home: Jessie Mueller, as Herself, After Her Tony Win as ‘Carole King,'” by Patrick Healy, from June 9, 2014

“But there Ms. Mueller was on Monday afternoon: A newly minted Tony Award in her right hand, her Randi Rahm gown over her left arm, she hurried through the glamorous Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan with Midwestern realness, wearing black Adidas track pants and worrying about the room service bill. The night before had been one of those star-is-born moments for Broadway, with Ms. Mueller winning the Tony as best actress for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.””

I love Jessie Mueller, as I’ve said before, and this piece shows just how grounded and normal she is, even the day after her career highlight to date. I can’t think of anybody else in recent years who became a leading lady so quickly and is now one of Broadway’s top names. There’s a sort of quiet confidence about her that still makes her seem really approachable. Showing those moments when a stage actress is away from her theater and just blends in with everyone else is so telling about who she is as a real person.

Honorary Mention: “A Mother-Daughter Test: London, Together,” by Pamela Paul, from June 19, 2014

“We started off with a slog. Jet lag is bad enough solo, but with a child who’s slept two hours en route and double the suitcases, taking the stingy Heathrow Express route from the airport to South Kensington instead of a taxi was almost certainly unwise. Once the train deposited us at Paddington Station, we had to navigate the Tube’s interminable damned-be-the-disabled staircases, before briefly settling into our charming house rental, a two-story mews off the Old Brompton Road. Resisting the lure of the sofa, we formally began our trip on common ground: a bookstore.”

Technically, this isn’t really a profile; it tells the writer’s story of visiting London with her young daughter. When the article was first printed, I knew I was going to be studying in London but nothing was official yet. I think reading it just made me even more dedicated to making that opportunity happen. Pamela Paul is also the editor of the “By the Book” feature, which I love, and I really wish she wrote more features like this. Sometimes I quickly lose interest in Travel section articles because I just don’t know much about a country featured, but this article was right up my alley.

What about you? Are there any articles from any kind of publication that you really love for some reason?

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