Last updated at 10:44 AM on 21st February 2011
The little tramp: Charlie Chaplin may have been born in a gypsy caravan, not in London
A letter hidden for years by silent movie pioneer Charlie Chaplin has come to light which claims he lied about his birthplace and was in fact born in a gypsy caravan.
The letter, written to Chaplin in the 1970s, claims he was born on the 'Black Patch' near Birmingham rather than in London as previously believed.
The comedian, one of most iconic personalities of the 20th century, received the letter six years before he died in 1977, and kept it hidden in his desk drawer.
It stated that the British comic actor's claim in his memoirs that he was born in London was wrong and instead relocated his birth, on April 16, 1889, to a caravan in the town of Smethwick, in central England.
Believed to be genuine by Chaplin's family, the letter was found in the locked drawer of a bureau which was inherited by Chaplin's daughter, Victoria, after his widow Oona died in 1991.
It was only found after his daughter had a locksmith open up the drawer.
'If you would like to know, you were born in a caravan, so [was I]. It was a good one, it belonged to the gypsy queen who was my auntie.
'You were born on the Black Patch in Smethwick. So was I, two and a half year later.
'Your mum did move again with her dad's circus and later settled down in London but whereabouts I do not know.'
Jack Hill, who adds he is not out for any money for the information, signs off:
'Goodbye and good luck,
The letter is set to be included in a British radio documentary tomorrow and reveals the inauspicious beginnings of the man who earned worldwide acclaim for his performance as the 'little tramp'.
It was sent by Jack Hill, of Tamworth, who says that he knew about the British actor's real background from his aunt, who was a gypsy queen.
Mr Hill wrote: 'The caravan belonged to the Gypsy Queen, who was my auntie. You were born on the Black Patch in Smethwick near Birmingham.'
The Black Patch was a thriving Romany community based on the industrial edge of Birmingham in the 1880s.
Chaplin's birth certificate has never been located, even though by the late 1880s it was a legal requirement. His older half brother Sydney had one.
Until now it was thought he was born in London in 1889. His mother Hannah, whose maiden name is Hill, was descended from a travelling family.
She was a singer and actress with the stage name Lily Harley, who separated from her husband Charles when young Charlie was three.
There may have been some shame in having a Romany background, which is thought to be why Chaplin made much of being a Londoner, particularly after he emigrated to America in 1910.
Secret letter: Charlie Chaplin aged 12 (left) in 1901 and aged 25 in 1914 (right). He received the letter telling him of his birthplace six years before he died in 1977
Inauspicious beginnings: Chaplin may have been born in a gypsy travelling wagon similar to this
The letter is one of a number of documents about the comic being kept in a bomb-proof concrete vault in Montreux, Switzerland, the country where his relatives now live.
Other documents include reel-to-reel recordings of Chaplin improvising at the piano.
There are also press cuttings which detail the British Army's banning of the Chaplin moustache from the trenches during the First World War.
Chaplin is one of the greatest figures of the 20th century, famous for his signature character, the Little Tramp.
The survivor of a tough workhouse childhood, he became one of the best-known film stars in the silent movie world before the end of the First World War.
Chaplin's oldest surviving son Michael has said the idea of Chaplin being a gypsy born in Smethwick, the West Midlands, does not bother him.
He believes the letter must have been significant for Chaplin to have kept it.
There are plans to turn the Chaplin family home in Montreux into a museum.
Fleece hoodies and thermal wear lend street cred to “Girl With a Dragon Tattoo’s” lead character Lisbeth Salander, played by Rooney Mara. (Merrick Morton, Columbia Pictures / October 28, 2011)
December 18, 2011
Georges Méliès built the first movie studio in Europe and was the first filmmaker to use production sketches and storyboards. Film historians consider him the "father of special effects" (Getty Images)
November 28, 2011
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced Thursday that it was reopening its case into the 1981 death of actress Natalie Wood, which has been one of Hollywood's most enduring mysteries.
Officials then ruled her drowning death while boating off Santa Catalina Island was an accident. But there has been much speculation about what happened in the boat.
"Recently sheriff’s homicide investigators were contacted by persons who stated they had additional information about the Natalie Wood Wagner drowning. Due to the additional information, Sheriff’s homicide bureau has decided to take another look at the case," the department said in a statement.
Wood and Robert Wagner first married in 1957 and divorced five years later. Both went on to marry other people -- and have children -- only to remarry in 1972.
In 1981, Wagner and Wood had invited Christopher Walken to be their guest that Thanksgiving weekend on Catalina aboard their boat the Splendour. On the evening of Nov. 29, they had dinner and drinks at Doug's Harbor Reef. They returned to the boat and continued to drink until a heated argument erupted between the two men. Wagner told The Times in 2008 that it concerned how much of one's personal life should be sacrificed in pursuit of one's career; he was upset that Walken was advocating that Wood give all to her art, even at the expense of her husband and children.
Wood left to go to the master cabin's bathroom. Wagner says he and Walken eventually calmed down and said good night. When he went to bed, he says, Wood wasn't there. It is believed that the dinghy had gotten loose and Wood came up on deck to tie it up.
"I have gone over it so many millions of times with people. Nobody heard anything."
Photo: Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood at the 1979 Hollywood Christmas Parade. Credit: Los Angeles Times; 1981 L.A. Times front page.
Clockwise from top left: Steve Carrell ("The Office"), Jon Hamm ("Mad Men"), Michael Pitt and Steve Buscemi ("Boardwalk Empire"), Kate Winslet ("Mildred Pierce"), Laura Linney ("The Big C"), Eric Stonestreet, Julie Bowen, Sofia Vergara and Sarah Hyland ("Modern Family"). (NBC / AMC / HBO / Showtime / ABC / September 17, 2011)
Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Malcom McDowell, center, in "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Malcolm McDowell (right) in "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
With his bloodied cane and black bowler, Malcolm McDowell became a signature symbol of brutal youth in 1971′s “A Clockwork Orange” but the actor says he couldn’t truly appreciate that angry young man until he himself was old enough to comb white hair.
“For years, I didn’t see the same film everybody saw,” the 67-year-old actor said recently. “It was 10 years ago in Los Angeles when I went to a screening of it and I couldn’t believe what I saw, the accomplishment of the movie, the pure talent of [director] Stanley Kubrick. In truth, that’s when I began to look back in a different way.”
The movie’s 40th anniversary won’t arrive until a week before Christmas but the commemoration began months ago. The movie was also shown with great fanfare at the Cannes Film Festival in May, as was a well-reviewed documentary, “Once Upon a Time … Clockwork,” examining the legacy of the film and the novel by Anthony Burgess that inspired it. A lavish Blu-ray anniversary edition has inspired another wave of cultural essays and, on Friday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will host a McDowell tribute followed by a sold-out screening.
All of this has McDowell pondering his long, strange odyssey with the film.
“I was invited into the woods when Kubrick cast me in the film but I couldn’t see the trees until years later,” McDowell said. “For maybe 10 years, I resented it because everyone wanted me to repeat it. The best part for any actor is the next one and ‘Clockwork’ irritated me because it took that away at times.”
“Clockwork” and its tale of sociopathic thugs in a futuristic England shocked with its scenes of rape, murder and torture. It was released in the U.S. with an X rating and, amid a nasty furor in 1972, Kubrick withdrew the film from circulation in England. For more than 25 years, it was illegal to show the film in U.K. theaters.
The controversy only added to the allure of a film that still echoes loudly in pop culture. Gnarls Barkley and Bart Simpson are among the tricksters who have worn the bowlers and so didChristina Aguilera a few years ago at her “Clockwork”-themed birthday party. Acts as diverse as Madonna, Led Zeppelin, Lady Gaga, My Chemical Romance, Usher, Blur and David Bowie have used the film’s iconography in their concert stagings or music videos. The prominence has a price. After pop star Kylie Minogue’s back-up singers appeared in “Clockwork” gear, the Guardian of London moaned that the classic had officially “ceased to be dangerous.”
Not a chance, says Steven Spielberg, who sees dark new shadings in the movie and its vision of youth numbed by sensory overload and sexualized violence in a society advancing in science but not spirit.
“The movie hasn’t worn out its welcome at all and I doubt it ever will,” Spielberg said in a recent Hero Complex interveiw. “Like all of Kubrick’s films, it’s still a cautionary tale that continues to occur in the world. It was considered a revolutionary film when it came out but not really a prophetic film. But like all of Kubrick’s films, it turned out to be more prophetic than is reasonable.”
At the center of it all is McDowell, the British actor who has one of the more disturbing resumes in cinema with “Caligula,” “O Lucky Man” and two “Halloween” films. He even killed off Captain Kirk in 1994′s “Star Trek: Generations,” but it is his cane-twirling as Alex DeLarge in “Clockwork” that people remember.
Kubrick first saw McDowell’s malevolent smirk in Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 film “If…” and Christiana Kubrick recalls that her husband, in his private screening room, called out to the projectionist to turn the reel back when he saw McDowell. He did that four more times.
“We have found our Alex,” the director announced.
The novel “A Clockwork Orange” had been published in 1962 and there was interest in a movie right away. Mick Jagger, eager to star, acquired the rights for a time but they ended up with Kubrick, who, after “2001: A Space Odyssey,” was ready for something more manageable.
The director gave McDowell the book and (like many readers) he found it difficult to wade through the slang argot Burgess had created. After three readings, “the penny dropped” and the actor grasped the “amazing potential” of the role.
McDowell would suffer for his art. In the film, Alex, a prisoner of the state, is subjected to a hideous experiment where his eyes are kept open by metal clips and, on the set, the actor’s howls were real.
“I ended up with scratched corneas — nasty, viciously painful,” McDowell said. “It heals up pretty quick but a few days later Stanley says he needs one more, a real close-up. The stand-in wouldn’t do it; he saw what happened to me. So it was back in the chair. It was the last day of the shoot. I was terrified and you can see it in the shot.”
At another point, Kubrick was flummoxed by a scene that called for McDowell and his mates to break into a home and brutalize the owners.
“As written, they just come in and menace and throw bottles through a window,” McDowell said. “There was really nothing there. The way we were doing the whole movie was in this dark, surreal manner, it was real but heightened. To do something naturalistic wouldn’t work. We sat around thinking about it — for five days the camera did not move — which is unimaginable with anyone other than Kubrick.”
McDowell came up with the solution — a robust rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain,” an unforgettable flourish of the perverse and, for the actor, a signature career moment. “It just came out,” the actor said, “and it added so much horror to it all.”
“Clockwork” would be nominated for the best picture Oscar (and become the first sci-fi film to get that honor) but the acclaim was hardly uniform. In the view of McDowell, the central message is often missed.
“It’s about big brother and the freedom to choose,” McDowell said. “Burgess was brilliant in that he made this anti-hero — a despicable guy, a murderer and a rapist — but does the state have the right to alter his mind? Obviously not. And Kubrick found in this novel a black comedy although when it came out not everyone was laughing.”
Consider author Tom Wolfe a voice for the unamused. In a phone interview, he groaned when asked about the film: “It was a shock, just the cynical cruelty of it. The film went after everybody as target, the criminals and society and the government. Nothing went quite as far as ‘wild kids’ as that film and for years when there was a brutal crime, the news reports would use ‘Clockwork Orange’ as shorthand. The characters in the film, to use the police term, showed no affect. That’s what I remember most.”
The movie’s long exile from the theaters of England, however, resulted from a decision by Kubrick, not the censors, McDowell said. Amid incendiary reports of “copycat” crimes and death threats, the director consulted with Scotland Yard and then pulled the film.
“It created a kind of craze,” McDowell said. “People would fly to Paris and buy these awful videos made by people aiming cameras at some movie screen. Stanley moved on. He just didn’t think to go back to the whole thing.”
McDowell had a similar attitude, both toward the film and the filmmaker. McDowell was vague on the specifics of the estrangement but spoke fondly of Kubrick, who dressed “schlubby” and seemed forever distracted, like some astrophysicist too busy with knotty cosmic puzzles to notice his shoes were untied.
“I suppose if I regret anything in life it’s that I didn’t pick up the phone,” McDowell said. “But then neither did he.”
McDowell said “A Clockwork Orange” now feels more like a time traveler than a time capsule. That was another insight he gleaned at the 30th anniversary screening in Los Angeles.
“I went to the bathroom and this kid, maybe 16, walks past and says, ‘Hey, ‘Clockwork,’ right?’ I said, ‘Well, yes.’ He asked, ‘Which part were you? The old guy?’ He thought it was a new film. And he thought I was the old guy. Maybe he was right about both.”
– Geoff Boucher
September 15, 2011, 11:01 am
Perhaps there is something worse than being talked about, and that is having words attributed to you that you never wrote. At least, that’s the case being made by Merlin Holland, the grandson of Oscar Wilde, who says that a coming play promoted as a rediscovered Wilde text is not the handiwork of his illustrious grandfather, The Guardian reported.
On Friday, the King’s Head Theater in London plans to open its production of “Constance,” a play that its Web site describes as “Oscar Wilde’s final play.” The theater says the play, about an industrialist, his loyal wife and her extended family, was written by Wilde after his release from prison in 1897 and given to the actress Cora Brown Potter, who in turn gave it to the French writer Guillot de Saix. With a collaborator, Henri de Briel, de Saix produced a French translation, which has been adapted by Charles Osborne for this production.
However, Mr. Holland, the grandson of Wilde and his wife, Constance, said his grandfather sketched out the scenario of the play in a letter in 1894, but “never wrote a word” of it.
“It is dishonest to foist this on the public,” Mr. Holland told The Guardian, calling the play “a pretty appalling piece of work” that is “peppered with a few aphorisms from other plays, marginally altered in order to sound a bit like Oscar Wilde.”
Adam Spreadbury-Maher, the artistic director of the theater, told The Guardian, “I’m completely comfortable calling it a play by Oscar Wilde,” adding that the production is careful to credit the lineage of the play and the hands it passed through.
Possibly opening himself up to further controversy, Mr. Spreadbury-Maher said it was similar to how Damien Hirst “doesn’t paint all his paintings.”
I LOVE wearing other people’s clothes. Hand-me-downs, vintage, loaners, whatever. I like clothes with a provenance, a history. Somehow I imagine that I can feel the traces of another person’s energy lingering in the threads.
Farrah Fawcett in a roller-derby jersey that she wore in a 1977 episode of the original “Charlie's Angels.” The author was in possession of the jersey for a while and found that good things happened whenever she wore it.
The well-dressed stars of the new “Charlie's Angels” series, from left, Annie Ilonzeh, Rachael Taylor and Minka Kelly.
One of my grand acquisitions in this regard was an incredibly tight and plunging roller-derby jersey that Farrah Fawcett wore in a memorable episode of “Charlie’s Angels” in 1977. It was a truly amazing garment. Not long after she wore it, the jersey found its way to me and briefly into my college wardrobe. Then I had to give it back.
My roommate at U.C.L.A., Victoria Craze, reminded me of this recently on a call from London, where she lives now. We’d heard that a TV remake of “Charlie’s Angels” was beginning soon on ABC. Minka Kelly, one of the new Angels, had just broken up with Derek Jeter.
Actually, we weren’t really interested in that. We were trying to remember how I wound up with Farrah’s jersey in the first place.
“I think Mom loaned it to me — to wear on Halloween,” Victoria said. “But I couldn’t zip up the front because of my chest. Mom said I looked too squished. So you got it.”
Victoria’s mother, Carolina Ewart, was a costumer for “Charlie’s Angels” for the first few years. Occasionally she would lend us things to wear, if we could squeeze into them. The Angels — originally played by Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson and Ms. Fawcett — chased criminals down L.A. streets, beaches and piers, their bodies squeezed tight in some places and jiggling in others. This fascinating duality, this tightness and looseness, was artfully created by Ms. Ewart, with as much good taste as she was allowed. Aaron Spelling, the producer (and father of Tori), was always riding her to get more skin on the show. “He wants somebody in a bikini in every scene,” Ms. Ewart would say, rolling her eyes. The ratings soared.
Ms. Ewart was a realist. She was also a nurturing, recently divorced Italian mother of four who needed a job. She had studied fashion design and dressmaking at Pratt, and had been a wardrobe assistant on “Young Frankenstein” and “Planet of the Apes,” but she still had a couple of children at home and wanted regular work — not on location. A TV gig was perfect.
Sometimes Victoria and I shopped with her for the show, helping to haul armloads of bags from boutiques in Beverly Hills and the San Fernando Valley. The high-fashion chains now established along Rodeo Drive hadn’t arrived yet — no Prada or Chanel or YSL. Armani was 11 years away.
Beverly Hills didn’t take its cues from New York or Paris then. It had its own white-pants resort style, kind of French Riviera meets Tampa, Fla. In 1977, running shoes were becoming trendy, and even Ms. Fawcett managed to look impossibly sexy in them. “Farrah has the cutest, most perfect body,” Ms. Ewart would say. “She can wear anything.”
Focusing on flaws is part of the job of a costumer. Ms. Ewart, a zaftig Anne Bancroft look-alike, had a way of talking matter-of-factly about body types without causing hurt feelings. “You have no chest,” she’d say to me. “Play up your legs!”
Dressing actors wasn’t just an art or science to her. It seemed more natural than that, and powerful, as if sprung from her mothering instincts. “Sweetie, hold that up,” she’d say to me, as we stood in boutiques and shopped for the Angels, whom Ms. Ewart and her loyal assistant, Erica Phillips, inevitably referred to as “the girls.”
The alchemy began when the shopping bags arrived at 20th Century Fox Studios, in Century City, where the show was shot. Each Angel tried on Ms. Ewart’s finds, choosing some, rejecting others. They stood for fittings during which the jiggle factor was carefully calibrated. If there was a real Charlie behind the Angels, maybe it was Ms. Ewart.
Each Angel had her own look. Ms. Jackson had a New England style, a Katharine Hepburn aura — pants and turtlenecks and beautiful plaid collared shirts from Ralph Lauren. Ms. Smith was given fuzzy sweaters and ladylike blouses. Most of the super-sex-bomb stuff went directly to Ms. Fawcett.
In one episode, called “Angels on Wheels,” they investigate the death of a roller-derby star, and Ms. Fawcett’s character, Jill, poses as a new member of the team. Her jersey was taken in so drastically that there was barely room for the team name and number.
As soon as the jersey came into Victoria’s possession and she was unable to breathe in it, I tried it on. I’m tall and stringy (“no chest,” as Ms. Ewart would say), but, for some almost supernatural reason, the jersey fit perfectly. I won’t pretend that it looked on me as it did on Ms. Fawcett. But something was definitely working, as if the magic Ms. Ewart had created for Farrah had transferred to me. The reaction was immediate. Guys asked me out. Friends asked to try it on. I didn’t even have to say where it had come from. I wore it to take art history finals and aced them.
And as my old roommate Victoria so keenly remembers, I was wearing it one night when our college dorm had a fire drill. “You didn’t want to go outside, remember? So you hid in the dorm closet. And the fire marshal found you.”
“And when he opened the closet door,” I replied, “all he said was ‘Nice shirt.’ ”
Ms. Ewart died five years ago at the Motion Picture and Television Fund hospital in Calabasas, Calif., after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. A few weeks ago, when I was missing her and thinking about her fun job — and all she taught me about clothes — I called ABC Entertainment and said I was writing about a former costumer for “Charlie’s Angels.” Promptly, I got a call back.
“I’m definitely a people-person,” said Roemehl Hawkins, the costumer for the new “Charlie’s Angels.” “I like to take everybody under my wing.” She used to be a pharmacist but changed careers seven years ago, took a job as a costume production assistant on “Desperate Housewives,” then another on “Entourage.”
She doesn’t shop in malls or boutiques so much. “I look at what’s on the runway,” she said, “and try to track things down that I’ve seen online or in magazines. Like, two months ago I saw a pair of silver high-heeled loafers by Alexander Wang in Vogue and it took me forever to get a pair. I am still waiting for a Stella McCarthy polka-dotted dress from the fall line. Actually, I think it might come today.”
Just like the old Angels, the new ones have fantastic hair and distinct personal styles. “Annie Ilonzeh has a semi-international flavor,” Ms. Hawkins said. “Sexy but street-tough.” And Rachael Taylor “plays a girl who grew up in affluent Manhattan.”
“She’s put-together, high fashion, luxe, sophisticated. She’s the one who can run in a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes.”
And Minka? “She’s my homage to Farrah,” Ms. Hawkins said. “If there’s a T-shirt on her, it’s going to fall off the shoulder.”
“Where do they keep their guns?” I asked.
“Oh,” Ms. Hawkins began, laughing, “we kind of fudge that. The guns are in the back of their pants, I guess. Or sometimes a purse. No way would we use a holster.”
About six months after I borrowed the jersey, Ms. Ewart called her daughter to ask where it was. I got a call soon afterward. “Martha, sweetie, did you wind up with Farrah’s jersey?” she asked. I sheepishly admitted that I had. “Darling, love. Could you please bring it back?”
So hard to do. But I did.
PHOTO: MARTIN SCHOELLER
The young Jane Lynch’s quest to be an actress wasn’t some childish fantasy so much as a deep-seated hunger to soothe the gnawing inside. Growing up outside Chicago, Lynch writes in her memoir, Happy Accidents, she never felt right in her body—or in the world.
So the validation-starved middle child wrote fan letters and called in to radio talk shows seeking advice. Sometimes the emptiness would envelop her—and yet when her parents brought her to church theatrical events, she felt an elation she could hardly contain.
Slowly, the validation came. Now 51, Lynch is on top of the world both professionally and personally. Happily married to Dr. Lara Embry, a clinical psychologist she met in 2009 at a lesbian-rights gala, she is helping to raise Embry’s nine-year-old daughter, as well as three cats and a dog. A critics’ favorite for scene-stealing performances in comic films from the likes of Christopher Guest and Judd Apatow, she just completed a role in the Farrelly brothers’ upcoming Three Stooges—and of course, there’s Fox’s megahit Glee.
Lynch is deaf in her right ear—most likely, she says, as a result of a severe childhood fever—but the six-foot Second City alum is hearing nothing but raves for her role as Glee’s Sue Sylvester, the tracksuit-wearing, hypercompetitive shrew she’s turned into the finest TV character viewers love to hate since J.R. Ewing.
She is up for her second Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy this month—and will host the ceremony as well, only the third woman in TV Academy history to land that solo role. Fox hopes her presence on the broadcast will attract hordes of Gleeks, the devout young followers who embrace the show’s message of inclusion, theatrical pizzazz and winning cast. Speaking in machine-gun bursts, Lynch says it’s a message she herself longed to hear growing up.
Your Sue Sylvester has to be the meanest character on television. How do you keep her from being a caricature?
There’s a real anger and tenderness at the same time—a real dark shadow. I think artisti-cally my work became a little more “profound,” if you will, once I started to look at the shadow. You dig right into that to get the best stuff. But you gotta have a sense of humor, so Sue is a perfect role for me.
Have you thought about what Sue would be like off camera?
You know, it’s funny, I don’t so much—I kind of dive into the feelings and emotions first. But when they created Sue’s condo, it was like an episode of Hoarders—trophies and accolades all over the place. I learned so much about her in that condo.
If she weren’t running the high school cheer squad, what would she be doing?
Probably be a drill sergeant in the army. But even if she worked at the hardware store, she’d be running it like she runs the cheers—like she’s at war.
Do you think your physical appearance helped you establish yourself as a comic actress?
I wonder. Deep down, I always felt it was a detriment: Oh, I’m taller than all the guys. It was a time when being a sort of a tall, butchy person was...well, you didn’t see that many of me around. I wasn’t even that butchy back then. I was kind of wearing Peter Pan collars, working the preppy thing as best I could.
You did a lot of TV.
I always thought I would be in theater. I thought the repertory life was for me. I ended up falling into the comedy world via Second City when I was cast in the touring company. The smartest thing I did, if I can give myself credit, is to say yes to everything.
But sometimes that can get you in trouble.
Well, you don’t say yes to porn—you draw the line there. But what it means is you show up to do crappy shows sometimes, and you still do your best. The alternative of not doing something was never acceptable to me. But it wasn’t like I was walking into dark studios for a calendar shoot.
As I recall, you played a former porn star in A Mighty Wind.
Yes, I did. It was so much fun. She sure said yes to everything.
In a lot of your work, there’s often been a strong sexual component. Why is that?
I don’t know. I think I’m fascinated with sexual entitlement. [Laughs.] I’m fascinated with entitlement in general, actually. I had very, very little of it—I didn’t think I deserved anything. I thought I was gonna have to fight and scratch for every-thing. I never felt attractive the way Laurie Bohner in A Mighty Wind feels. She walks into a room and thinks every-one wants to pork her. She just assumes it, and she loves it. And that cracks me up. Same thing with the woman [I played] in The 40-Year-Old Virgin: Of course Steve Carell would want to lose his virginity with me. It’s a gift I’m offering him.
That movie introduced you to a whole new audience.
Absolutely. Ensemble comedies were all fresh and new. We shot in that store over several weeks, and we all came in every day, even if we weren’t in any of the scenes that were designated to shoot that day, ’cause Judd [Apatow] might say, “Jane, get in there,” or, “Paul [Rudd], get in there.” It was like sitting on the bench in the basketball game, and you’d get called in.
So, a lot was improvised?
All of it. That’s why I say in the book that my agent didn’t want me to take it. It was a horrible script. It was really just kind of stupid and sophomoric. [Laughs.] The film wasn’t stupid and sophomoric—it was done in an artful way. But yeah, it’s all improvised.
Did the title of that film ring a bell with you? You were a bit of a late bloomer yourself.
Yeah, it did. I wasn’t a 40-year-old virgin, I’ll have you know. But it was about coming toward something late in life. I was watching Steve’s character get to find love at 40, and I was a little jealous. I was wondering when it was gonna happen for me. I got married at 49, actually, so I almost ended up being a 50-year-old virgin.
But not literally, right?
No, let’s put “virgin” as a metaphor. That would be really sad. But I was a relationship virgin, that’s for sure.
Was it worth waiting for?
It sure was, yeah, absolutely. And I’m good at it—who would have thought? I’m really good in a relationship.
What was it like doing Bill Maher’s show when you and he read those text messages between [former Rep.] Anthony Weiner and his girlfriend?
Well, you know what—we’re all horny. We’ve just gotta be careful where we do it. And you know, I love Anthony Weiner. You probably don’t figure that because I engaged in that skit, but I think you’ve got to find the irony in everything. I’m sorry he’s gone. I really do wish he had hung in there, and I miss him. He should still run for mayor of New York.
In the back of your mind, do you hope something goes wrong on the live Emmy broadcast so you can have fun with it?
[Laughs.] No, you don’t want things going wrong, even if that’s where the good stuff comes from. You can’t consciously hope things go wrong.
Last year Stephen Colbert handed you the Supporting Actress Emmy. Did you know him?
Yes, he’s a Second City guy. It was lovely to have him give that to me. It would be great to hand him one this year. He is something else—he has really made a difference. He’s deaf in one ear, too.
Oh, really? So between the two of you—
We have perfect hearing!
ERIC ESTRIN has written for television and film. He edits the review site Movie Smackdown!