Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Interview with Megan Mullally

Actress Megan Mullally, best known for her two-time Emmy Award winning role of Karen on Will & Grace, is also a versatile stage actress. Last year she co-starred on Broadway in Mel Brooks' musical version of Young Frankenstein and is currently treading the boards once more as Beverly in the controversial The Receptionist at the Odyssey Theatre, extended until November 21. Quick to admit that she is "not Karen", Mullally is a diversified character actress, who, in our conversation, became quite frank in her appraisal of herself in relation to the play and her various other acting projects. She's an actress who most assuredly knows where she's at and where she's going.
Q: Have you been a lifelong member of The Evidence Room,the company that is producing The Receptionist?
MM: Well, uh (chuckles)..since 2000, when they moved to the space on Beverly Boulevard near Alvarado (which is no longer their space), where their first production was The Berlin Circle. My friend Bart (DeLorenzo) was producing---he's the director of The Receptionist...and that's where I met my husband Nick Offerman, who was also in it...I became a company member and this is my third show for them.

Q: Don't they do very edgy works?
MM: Yeah...Bart picks really smart material that challenges you, which is good. I think one of Bart's strengths, apart from his choice of matetrial is his visual sense. The last three shows that I've seen that he also directed have all been absolutely exceptional. Voice Lessons...did you see that?
Q: Yes, it was great!
MM: Hilarious, and The Projectionist, which he staged so ingeniously and Churchill's A Number.
Q: How would you describe in your own words the character Beverly that you play in The Receptionist?
MM: The thing that I really responded to was that she's extremely loyal. I hope that's a trait I share with her. She's very no nonsense; she is the opposite of a flirt (laughs). One of the challenges...when I first read the play, I knew what I wanted to do with the character emotionally, but I was drawing a blank in terms of the visual...
Q: Very much the opposite of Karen, wouldn't you agree?

MM: It's a character that Karen would not find cute in any way, shape or form. At the beginning of rehearsal I went out with Ann Closs-Farley, the costume designer, and got that wig and then the pair of glasses...and we went to the Glendale Galleria and I put the wig on and just walked through the Ladies of a Certain Age Department (she cracks me up, as she looks amazing for almost 51) and I tried jackets on and that was good; I was set to go. I had gone to New York and looked at the ladies there and that seemed to be the haircut of choice right now and those wire-rimmed glasses are very much the rage with those ladies. I needed to take anything fresh or useful...not that she's so old, but it's that she's not a flirty or sexy kind of woman. Anything fresh or sassy with me had to go.
Q: I heard a lot of people comment about how strange the play is! But I think that's what makes it so interesting, as well as the fact that you bring to your character such a wonderful sense of humor.
MM: I think she has a sense of humor, especially with people she's very fond of like Lorraine (Jennifer Finnegan). She kind of thinks of her as a daughter. In the end when she believes that Lorraine has betrayed her, she remains loyal and goes to bat for her. And that's what's really heartbreaking about the play. I don't think the play is weird at all. I know some people do and I'm not casting aspersions on that, it's just that, first of all, it's a great piece of writing (playwright Adam Bock). It's very cool, and it's been a real privilege to work on. I love that it's not all spelled out, that there's ambiguity. And as an actor, every time it's so much fun to do and every time it just unfolds itself a little bit more.
Q: How did you enjoy doing Young Frankenstein?
MM: I loved it. I had a great time. It was just a great group of people to work with.
Q: I heard the actresses just couldn't wait for it to be over.
MM: Well, I can't speak for the others, but Sutton (Foster) went into Shrek and Andrea (Martin), that's just her temperament, she likes to keep moving and changing, but when I get in a show, I'll keep doing it for 70,000 performances...I keep going and going forever, but we don't live in New York, we live in Los Angeles, so...
Q: Might you do it here on tour?
MM: I don't think so. I feel like I did it and I did it with the greatest group of people imaginable and I'm pretty much booked up for the next year or so.
Q: Good for you! How was working on the movie version of Fame?
MM: It was so fun. I only worked on it for four days. I have a little song, the full-length version is on the soundtrack. In the movie they cut down about half of it.
Q: Bummer! Tell me about your short-lived TV talk show. What happened to that? You have the perfect natural quality for hosting a talk show.
MM: It was really a lot of fun, but it was bad timing. It was at the time that Rachel Ray premiered and we didn't have Oprah (Winfrey) behind us, but, more importantly, I really want to do something in the arena of talking to people about their stories. I don't know if syndicated television is where I'd like to be, because it's a really different world and it's much more sort of corporate - more corporate than it feels truly creative. So if I do something down the road, I prefer the talk format. It's probably going to be radio or a pod cast. I learned a lot about what I want to do and what I don't want to do. One of the problems with the show was also they wanted it to be celebrity talk, sort of what Ellen (Degeneres) does. I wanted it to be more everyday people talk.
Q: I heard people say they wanted to see Karen!
MM: I don't know how to respond to that. I'm not Karen. I'm not Beverly. I'm not Lydia, this character that I'm playing on Party Down (Starz) right now. She brings things out in people.
That's what I like to do: bring out the best in people. It's a very solid half hour of comedy from Adam Scott and Ken Marino. Last season when Jane Lynch left to do Glee, a slot became available. I'm not playing the same role. The whole cast is great and it's a well-scripted, very funny half hour comedy.
Q: Any network show in the offing?
MM: I was doing In the Motherhood for ABC last season, but it only lasted seven episodes. It was not a very satisfying experience, but I'm really happy doing Party Down.
Q: Who's your favorite film actor?
MM: Meryl Streep. I do love her, but I also love some of the character actresses, some of the Brits are great. I also like Patricia Clarkson...most of the people who haven't had plastic surgery (I laugh) I end up liking the most.
Q: No artificiality. What about Broadway actors?
MM: You mean, musical stars?
Q: Sure.
MM: I always enjoy Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters. Kind of the old school.
Q: Is there a role you really want to do?
MM: I want to do the Edward Albee play The Goat. When I read it, I fell in love with it. Bart (DeLorenzo) and I trying to get the rights to do it.
Q: I would love to see you do a play with Leslie Jordan. You were a scream together on Will & Grace.
MM: I'll be doing Karen The Musical. It hasn't been written yet; it's a couple of years out. (she laughs) Fox Theatricals is producing it, Casey Nicholaw is directing (Spamalot) and it's basically me and Leslie Jordan. He has so much stage experience. He's so funny.
Q: That's certainly something to look forward to. So you're doing Receptionist every Saturday through November 21. Do you like doing two shows back to back?
MM: Yes, but I hate waiting a week to do the show, though. You want to just keep it going. The 5 o'clock show seems just a teenie bit rusty. You have to prepare.
Q: You make the show fun to watch, as with just about every part you play.

It's been a pleasure.

MM: Thanks so much.

Remember to catch Megan Mullally in The Receptionist at the Odyssey Theatre on Sepulveda in West LA Saturdays only at 5pm and 8pm through November 21.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Interview with Mitzi Gaynor

What can one do but stand in awe of the legendary accomplishments of Mitzi Gaynor! Motion picture star of over 17 films, including her Golden Globe nominated performance as Nellie Forbush in the 1958 blockbuster musical South Pacific, TV star of 9 spectacular musical specials that garnered 17 Emmy nominations, and night club performer extraordinaire in Las Vegas and touring the entire US and Canada, this lady has done it all. As part of this season's month long tribute to Richard Rodgers by Reprise Theatre Company and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Joshua Logan's film South Pacific, Miss Gaynor will appear onstage this Thursday, October 15 at the Majestic Crest Theatre in Westwood. As well as a stellar performer, she is also the President of the Professional Dancers Society. Via phone, Gaynor excited me with the same high energy and enthusiasm that has remained her trademark for six decades. She is genuine, personable and caring with that vivacious charm that we have all come to associate with Nellie. What caught me off guard was her incredible -sometimes salty- sense of humor.
Q: What has life been like since the passing of your husband/manager Jack (Bean)?
MG: Jack was my whole life - my breakfast, lunch and dinner. The love of my life, my best friend, my producer, my director, my boss (ha, ha!) It's almost three years and I still think of him all day. But some great things have been happening storage places were just overflowing and a friend suggested I call the museum of Radio and Television and see if they wouldn't be interested in displaying them. Well, that happened and I know that Jack is a big part of this. These two guys Rene Reyes and his partner Shane Rosamonda (co-produced the fabulous dvd Mitzi Gaynor: The Razzle Dazzle Years, the PBS special + extra footage of her Emmy winning TV specials) have become very close and it takes two people really to be Jack - I'll never be able to live without him, if you know what I mean, but these two guys are so much like my husband that because of their association life is not as bad as it was.
Q: I understand you just visited Kauai for the first time since filming South Pacific there?
MG: Such fun. When we did the picture, Rossano Brazzi and his wife Lydia were the Italian "I Love Lucy". She weighed about 300 lb and she had great big golden... huge boobies. You'd hear in the morning (in her best Italian accent) "Rossano, you international son-of-a-bitch!" "Lydia, I love it when you make love to me!" I used to say, "Grazi, grazi!" He'd answer, "Prego, Mitzi!" I'd say, "You know Rossano, you are the handsomest, most gorgeous foreign leading man that has ever lived!" He's say, "Mitzi Gaynore, I know!" We used to call Lydia Saint Francis, because she was always saving the animals on the island. One time she found two little tiny kittens, put one on her breast and said "This is a boob pissy and this one's a pussy". (I laugh heartily.) It was amazing that we got the picture done. Just think what Josh (Logan) had to go through. First of all, it was in Todd AO, they had a new kind of sound...every director in the business wanted to do the picture, no one had ever been to the island of Kauai before...and who were we? Rossano was a dramatic actor and I had always done high-kick musicals.
Q: Do you have one specific memory that shows how challenging it was for you to make the film?
MG: The crew was time, God was really with us...the day we were about to shoot the scene with "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair". The sun was up, they dropped the needle on the record, I pulled the chain and the water came out, took the shampoo, started to pour it on my head - (sings) "I'm Gonna Wash That Man..."and the shampoo gets in my eyes. Cut. "Save the eyelashes!" I remembered when Rossano and I were in the car going onto location, there was a general store on the highway, just a little shack, and in the window there was a bottle of Johnson & Johnson's Baby Shampoo. Two hours drive there and two hours drive back to the set. All in one day. So, Johnson & Johnson saved the day. How did I remember that? I'm a great believer in what's supposed to be.
Q: Tell me about your part in the Richard Rodgers celebration. You are going to host a screening of South Pacific this Thursday in Westwood, isn't that correct?
MG: I think this whole Richard Rodgers thing is a fabulous idea. You know it's on Blu-ray now? Imagine! I'll do a short onstage interview before the film. I'll talk a little about the film and...
Q: Tell them some funny stories. What about your association with Bob Mackie through the years? How did that come about?
MG: We've known each other for 45 years. In 1966 I was going to do a special with Danny Thomas called My Home Town, which was Metro Studios, because he did a lot of pictures at Metro. There was a costume designer named Ray Aghayan. He's Persian and he talks like this (affects a rich Persian accent) and smokes cigarettes with two fingers like that. He's brilliant. I told him he did the most beautiful sketches. "I should only look like these sketches!" "Darling", he said "I have no time to do sketches. My partner does the sketches. His name is Bob Mackie." In the end the clothes turned out like the sketches, which very seldom happens. So, fade out, I'm going to do a new act. I called Ray, and he said, "I'm up to my ass in Judy Garland, so I cannot do it. But remember I showed you those sketches?" I'm in rehearsal above the Coronet Theatre on La Cienega and Bob Mackie was supposed to come and see me. I'm standing there in my leotard and the sash around my waist, which is the same color as my leotard...and my 4-inch heels. A knock came at the door and in walked this young blond-headed guy, Bob Mackie. We've been together ever since. We're family, he and I.
Q: I recently saw The Joker Is Wild (1957, directed by Charles Vidor and starring Frank Sinatra) on TCM (Turner Classic Movies). You had a totally dramatic role, which was quite a switch for you; you were terrific in it!
MG: Thank you so much. Nobody's ever told me that. You got a minute? Let me tell you a story. I met with Josh Logan and he said "Hello, Nellie!" and sent me to meet Richard Rodgers. Rodgers said to me, "That's a beautiful mink coat you're wearing." I said, "Thank you. My husband gave it to me for our third anniversary." We had tea, spent a lovely few hours in front of the fire in his library and later Josh told me he wanted Oscar (Hammerstein) to see me in California. I went back and started filming The Joker Is Wild. Josh called Jack (Bean) and said Oscar's going to be in town on Thursday. So I went to director Charlie Vidor - a fellow Hungarian - and said I had a chance to sing for Oscar Hammerstein for South Pacific. Vidor said, "We can't. Thursday's the big casino day and we've already hired about a hundred and fifty extras. That's a big scene for my character, who says to Frank (Sinatra) "Joe, can't we please get a divorce so we can be friends?" So, Frank walks by and he said, "What's up, baby?" I said " I have a chance to sing for Oscar Hammerstein for South Pacific on Thursday." He asked Charlie (Vidor), "What's going on Thursday?" "The big casino scene." " Should we shoot around Mitzi?" "That's up to you Frank?" Frank turned to me and said, "OK, honey, we'll shoot around you. Go and get the job!" Frank was so wonderful to let me go. I went and went crazy, I had such a good time!
Q: Well, you got the part. No one could have done better!
MG: Well, I don't know about that, Don. I did sing in the right key; that's very important for those who write for Broadway. And I had the same kind of inflections. So, Oscar and Richard had a lot to say about that. And Josh... could work with me. He was my champion.
Q: Getting back to Joker. Did doing that give you the desire to play heavier, more dramatic roles?
MG: This is the way I look at it. There are so many really good dramatic actresses that are not working right now. And there are many who cannot sing and dance and shake their butt...and I really enjoy that. I'm dramatic enough at home. I can carry on a Hungarian fit (ha, ha, ha!). the likes of which you've never seen anything like that. I bring my own fiddles, really, my own gypsies. I've really had no desire to do those roles, and I've been asked to. It gives me great joy to be with people. I love that wonderful contact you have with an audience. They're like
your friends and family.
Q: Who's your favorite movie star?
MG: Meryl Streep is a phenom. She can do anything better than anyone else. Judd Hirsch is a fabulous actor. And my favorite actress of all time? Betty Grable, because she was brilliant. Not brilliant in that she was a great actress, but... I was so in love with her...and Rita Hayworth was so fabulous.
Q: You love glamour. What about your new night club act?
MG: Mitzi Razzle Dazzle. I'm alone and I have eight costume changes, and I tell you my life story on and on and on...songs that progressed the story. There's a whole South Pacific section, a whole section when I got dropped from Fox, how I started out in San Francisco in the Civic Light Operas, how I was groomed to be a dancer and a singer...and funny anecdotes's hard for a woman to go on location, especially if you're supposed to be an army nurse in the 50s. You had to wear a girdle and stockings. If you had to go to the john, pardon the expression, you had to get into a car and drive someplace to go, because the honeywagons were far from the set, they just were...
Q: Will we get a chance to see this new show in LA?
MG: We'll see. You're always a bum in your own home town.
Q: Everybody loves you here!
MG: Bless your heart, we'll see, we'll see. Don, thank you for being so warm.
Q: Thank you!