People like to call Patti LuPone a diva. She hopes the title refers to her stage command – which earned her a Tony Award for playing Mama Rose in “Gypsy” – and not the demanding, temper-tantrum, entourage-having ways often associated with the term. “I hope it’s not because of my attitude,” says the actress, who turns 60 this month. One fan might say it is. After LuPone flooded the Web in January for chewing out a “Gypsy” patron mid-song who was snapping photos, the focus will shift back to that whopping voice during a six-day engagement with “Evita” co-star Mandy Patinkin, April 14-19 at the Fisher Theatre. From a St. Louis hotel, LuPone spoke to BTL about that buzzed-about lash-out, getting gay-loved and why, during this interview (where there were no cameras involved), she wasn’t feeling like a diva.
Would you consider yourself a diva?
Well, if you saw what I look like right now, then you’d understand that no, I do not think of myself as a diva. (Laughs)
What do you look like now?
I have just a T-shirt on. And I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet. I imagine divas to be pampered and made-up and lounging in loungewear and being waited on hand and foot. And that is not who I am. I’m a mother and I’m a wife who happens to be an actress and a singer.
What’s your secret to getting the gay love?
You know, I don’t know. You’d have to take a poll of the gays. All I do is what I’ve been doing all my life: I just go out there and sing, or I go out there and act – and I do know that I’m not a typical American. I’m not a blond, blue-eyed, safe actor. I’m an Italian that is raw. When I’m in Italy I make total sense; when I’m here, there’s a lot of head scratching. And there always has been. I think now, at my age, and (with) my longevity in the business, people know who I am, but in the beginning there was a lot of head scratching and what-do-we-do-with-this-person?, because I wasn’t American. I don’t look American and I don’t act in any way like a blond, blue-eyed American. It’s never been who I was. Ever.
You and Mandy have known each other for a while, since doing ‘Evita’ on Broadway in ’79. What’s your relationship been like over the last 30 years?
It’s been loving and friendly. We haven’t always seen each other because careers take people in different directions, but it has always been loving, always been supportive and we’ve always been friends.
How does that translate on stage during this show?
Well, I think you see that. You see a lot of love and a lot of friendship. (Laughs) You just do. You can tell when there’s chemistry and you can tell when there’s not. And chemistry doesn’t necessarily have to mean that these people are friends, but on top of being friends, Mandy and I have always had chemistry on stage, so we kind of relish that connection and play it for all it’s worth on stage.
I remember when my family and I would religiously watch ‘Life Goes On’ together. I know you’ve done several TV shows here and there – ‘Will & Grace,’ ‘Ugly Betty’ and recently ’30 Rock’ – but what kind of full-time role would get you back on television?
Something like the one I did on ’30 Rock’ – well, anything would get me back on television, but I’d love it to be – not anything, that’s a silly thing to say. What would get me back on TV? I don’t know, a hit sitcom – period. (Laughs)
And those are hard to come by nowadays.
They sure are, tell me about it. But that character I played in ’30 Rock’ (Frank’s mom) was right up my alley, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a character like that on TV. But that was pretty damn funny.
Can I just tell you how much I adore you for bitching out that ‘Gypsy’ patron for taking flash photography?
You know, I don’t know what to do about that except … bitch ’em out. (Laughs)
I know it drives you nuts, but it drives people in the audience nuts, too.
That’s my main concern. It drives people in the audience nuts. They can’t concentrate on the stage if, in their peripheral vision, they’re seeing texting, they’re seeing cameras, they’re listening to phone calls. How can we do our job if the audience is distracted?
I know it’s been abuzz on the Internet – there’s even a pretty hilarious YouTube video called ‘LuPWNed! (The Patti LuPone Audience Freakout Remix)’ – and some people are siding with you, while others found it rude. Do you regret chiding this fan?
No. They can think it’s rude all they want, I will never stop stopping people from not paying attention. They thought it was rude? Tell these people it is illegal. Now talk to me about rudeness.
I was just reading about it on blogs and such –
Well, everybody’s got something to say. You know what? The interesting thing is I’m not the first one that’s done it. At that point I was just pissed off. (Laughs)
Critics raved about your role in ‘Gypsy,’ saying that you didn’t just play Mama Rose – you were her. How do you slip so effortlessly into a role like that?
I’m an actor. You do your work in the rehearsal room and then you leave it on the stage.
‘Gypsy’ closed in January. Were you ready to say goodbye to it?
Yes. Absolutely. Boyd (Gaines) and I were the senior members of the company and we were exhausted.
You were doing eight shows a week – no wonder.
You know, I went to a nutritionist right before I hit the six-month mark and he saved my ass totally, and I really flew through it toward the end.
The economy has taken a toll on everything – newspapers, businesses, the arts. How have you felt the impact?
I haven’t felt it yet; I’m still working. Thank god I can sing. I’ll tell you, tonight we’re in St. Louis at the Fox Theatre and we’ve only sold 50 percent. Maybe St. Louis wouldn’t want to see us anyway in a great economy. And apparently we’re not well-sold in Detroit, as well. It’s scary, scary, scary times. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to believe. If it was not so conceptual, if they would speak in layman’s terms, I would have a better handle on how to react, but right now they’ve got me scared shitless. First they’ve got me scared shitless because of terrorism. Now they’ve got me scared shitless because of the economy. They’re giving me an early death. I don’t understand what they’re talking about. Ever. And who are they? I don’t know. What do we go do? Go buy tepees and live in the Montana woods? I don’t know.
Is your life as dramatic as it is on stage?
Of course it is (laughs). I mean, I don’t like any kind of drama, quite frankly. I like it when it’s nice and easy. But I’ve got an 18-year-old and I have to negotiate marriage, motherhood and a career. And life happens. Shit happens. And I don’t react to it calmly because that’s not who I am. Not that it happens all the time and I certainly don’t overreact – well, no, my husband wouldn’t say that, would he? (Laughs)
An Evening with Patti LuPone & Mandy Patinkin
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