As a writer and playwright, Liza Powel O’Brien has tackled the complexity of interpersonal relationships through her fiction. Now she’s dealing with the matter more directly, in the form of a new podcast. In each episode of Significant Others, which debuted this month, Powel O’Brien tells the story of an indispensable person who influenced the life and legacy of someone of historical importance. (O’Brien knows something about this phenomenon; she has been married to comedian and television personality Conan O’Brien for 20 years.) Leo Tolstoy, James Baldwin, and Gandhi are among her subjects, and Powel O’Brien is often joined by guests such as Megan Mullally, Rita Wilson, and Lisa Kudrow. Herewith, she shares her key components to the good life.
Alibi: “I was on a Zoom.”
Bag: Métier’s Incognito Cabas.
Bedtime: 9:45 p.m.
Breakfast, weekday: At Gjusta, in Venice, California.
Breakfast, weekend: My son’s sourdough waffles, made with his grandfather’s starter.
Car: An uncrashable one.
COACH: Angela Manuel Davis.
Cocktail: Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
Cocktail appetizer: I am physically incapable of resisting a cheese cube.
Coffee: Useless Bay Dark Smuggler’s Cove Blend.
Couple: Shirley Hazzard and Francis Steegmuller.
Dinner, weekday: First Light steaks on the grill. (Sixty seconds each side, twice, then rest for four minutes—apologies to Jerry for the extreme recipe edit.)
Disguise: When I had little kids and was too tired to put on real clothes, I contemplated wearing scrubs so people would think I was a doctor instead of just a tired mom.
Dress: One that can make your partner of two decades say, “Oh, wow.”
Enemy: One who is strong enough to fight back.
Excuse: A new baby.
Family: One who holds each other accountable and makes each other laugh.
Long in the cuffs.
Friend: One whose connection to you exists outside of time.
Hotel: Reschio, in Umbria.
Indulgence: Whatever causes guilt without doing damage.
Jacket: Rick Owens leather jacket.
Kiss-off: “Hope to see you soon!”
Lunch: Insalata Braccio di Ferro, soppressata sandwich, and a cappuccino at Via Quadronno, in New York.
Movie: The Philadelphia Story.
Neighbor: One you would be happy to run into on the other side of the world.
Nonfiction book: The Common Reader, by Virginia Woolf.
Novel: Impossible question! A few favorites: Luster, by Raven Leilani; The Topeka School, by Ben Lerner; The Sea, by John Banville; and all of Alice Munro’s short stories, which are perfect novels in miniature.
Pants: Levi’s 501, perfectly broken in from scratch. (Stupidly, I tossed them in the 90s.)
PEACE: An evolving dialogue. A clean kitchen.
Shoes: Toms Paxton Slip Ons.
President: Someone with a quick mind, a humanist’s heart, and an ability to admit she’s wrong.
Second spouse: One who appreciates all the work the first one did.
Storm: Insecurity, plus fear, minus shame.
Street: Lake Washington Boulevard, in Seattle.
THEATER: The Delacorte Theater, in Central Park.
Wake-up time: 6:45 a.m.
Weekend bag: Métier’s Perriand Weekend.
Work of art: Kerry James Marshall’s School of Beauty, School of Culture.