Teri Garr

The actor: Teri Garr, who got her start as a go-go dancer in the background of swinging '60s films like Pajama Party and a string of Elvis movies before breaking out as a cast member on The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour. She went on to work with seemingly every big-name director in Hollywood, turning in memorable, varied performances in films like The Conversation, Young Frankenstein, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and Oh, God! before her comic tour-de-force in Tootsie netted her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Most recently, Garr has become a national spokesperson for multiple sclerosis, which she's suffered from for decades, according to her 2005 autobiography Speedbumps: Flooring It Through Hollywood. In December 2006, Garr suffered a brain aneurysm that affected her speech and motor skills, leaving her unable to work while she endured intense physical rehabilitation; she's only recently returned to the public eye with an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman, where she's long been a favorite guest. Garr's most recent films, Kabluey and Expired (both filmed before her aneurysm), are in theaters now.

Mr. Mom (1983)—"Caroline"

Teri Garr: I was in love with Michael Keaton. He was very funny. And it seemed like the people that made that movie didn't know anything about life. They hadn't been in a supermarket in, like, 10 years. So it was amazing that we came out with anything at all. I shouldn't say that, God! [Director] Stan Dragoti might read this. But anyway, it was cute. It turned out well.

AVC: Mr. Mom is yet another role where your character is described as "long-suffering." Why do you think you've always been called upon to play that type?

TG: Oh God. Because I'm a long-suffering doormat in my own life, I guess. That's why I was always cast as that. And because they only write those parts for women. If there's ever a woman who's smart, funny, or witty, people are afraid of that, so they don't write that. They only write parts for women where they let everything be steamrolled over them, where they let people wipe their feet all over them. Those are the kind of parts I play, and the kind of parts that there are for me in this world. In this life.

AVC: Yet Mr. Mom was one of those early-'80s films that was all about "redefining gender roles."

TG: I know, and the same thing with Tootsie. It was about a man doing a woman's work, so they see it's really not that easy. Women are not taken seriously.

AVC: When they pitched Mr. Mom to you, did they play up the "message" angle, that you'd be playing a character who's redefining gender roles?

TG: No! They just told me it was about a guy who does the work that a woman does, because it's so easy. And I went, "Oh, yeah. Ha ha." It's so easy. All the women I know who stay home and take care of their kids, they go, "Oh yeah, this is easy." Hmm.

Tootsie (1982)—"Sandy Lester"

TG: I just saw that again recently. I hadn't seen it in twentysomething years. And it's the same thing! Pretty, nice girls being taken advantage of by slimy men. They put a man in a dress, and he's supposed to know what it feels like to be a woman. But of course he doesn't. I think what Dustin [Hoffman] says is, "I realize now how important it is for a woman to be pretty. And I wasn't pretty." God! That's all you realized? Jesus Christ. Oh well. Don't quote me. Actually, quote me.

AVC: You play this very neurotic character who's full of self-loathing, who's desperate for attention, yet somehow, she's sweet and likeable. Was all that indicated in the script, or was that something you brought to the role?

TG: I think that's something that I was or am. Likeable? I guess, yeah. But neurotic, yes. It was right at that time in history when feminism was rearing its ugly head, so I read all these books like The Second Sex, and that's where I got that line, "I know I'm responsible for my own orgasm." [Laughs.] I read that sentence and I thought, "What does that mean?" I didn't even know. I thought that [Sandy] was caught between trying to have a career and trying to be a sexual woman, and it just doesn't work. At least it didn't in that movie, because it was made by sexist men. I can say that now, because Sydney [Pollack] isn't with us anymore. [Laughs.] But he was a fine director.

AVC: But you thought he was sexist?

TG: Oh, yeah! I think so. He just wanted the beautiful, blond, cute, shiksa girls to be nice and shut the fuck up! [Laughs.] God, I'm bad. But that's what he wanted. And that's what the world wants, I think. I'm bitter. Bitter!

AVC: You and Jessica Lange were both nominated for the Oscar on Tootsie, and she won. Was there any bitterness between the two of you?

TG: No, she's actually a nice girl. She's got her own problems, being married to that playwright. [Lange is not married to playwright Sam Shepard, but they've lived together since the '80s and have two children together. —ed.] Anyway, no. Well, okay… I thought both of us shouldn't have been nominated as "supporting," because she was the lead woman in that movie. So that wasn't fair. But it wasn't her fault that it wasn't fair.

AVC: Do you think you would have won if she'd been nominated as a lead?

TG: I don't know. I probably should have. [Laughs.] How dare I say that! You know, I had just done One From The Heart, where I was the lead woman, and I thought, "Why should I do this second-banana role when I'm a lead woman?" And Sydney [Pollack] talked me into it. He said, "We're going to make it funny. It's gonna be really good, and we're gonna take any ideas you have." So I started writing stuff about her right away—about Sandy Lester—and he let me do it. And I loved that. Dustin had beaten him into submission, so he'd say, "If you have an idea, tell Sydney." So I said, "Put the camera over there, and I'm going to rush out of the bathroom and say, 'What's the matter with you people? I've been in there for a half an hour screaming! Doesn't anybody care?'" That was a good part in the movie, right? And I made that up.

One From The Heart (1982)—"Frannie"

TG: God, that was long and tedious and hard. Francis [Ford Coppola] was outside in a trailer, just speaking over a loudspeaker to direct us. That was not easy. Over the loudspeaker he'd say, "Let's do another take, and this time let's try acting, Ms. Garr." [Laughs.] I'd be like, "What does that mean? I guess I wasn't good."

AVC: You never had any personal interaction with him?

TG: Oh, of course we did. He had parties every weekend. And it was amazing, that set, because he was just starting Zoetrope, and every director—I mean, Gene Kelly, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Jean-Luc Godard, Akira Kurosawa—every director in the world was there, on the stage with us, watching what Francis was doing.

AVC: Coppola gave you one of your first big film roles in The Conversation. What do you think he saw of yours that made him take a chance on you?

TG: I don't know! I went to this party—I must say, I'm a party girl—at Jack Nicholson's house… God, I'm dropping names now. Anyway, Francis was there, and the next day, I got a call from the casting director who said, "[Coppola] wants you to try out for this part in the movie The Conversation." I said, "Really?" I couldn't believe it. I mean, I was working on The Sonny And Cher Show at the time. Anyway, they sent me this scene, and I said, "Well, if this is just the scene for the test, it must be a huge part!" And of course, that scene for the test was my only scene in the movie. [Laughs.]

AVC: One From The Heart was kind of a… Let's go ahead and use the word "bomb."

TG: Yes, go ahead.

AVC: But it's picked up a cult following since. Do you think it's deserving of rediscovery?

TG: No. It's a bomb! No, actually, you know what I think? Francis wanted it to be a woman's point of view. This was an Italian guy—a humorless Italian guy. Oh, I shouldn't say that. He's got humor. Anyway, he wanted a woman's point of view, but I don't think he had a clue. But he's a smart guy. He makes good movies, let's face it. The Godfather was like an opera. It was so beautiful.

Honky Tonk Freeway (1981)—"Ericka"

AVC: Speaking of movies deserving of rediscovery…

TG: [Laughs.] Oh, that deserves a rediscovery? [Adopts German accent.] John Schlesinger! I remember going to Florida in the sweltering heat, being in that trailer barreling through town. And I remember Schlesinger saying, "It's like every town in America is the same. You go into a town and it's got the same IHOP and the same McDonald's." And I thought, "He's right! It's true." America's all the same, in every town. And we feel comfortable that way, us Americans. We want the same thing. And Schlesinger picked up on it. I also think he was a genius. After that, he said he was going to direct The Tales Of Hoffman, and I thought he said Hellzapoppin'. [Laughs.] Which is so wrong. That's the opposite of The Tales Of Hoffman. He was going to direct an opera, and here he was directing this movie about how every city is the same. I thought it was rather clever of him.

After Hours (1985)—"Julie"

TG: Oh, I love it! With the hairspray? And my hair? Oh yeah. My favorite scene is when Griffin [Dunne] is in the cab, and he goes, "I'm in no hurry, I'm in no hurry." And the guy's rushing him and he loses the $20 bill out the window? God! [Laughs.] It's so funny, that movie. Also Catherine O'Hara, when he says, "Can I use your phone?" and sits down to dial someone, and she goes, "Seven-two-five-nine-seven-two-one," and screws up his whole line of thought. [Laughs.] I just thought that was so cruel and funny. That was a funny movie. [Martin] Scorsese, right? God, I've been lucky! I've worked with some great directors.

AVC: What goes into auditioning for Martin Scorsese?

TG: Well, I wrote about it in my book, which you obviously haven't read. I had lunch with him every day for a week at his loft, and I saw that he was very, very into movies. He had lots of posters and films around. So I liked him, because I like movies too. He was also very respectful of actors, because of Bobby D [Robert De Niro], and any time you were on the set he'd go [to the crew], "You can't talk to the actors! Can't touch them! Don't talk to them!" Like, what are we? Crabs or something?

AVC: Having been an actual 1960s go-go girl, could you relate to that character being stuck in her Shindig!-centric world?

TG: Yes! I could. And it was my idea to say, "Wouldn't it be funny if I opened the cupboard and there was nothing but cans of hairspray?" [Scorsese] says, "Good idea." So we put all this Aqua Net up there. I like Aqua Net. [Laughs.]

AVC: Do you still like Aqua Net?

TG: I do. Actually, I don't know if they make it anymore. But I love having my hair in a beehive. At one point, wasn't there a scene where I had bees coming in and out of my beehive? God. Joe what's-his-name [Minion] who wrote it was good. Funny. What's his name? Ah, forget it. So rude. He's going to love that. He worked so hard on that wonderful script, and here I can't even remember his name. Oh well.

AVC: The scene where you put on The Monkees' "Last Train To Clarksville," was that perhaps a nod to your appearance in Head?

TG: [Laughs.] No! Believe it or not, it was already in the script.

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Head (1968)—"Testy True"

TG: I was in an acting class taught by Eric Morris, and Jack Nicholson was in the class. He wrote the script for Head, so all of us in the class got little tiny parts in the movie. I was… Who was I? Oh yes, I was the girl dying of a snakebite, who falls off the Calistoga wagon and says, "Quick, suck it before the venom reaches my heart!" [Laughs.] Only Jack would write that. I also remember seeing The Monkees and thinking, "They're not so great. They're definitely not The Beatles." Um, sorry! They're not.

AVC: Legend has it that Nicholson and Bob Rafelson holed up with a lot of marijuana and dictated the entire script into a tape recorder. Do you know if there's any truth to that?

TG: I don't know. But it certainly looks like a psychedelic acid trip, doesn't it? I think it was actually very derivative of this artist at the time who was making underground films, Bruce Conner. He would make these films with cartoons, atom bombs, and stuff that were really quite interesting and metaphorical, about orgasms and stuff. So they copied that. I wouldn't say "copied." That's a bad word. Plagiarized? No, that's a worse word.

AVC: You're still good friends with Jack Nicholson. What's that like?

TG: Totally cool. He was smart and still is. Smart as a whip, and funny, and everything like that. He's a big appreciator of art. Now, you know, he's "Jack Nicholson, The Movie Star." [Laughs.] That's what we call him. Anyway, say they had a big show of Renoir or somebody like that at the Los Angeles Contemporary Art Museum. He'd make a private tour and take us with him. That was nice. Because who wants to stand around with a bunch of people in crowds? Jack is cool that way.

The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour (1971-1974)—Various characters

TG: Ugh. That genius show. You know, I just thought of something yesterday, because I was in this documentary about the Villa Capri, a pizza place in Hollywood where James Dean used to hang out, and Sinatra. Anyway, on Sonny And Cher there was a pizza sketch we did called "Sonny's Pizza," and I remember when we did our first read-through, Sonny [Bono] looks at the script and he goes, "Okay, I'll see you guys later. Chai-ay-oh!" And I said, "It's ciao! Aren't you Italian? C-i-a-o doesn't spell 'chai-ay-oh.'" [Laughs.] Sonny's dead, so he won't be embarrassed if I tell that story.

AVC: In Speedbumps, you relate this anecdote about how, being the only girl on the show, you thought you should get paid more, and yet when you told the producers that, they said, "Well, you can just quit."

TG: Right! That's exactly what they did.

AVC: Which seems odd, because that show was ostensibly feminist—or, at least, proto-feminist—wasn't it?

TG: Really? I don't know if it was or not. The whole world is sexist, starting with that show. That was an example of it: not getting paid what everybody else got paid for doing the same thing. It was six guys and me who did all the sketches, and I was the only woman, and I got half of what they made. Ay yi yi. When I was a kid and my father died—this is a sad story coming up—my mother went to work in the studios as a costumer. One day she's schlepping around this big rack of clothes, and she tells me her friend Wes who works with her got a raise. And I said, "That's great! Are you getting a raise too?" And she said, "Well, no. But Wes has a wife and a kid." And I said, "You've got three kids and no husband!" And she said, "But I'm a woman." So I started learning early that women are steamrolled. You can quote me on this.

AVC: Wasn't the whole point of the Sonny and Cher dynamic that she was a strong female who dominated her husband?

TG: Well yeah, but I don't think she actually was. She was sort of a tootsie. But she was funny and sort of logical and nice. I like Cher. I still see her once in a while. I see her. I don't recognize her, but I see her. [Laughs.]

Young Frankenstein (1974)—"Inga"

TG: You know, I just saw [the Broadway version] in New York before I did the Letterman show, and in the lobby, they sell the brain—you know, the "Abby Normal" brain? So I thought, "I'll buy one of these and give it to Dave." And then my friend Kevin Meaney—do you know who he is?

AVC: The comedian? "That's not right"?

TG: Oh yes. He's hysterical. Anyway, I showed it to him, and he said, "It looks like Richard Belzer's testicle." Well, I thought, "I can't say that on Letterman." It turns out I could say it, but I didn't use it at all. So I still have this "Abby Normal" brain sitting here in front of me.

AVC: Was there anyone you specifically based Inga's accent on?

TG: [Adopts German accent.] Ja, Cher's wigmaker! I actually auditioned for the part of the fiancée—the financier—and [Mel Brooks] said, "I want Madeline Kahn to do this part, but she doesn't want to do it." And when I came in for my third callback, he said, "Madeline is going to do it, but if you can come back tomorrow with a German accent, you can try out for the part of the assistant." I said [Adopts German accent.] "Oh yes, I will come back tomorrow." Cher's wigmaker was from Düsseldorf, so I just did an impersonation of her.

AVC: If you had landed Madeline Kahn's role, do you think your career would have gone differently? Inga seems like the prototype for the "ditzy blonde"—

TG: Please don't say that. Yes, yes. Okay. I guess. No, I don't think so. Madeline's character was ditzy too! All the women were the same. God! I have to say, though, that really put me on the map, being in that movie. I had no idea it was going to be such a big hit, and it's still hot. People still look at it all the time. I had no idea. It really was the first time I ever had my name on the poster, co-starring and all that stuff. So I'm really grateful that I was even in it, that I came back with that German accent.

AVC: Working with so many talented improvisers, was it a matter of never doing a scene the same way twice?

TG: Sort of like that. You know, it was like when the teacher says to stop laughing, and all you can do is laugh more. Mel would say, "Can we do another take with no laughing?" And we'd say, "We'll try." We would laugh at everything. Marty Feldman—God, was he funny. When I went to see the show in New York, I went backstage, and I said, "You're all doomed." Because everyone is dead from that movie! Well, not everyone. But Madeline, and Peter Boyle, and Marty. And myself, I have one foot in the grave and one on a banana peel.

AVC: Well, everybody in every movie dies eventually.

TG: [Laughs.] Ain't none of us getting out of this thing alive!

Dumb And Dumber (1994)—"Helen Swanson"

TG: Jim Carrey, right? Well, it was very funny, and fun to do. We did it in Utah with the Mormons, the Big Love-rs. It was cute. Good script, I thought. Those guys were so funny. Oh God, cross that out. "Ms. Garr kept saying, 'It was so funny.' She has no vocabulary, no brains.'" Ugh.

AVC: Jim Carrey has developed a reputation for disrupting his movies with endless improvising. Did you experience that?

TG: Never! Not at all. Not as much as Dustin Hoffman on Tootsie, who would just do whatever he wanted to do. I guess he felt he was above the law. We did that scene where I was supposed to burst out of an elevator, and he was in the elevator with me, and we'd hear them say, "Rolling!" and "Action!", and then he would grab my butt, so I'd come out of the elevator screaming. He'd say, "It's good. You can't pre-plan anything."

Fairie Tale Theatre, "The Tale Of The Frog Prince" (1982)"Princess"

TG: Oh, with Robin [Williams]! Talk about laugh-a-minute.

AVC: That episode was surprisingly racy for children's fare—like the line where you scold him for being a "horny toad."

TG: Oh no, not at all! You must have a dirty mind.

AVC: I was 5.

TG: Shocking. You're shocking me. Oh, God. You were 5! Bastard. Anyway, I loved working with Robin. He was so funny. There I go again: [Mocking tone.] "He was so funny, and it was funny, and it was fun." Shelley Duvall was the producer, right? Now there's a smart woman who's not given any credit for being smart. She was good and smart and had all these great ideas—like how all the makeup was done around Maxfield Parrish paintings. And yet women are automatically put on this second shelf. I guess that's just how the world runs.

Oh, God! (1977)—"Bobbie Landers"

TG: I got to be friends with John Denver, who was darling and sweet and funny and smart. But he shouldn't have gotten on that plane. I went on a plane with him myself that he flew. We went to some ski thing, a charity event, and I said, "I don't know how to ski!" And he said, "That's okay, don't worry." We got on a chairlift and went up to the top of this mountain, and he said, "Okay, get off." And I said, "Well? How do I get down?" And he said, "Ski down!" So I had to walk all the way down this mountain with skis on, with these sticks on my feet. Anyway, that's John Denver. But mostly, he was darling. And George Burns, too. He would always say, "I'm happy to be here—I'm happy to be anywhere at this point." I know what he means now.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)—"Ronnie Neary"

TG: Steven [Spielberg] had just come off doing Jaws, so anything he said was fine with Universal. We were staying in this little motel in Mobile, Alabama, and he had this big blimp hangar. He wanted the biggest soundstage in the world, so that's why we were in Mobile. That's where he did all the outer-space scenes. I used to say that in Close Encounters, God was revealed to be a chandelier. And then that same year, I was in a movie where God was revealed to be George Burns.

AVC: Which do you believe? Is God a chandelier or George Burns?

TG: I think George Burns. I hope George Burns. We'll have to ask Steven. He's kind of stuck on those guys. I just watched the new Indiana Jones movie, and he's got those damn creatures again with the heads. He loves those aliens.

AVC: In your autobiography—

TG: So you did read it.

AVC: I read all the excerpts I could get my hands on without paying for it.

TG: God bless you.

AVC: I'll send you a pro-rated amount for that, if you like.

TG: [Laughs.] Don't worry about it, baby. You know I was originally going to call that book, Does This Wheelchair Make Me Look Fat? And they wouldn't let me, because it might offend someone. And now I know—live and learn—that I don't care. I should have done it.

AVC: So in your autobiography, you say that you had trouble landing an audition around the time of Tootsie. Yet here you were with three of the biggest movies of the '70s—Close Encounters, Young Frankenstein, and Oh, God!—and you still weren't considered a star?

TG: I know! I can't figure it either. But it's always been hard to get my foot in the door, so it's made me cling to insecurities. "Oh, they don't like me!" But once I got those chances, it opened up more opportunities. Thank God. I don't know why, but it was always hard for me. Did you read the part about when I auditioned for West Side Story? I used to read the trades when I was in high school, and I would go to all these auditions. I auditioned for West Side Story and got kicked out. A couple days later, my friend said she was going to the callbacks, and I said, "I'm going with you." And she said, "You can't go! You got dinged!" And I said, "I don't care. Now I know what they want." So I went back and I got the job, just by being pushy and ornery. And that's how I figured out how to get jobs in this town.

Mom And Dad Save The World (1992)—"Marge Nelson"

AVC: Another alien movie.

TG: Mm-hmm. Very alien movie. Jon Lovitz as a big alien. Very funny. Oh my God, stop me! Anyway, yes, it was very amusing. And different. All those little dog-people. Cute, huh? I thought it was a funny script, and then we shot it, and I looked at it, and I thought, "Maybe it's not that funny." It was okay. Especially the Jon Lovitz farting scenes. I've got a thing for 8th-grade humor, I guess, but I liked that.

AVC: Is that one you'd put on your highlight reel?

TG: [Laughs.] No. No. Not that one.

Firstborn (1984)—"Wendy"

TG: That was my idea, because I wanted to stretch myself, and do something dramatic, and be in competition with everybody else. Glenn Close and Meryl [Streep], blah blah blah. And it was, once again, a sexist arrangement. It was about a tough guy who takes drugs, and I'm just a doormat. I help him and then I get addicted myself. It was supposed to be about how the man influences the son—which I truly believe in, in a Freudian way. But it didn't turn out that way at all. It was all about drugs or something.

AVC: When did it go astray?

TG: While we were making it. The producers and the director would be going, "Let's slam him against the wall," or "Slam him against the refrigerator!" And I thought, "Hmm, there's a lot of violence here." It was very macho. It wasn't right, as Kevin Meaney would say.

AVC: It also kind of heralded the start of your "earnest" period, where you starred in a lot of—

TG: TV movies. Yeah, yeah. I know.

AVC: Was that a conscious decision, to abandon comedy for a while?

TG: Yeah, it was my big fat idea to go do some straight drama roles. Because it's very hard to do comedy, and I'm one of the few people on Earth who can. Great idea! So yeah, that was my mistake. Sorry! Too late now.

To Catch A King (1984)—"Hannah Winter"

TG: Ah, shooting with Robert Wagner in Portugal and Paris. What's so bad about that?

AVC: Robert Wagner has lately taken to playing a parody of himself, but it seems like there's a real tongue-in-cheek quality to that role.

TG: Oh, no. Actually, I was in a few other things with him too. Do you remember that show where he played Mr. Mundy? [It Takes A Thief.] I was in that. I liked him, and I was a friend of his. So of course I didn't laugh in his face while he was acting. That would be rude! But yeah, I have seen him in those Mike Myers films, and he's very funny. He's got a great sense of humor, he really does. You can say "enema" to him a million times, and he'll laugh every time.

Kissin' Cousins (1964)—"Hillbilly Dancer"

AVC: You must have had a lot of practice not laughing at someone's acting, considering you got your start in Elvis movies.

TG: [Laughs.] Right. You weren't supposed to laugh at Elvis, or he'd kill you with a karate chop. Oh, Kissin' Cousins. Wasn't that a good one. That's where he played twins, right? Some blond guy and him. I did a string of about six or seven Elvis movies, all in a row. He made all of those movies in two years' time. All of them bad. Don't quote me.

AVC: Really?

TG: No, quote me. It's not a secret that they were bad. Anyway, Elvis was cool. He wanted to be part of the gang. There were always dancers around, and we hung out together. He always had his Memphis Mafia guys, and they would try to be friends with us. One day after lunch, we were all standing around in a circle clapping and singing, "Hey! Ho!" and someone got in the middle and started tap dancing. So then Elvis got in the middle and broke a brick with his hands. [Laughs.] He wanted to be part of the crowd. I liked that about him. You saw me on Letterman, right? He was quite sure that Elvis and I had a thing. And I didn't. Dave finally said it so many times that I said, "All right, Elvis and I had a big thing. Boom boom boom. Boom boom boom!" But no, not really.

AVC: Surely Elvis flirted with you at some point.

TG: I don't know if that's what it was. Elvis used to have parties at his house—and I've told this story a million times—but they weren't really parties, because there was no chips or dip. Just Elvis and his boys watching TV, and him making funny comments, and everybody laughing at them. Is that a party? Not really. But that's Hollywood.

AVC: Do you think it's still possible for people to move up from extra to actor the way you did?

TG: Only if they're as pushy as I was. I was always resenting the fact that I was an "extra," because in those days, working on those musicals, you personally had to study for 10 years to be a dancer. And when you finally got a part as a dancer in a movie, you were put in the extras union. I thought, "Well, this isn't fair! I'm a talented person." So after I did enough movies behind Shirley MacLaine and Ann-Margret and stuff, I said, "You know, I'm as good as they are. I want to be in the front too." So I started working my way up by taking classes and studying acting. I don't think you could do that today. Usually the extras have a different mentality. I had the mentality of an artist, because I was a "ballet-rina." But most extras are out to make a fast buck for nothing. They're "atmosphere." How can you have a job called "atmosphere" and be proud of yourself? [Laughs.]

For Pete's Sake (1968)—Uncredited "Wayward Teen"

TG: Uh-oh. You've really worked on my oeuvre, haven't you?

AVC: This one stood out. And most people probably aren't aware that the Reverend Billy Graham spent some time playing at being a movie star.

TG: Oh, right! It was a religious movie. I remember Al Freeman, Jr. was in it. I think the kids who smoked marijuana died, because that's how bad it was. Still the same way today.

AVC: If you smoke marijuana, you die?

TG: Exactly. You get into a fiery car crash. That's what that movie was telling us. Poor Billy Graham. So out of it.

AVC: How would you compare Billy Graham's cult of personality to Elvis'?

TG: Same damn thing. Billy Graham, Elvis—same guy. Just kidding. Well, Elvis was religious too. He believed in God. He was singing "Ave Maria" all the time. I liked that about him.

AVC: And Billy Graham?

TG: He was not singing "Ave Maria" all the time, but he reminded me of all those pastors from when I was a kid and we went to Presbyterian church. You'd believe every word they said until you got out of the room, and then you'd actually think about what they said, and then you'd go, "No, wait. That's not right." At least, that's what I did.

Kabluey (2007)—"Suze"

TG: That's a very funny movie by this very good director named Scott Prendergast, who also wrote it. It's about a guy that passes out flyers on the street, and I drive past him every day, and I hate him. I start putting everything that's gone wrong in my life on this guy. I start screaming and yelling, throwing things at him, spitting on him. "Where's my life savings, goddamn it?!" I actually know people like that, who blame everything that's wrong on one person. "If it wasn't for that goddamn mailman."

AVC: Kabluey also reunites you with Lisa Kudrow—

TG: My daughter!

AVC: Right. Do you think you helped pave the way for actresses like Lisa Kudrow?

TG: No! And I never could figure it out, and neither could she. When I played her mother on [Friends], they cast me because they thought we were so much alike. And she said, "Do you think we're alike?" And I said, "Not at all." "I don't either." I don't like that when they say, "You and her are both ditzes."

AVC: You hate that word?

TG: Yeah!

AVC: What's a better word?

TG: "Refreshingly intelligent."

AVC: Well, at least you're usually a ditz who's smarter than she lets on.

TG: Steven Spielberg always said, "To play the dumb blonde, you have to be really smart. Except in your case." One of his goddamn jokes. Bastard.

AVC: You have, apparently, inspired at least some of the current crop of female comics. There's a quote from Tina Fey in a recent Entertainment Weekly on being a "real woman in Hollywood"—

TG: Oh, I heard about this, but I never saw it! Will you read it to me?

AVC: She said, "The person I always think of is Teri Garr. There was a time when Teri Garr was in everything. She was adorable, but also very real. Her body was real, her teeth were real, and you thought that she could be your friend."

TG: Awww. Wow!

AVC: So now do you think you've had a hand in paving the way for a new generation of female comics?

TG: God, I wish! No, I think it's still the same old story. They're still looking for tits and ass. But if you can communicate something, then it's worth being "real." I love that Tina Fey called me that. I love her too! 30 Rock is one of the best things on TV, I think.

AVC: Kabluey and your other latest film, Expired, were both made before your aneurysm. As of now, do you have plans to make another movie?

TG: I have plans to keep going, yes, but I don't know if anybody else does. [Laughs.] I want to write more, because I think I've got a story to tell. It's actually amazing that I'm alive. Everyone I tell that I had an aneurysm always says, "Oh, my cousin died from that." Well, I didn't, so I'm amazed. I was in a wheelchair, and I had to go to rehab. And now I'm walking! I haven't been in a wheelchair in three months, and it's amazing. I did all this therapy: exercise, swimming, biking. I'm really grateful for my dancers' discipline.

AVC: So maybe the world isn't done with you yet?

TG: I guess not. God's not done. If She's up there. She said, "Your time isn't up yet."

AVC: George Burns isn't done with you.

TG: No. [Laughs.] Or, you know, Hillary Clinton. Whoever it is.

Filed Under: Film

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