Patti LuPone on ‘Hollywood’ costar Darren Criss, family friend Lucille Ball (Conclusion)
LOS ANGELES—On her own attempts to make it in Hollywood, Patti LuPone recounted, “When I first went to California, I was much younger than I am now. I was rejected a lot because my face is not the Hollywood face at the time. Hollywood has changed quite a bit, but it was rejection after rejection. I used to get incredibly depressed having to go to California for pilot season.
“I never liked Los Angeles until just recently when I was able to appreciate its beauty and history because we were doing ‘Hollywood.’
“I think Los Angeles has changed tremendously, and it needs to change more. I wish that the people who are the heads of studios or the people in power don’t underestimate their audience, and have the courage to put on a story and let the audience instruct them, as we instruct the audience. I would wish that on Broadway, too.”
As a Broadway icon, Patti was the one who attracted Hollywood stars. They lined up to see her backstage.
“I was actually very lucky when I did ‘Evita’ to meet a whole slew of Hollywood stars. I met Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and we became pen pals. Lana Turner sat in my dressing room. We were knee-to-knee for 45 minutes. Gregory Peck, Jack Nicholson—I got to meet a lot of people.
“Of course, I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t speak. I have pictures of them, but I couldn’t speak because I am a fan. I grew up seeing them on the silver screen. And now, they were in my dressing room, complimenting me on my performance. I was speechless, tongue-tied and just not prepared. I guess that is how you get when you meet your idols, right?”
Which Hollywood icon impressed her the most? “Probably Gregory Peck, who was so suave, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.,” she replied. “It was pretty wonderful. I met Ginger Rogers. I was, oh my God (laughs), look at what is happening to me now.
“But I would say Gregory Peck, just because he was so subdued and his voice was luscious. And so polite. He actually said that his son was stepping out with Cheryl Tiegs. I thought, what a charming way to say your son is dating Cheryl Tiegs—he is ‘stepping out’ with her.”
Back to Avis being a lonely character, Patti admitted that as a performer, she herself often experiences being alone. “In my particular career, I have been on the road for the majority of it, and generally, I am alone on the road. For instance, when I was doing ‘Hollywood’ in California, my husband was in Indiana taking care of his father’s property.
“So I was alone in my house and I would shoot and that (cast and crew) would be my family for as long as I was there. Then, I would go home alone.”
But the pandemic lockdown has given the very busy actress a rare time off to be with her husband of more than three decades, cameraman Matthew Johnston, and their son, Josh.
Patti, whose older brother Robert LuPone originated the director (Zach) character in “A Chorus Line,” was going to star in a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” in time for the latter’s 90th birthday last March 22. Then, the pandemic lockdown of Broadway happened.
“The days disappear, interestingly enough,” the musical theater’s beloved diva shared about her self-isolation life in the family’s rural Connecticut modern farmhouse. “I don’t know why I wake up so early. I find that I am either completely unfocused or I am completely focused. It swings wildly back and forth. I am reading the latest translation of ‘Madame Bovary,’ which is fantastic.
“I am watching ‘Babylon Berlin,’ ‘My Brilliant Friend’ and ‘Grace and Frankie.’ I am cooking, walking in the hills, riding my bike. My problem is trying to get to sleep at night. It’s a confusing, sad, scary time. I don’t know when we will get back to work. I don’t know what will happen to this broken country we live in.” She is an outspoken critic of President Trump.
In the meantime, Patti is enjoying this family time: “We are all together in Connecticut. My son and husband are here and we are a family. For however horrible this pandemic is, I am grateful for my good fortune and especially to have my family around me at this time. We are together, we are cohabitating excellently, we are learning more about each other.
“It’s time that I lost with my kid because I was working. I missed the shoelaces being tied, the training wheels coming off the bike, and I am getting it back. I am grateful that I have this time with my kid and of course, my husband.”
She was about to turn 71 when we talked to her via BlueJeans. Beaming, Patti shared, “My poor husband said, ‘I don’t have anything for you.’ I said, ‘I don’t want anything. All I want is for my husband and son to be together, take a walk and have dinner.’ I don’t know whether they are more important the older we get or they are always important.”
Patti, who went on to sing Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle” in the recent terrific virtual birthday concert for the acclaimed composer and lyricist, is optimistic that the “Company” revival will still go on.
She said, “I had done ‘Company’ before and I had done it with the New York Philharmonic and on Stephen’s 80th birthday. So I played Joanne before and the question was, ‘How do I make this different?’
“And to be able to have this experience with Mr. Sondheim at his age … But the whole thing kind of blew up in our faces because we were opening on his 90th birthday. And who knows when we are going to open now? I just hope that Stephen is there. He was there when we did it in London, and he loves this production. At this point, it’s a very moving experience to be in this.” INQ
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