Judith Light has won two acting Tonys — in 2012 and 2013 for her featured performances in Other Desert Cities and The Assembled Parties, respectively — and starred in hit TV shows like Ugly Betty, Law and Order: SVU, and, of course, Who’s the Boss? But if there’s one thing she hopes she will be remembered for it’s not her work as an actor, but as an advocate.
“That’s what matters,” Light said on the red carpet at the 2019 Tony Awards. “I believe it’s who you are that matters. The work comes with that. I love my career. I’m grateful for my career. But there is this other piece that is the context of my life and it’s who I am in the world. Who I want to be in the world. It’s like I always tell people: it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters who you are. Everything else comes from that.”
Light, who has been a decades-long advocate of the rights and dignity of people living with HIV/AIDS and for the LGBTQ+ community at large, received Isabelle Stevenson Award at last night’s Tonys for her humanitarian work, which has included serving on the boards of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and the Point Foundation.
Of course, Light didn’t always have such a selfless and enlightened perspective. “[When I was younger] it was all about ‘How am I gonna make it? What job is the best job to take so that I can build the career.’ It was all about the ego and how I was going to get ahead. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about who you are and how you live your life. Who you are with people. That’s all that matters.”
How did Light come to this understanding about herself and the world? “I had great guidance,” she said. “A wonderful manager — late manager now. He was of great guidance to me. I also wasn’t working and I had to revisit what about this work that actually mattered to me and what actually mattered was how I could reach people. Could I possibly make a difference? The choice of that was more important than my ego. You know, it’s one thing to go from play to play to play, but what matters, is where do you come from? I mean, we’re all biodegradable right? That’s what matters.”
Below, watch the moving and impassioned speech Light gave when accepting the Isabelle Stevenson Award.