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Christine Baranski Interview
Attitude

Christine Baranski Interview

Posted Tuesday, April 21, 2015   |   5760 views   |   Men's Interest   |   Comments (0) The iconic New Yorker who’s starred in three of the biggest movie musicals ever made, plus more sondheim than you can shake a stick at.

She’s the busiest of showbiz bees, currently filming the new series of The Good Wife and rehearsing for the hotly anticipated concert version of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies that will mark her London stage debut, but you won’t hear Christine Baranski whinging about her workload. “These are what I call ‘champagne problems’,” she laughs as she finds a quiet spot in the lobby of her daughter’s New York apartment to take my call.

Now, at the age of 62 and still in possession of some of the best legs in the business (which she loves me for mentioning), Christine can’t contain her excitement about ticking Follies of her musical theatre bucket list and she’s nothing if not honest – remarking about having an unusual face, then laughing when I tell her, “Well, if it’s good enough for Babs.”

She is admittedly scared about getting those tricky Sondheim lyrics right but we have no doubt that the old pro – who has done movie musicals like Mamma Mia! and Into The Woods and trodden the Broadway boards on many an occasion – will nail it...

For ‘Follies’ virgins, can you tell us a bit about the character you play in the show?
Phyllis is married to a very wealthy, famous man and her life has been defi  ned by a loveless marriage. She steps into the theatre and reviews herself in terms of her past self, as do all the characters in the show. She’s remembering herself as a young woman who came to New York, had dreams, maybe wanted to be a star, and many of those dreams haven’t come true. It’s a piece, I think, about disillusionment and the danger of nostalgia. There’s a lot of anger in that character and a lot of emotion too.

How is it getting your tongue around Sondheim, so to speak?
It’s always such a challenge. I’m repeating lyrics when I’m walking up the street or going down the stairs on The Good Wife set. I was on what I thought was an empty soundstage across from where we were shooting yesterday, doing The Story Of Lucy And Jessie, and then I heard clapping from the propman. Wherever there’s good acoustics you’ll hear me practicing Sondheim. I tend to do a lot of that in the laundry room in the basement of my Upper East Side apartment.

Is this your first time on a London stage?
It absolutely is, yes. I’ve filmed in London, at Shepperton and Pinewood [on Mamma Mia! and Into The Woods] and I’ve lived in Chelsea and Kensington. I can say without hesitation that I’m a complete Anglophile. I love English history, London is my favourite city, and I’m thrilled to be singing this score over there. I did actually play Carlotta in a concert version we did, I think, back in 2006 in New York but I’ve never played Phyllis and I’m thrilled to be getting it out of my system.
You’ve worked with Meryl Streep twice. Is she as lovely as she seems or is there any dirt to dish there?
Oh no, she’s just an absolutely marvelous human being. I can’t believe I’ve had the singular good fortune of making two musicals with her and both of them were insanely happy experiences. With Meryl, we always have a wonderful time together and I recently discovered Tracey Ullman, who is just a fabulous lady and a magnificently talented person. The three of us together, we call ourselves the new Dynamos.

Like Donna and The Dynamos in ‘Mamma Mia!’ right? Speaking of which, were you familiar with the national treasure known as Julie Walters before you made the film?
Oh my God, Julie Walters! Of course I knew about her and she turned out to be so much fun. It was such a pleasure to get to know her. I’d love it if we could do a Mamma Mia! remake, not for artistic reasons but just so we could all get together again. Just look at the success of The Marigold Hotel.
 
The box office over here for the new one is just crazy. There’s a real audience out there for movies like that. We’re waiting for Hollywood producers to realise that the young guys they think are going to the movies are actually at home with their gizmos in their bedrooms.

Speaking of younger men, do you have a penchant for them like your character in Mamma Mia!?
I’m utterly unspecific when it comes to men. An interesting younger man or a younger man whose looks I take to, but it could be an older man as well. It depends completely on the man and it has nothing to do with age because you can be young and beautiful and a total bore.

When did you realise you had a big gay following?
When I did The Birdcage movie with Robin Williams back in the mid 90s I was at the premiere and he said to me “Oh my God, the men in San Francisco are just crazy for your character” and I had no idea. It began to dawn on me that the character I played on Cybill was something of a gay icon, then as the years have gone on I’ve played a lot of those roles, those sophisticated, Stritchian – as in Elaine Stritch – kind of characters. And I’ve had the privilege of doing a lot of Sondheim musicals. But I think it’s a little dangerous when you start thinking of yourself as anybody’s icon. There’s that great Shakespearean line: ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’ because we love to dethrone our heroes and icons as much as we like to raise them up. I just like doing the work and if I can be good at it then that’s great.

In ‘Chicago’ you played Mary Sunshine, who is usually played by a fella on stage...
There’s only so much you can do in a movie and with Mary Sunshine it didn’t serve the forward thrust of the Roxy story. I was the wonderful beneficiary of that because Rob [Marshall, the director] cast a woman in the role.

How is it working with Alan Cumming on ‘The Good Wife’?
Oh my God, talk about iconic! I saw him in Cabaret again a few weeks ago. Usually in a long run of a show things get a little tired but Alan gave as brilliant a performance as ever. He makes such a huge contribution on The Good Wife. He’s so curious and passionate and I’m happy to know him.
You seem to have worked with just about everyone, but do you have a dream co-star?
I’ve always had this crush on Alan Rickman. I love how droll he is, his looks and the sound of his voice. I wish we could get him on The Good Wife. Unfortunately my character is married but that isn’t to say she couldn’t be enchanted by someone lovely who came through the door. I’d also love to work with Emma Thompson. You could add her to the list, along with Meryl, Tracey and Julie. We should do something like Marigold Hotel, slightly younger, on exotic locations, with all of us having a blast on and off camera. I’m pitching this idea to whatever producer is reading this article.

What about a dream musical theatre role?
People say to me, “Wouldn’t you love to do Gypsy?” and I’m like, “Nah, there’s been enough Gypsies.” I got to do Mame and with Phyllis I’ll have done a lot of the Sondheim roles I wanted to play. I got to do Sunday In The Park With George, I got to do A Little Night Music, I’ve done Sweeney Todd. So I’m struggling to think of a dream role.

You’re brilliant as lawyer Diane Lockhart on ‘The Good Wife’, but do you think you could do the job for real?
No, I couldn’t. My daughter is an actual lawyer but I don’t think I could do it. I don’t know why lawyers have a bad reputation because it’s bloody hard to go to law school and pass the bar and the law is so complicated. You have to have a certain kind of mind and I just don’t.

What’s the campest thing you’ve ever done in a professional capacity?
Have you seen the movie Jeffrey? I have a scene at the end of it where I have a musical number and that’s the last word in camp. It doesn’t get any camper than Paul Rudnik when he lets rip.

BTW we love your amazing legs...
[laughs] I have great legs, it’s true. The joke I make about my legs is that, “If the cinematographer could only shoot me from the waist down I wouldn’t need lighting.” I’ve always felt I have a funny face and great legs. I have an odd face. At certain angles I can look quite glamorous and at other angles I look quite odd, but maybe that’s made for versatility. I had bad skin for a long time and I’d look in the mirror and feel grumpy about that, but that’s cleared up now. In many ways I feel better about myself than I ever have.

Follies is at The Royal Albert Hall, London, on April 28th at 3pm and 7.30pm. For more information and tickets visit royalalberthall.com or call 020 7589 8212

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