Blogging has given me so many opportunities that I never would have dreamed of experiencing. From traveling all over the country to walking the red carpet I feel like I’m living a dream and recently that dream included meeting big time actors Meryl Streep, Tracey Ullman & Christine Baranski. These three actors are friends and have an amazing chemistry, so interviewing them was a very special treat.
The first question was about their friendship and they immediately smile and laugh with each other:
Q:So, it’s completely obvious you guys are friends. I love the chemistry. Can you tell us how that friendship came to be? And any funny stories you want to share with us?
Christine: Where do we begin? Well, Tracy and Meryl are old friends, so you can start there. That’s an old friendship.
Meryl : Well, I’m a way older friend than Tracy.
Tracey : Yes.
Meryl : I met her when she was 21. We did a movie called Plenty. I was 31. And I thought I’d just met my new best friend, who was my age, because I had no idea she had — I think you were 20, maybe, when we started it.
Tracey: I was a pop — I was a pop star.
Meryl : She was a pop star in England ………Discovered by Paul McCartney and —
Tracey: He was my mate, yes. And then we worked — we worked on Plenty.
Meryl: Kinda top 10 — couple top 10 things —
Tracey: I did. I did. I was a one-hit wonder here. And an MTV vee-jay. And yeah, we got on great. We ended up in Tunisia, and we —
Meryl: Yeah, we lived through that.
Tracey: Yeah. We broke down in the desert, and, oh, we — we flew back together, and the plane had been — the engine went, and we thought we were going to die.
There was lots of laughter with these stunning ladies as they shared life stories with us.
Meryl: the plane. Engine blew up.
Tracey: So we went through these dramatic moments.
Meryl: Over the Mediterranean.
Tracey: It was bad. It was bad.
Meryl: It was amazing. Mmm. But, um, we stayed together.
Tracey: We stayed to — yeah.
Meryl: In spite of it all. Had kids the same age.
Tracey: Kids the same age, yeah. Was nice.
Meryl: And Christine and I —
Christine: We did — we were dynamos in Greece together, on Mama Mia. So then we — we had to do research by being friends, so we just hung out all the time, doing "research," so we had a lot of fun with all of that research, and then —
Meryl: But we’d known each other a hundred years.
Christine: We have. We have, because we’re theater babes, and we’re Connecticut moms, and our kids are roughly the same age, and all three of us had long marriages, and like, shared, you know, parallel — parallel experiences, and it’s a trick, being an actress, and wife, and mother, and having that longevity. That’s — that’s a real achievement, in my — in my opinion. That’s the greatest achievement, not just in career, but holding your life together, and look at Meryl, with four kids, and —
Meryl: It’s a tribute to our husbands.
Tracey: Yes. Fantastic fathers.
Christine: Yes. And our sense of equilibrium. But, yeah. Girl friends. It’s great. So we did …but then I met Tracy, and it was like, "Oh, wow…"
Tracey: Yeah. Dying to meet you…..(again more laughter, you just have to understand how amazing these ladies were and how happy they were)
Christine: We didn’t spend nearly enough time together on this movie, because, you know, you have different scenes and plot lines, but we did have one wonderful, long dinner one night in London. And that was great to have .
Tracey: And we had one elongated scene where we were all in it, and —
Christine: Yes, that’s true.
Tracey: — where I got to shout at the giant, and we all had that and it took like, three days, and we all got really silly, and we were talking a lot. You were in your big platform shoes, and kept falling over. …… And it was great. It was good fun.
In the movie Into the woods there are three different parenting styles, and these three women are those moms on the big screen. They are also moms in real life and have experience and shared their opinions on parenting. I loved what Christine had to say, so make sure you really look at the answers to the next couple of question. They all had different perspectives and raised great children. They all had such great responses I feel like I could have written a post just on parenting advice from the three of them.
Q : Your characters are all like exaggerated versions of parenting methods gone wrong. Did any of you feel — or, even more interesting, did any of your kids feel or see some similarities, and you guys were like, "Oh my God, you’re right"?
Meryl: Yeah. [LAUGHTER]
Christine: I hold the girls a little too closely. Yes, perhaps.
Tracey: [LAUGHTER] [SINGS] Stay with me…
Meryl: No, we’re beaten up by our children.
Q : You all mentioned motherhood. What advice do you guys have for us young mothers with little kids, eight and under, little kids. What do you do to survive the life? You know, what advice do you have for us mothers, I mean, because you ladies are moms. You’ve got older kids already —
Meryl: Well, I really feel — I mean, just speaking for the group, I feel like so much has changed. Raising little kids now is so different from when our children were little kids. I mean just that — and I think that’s part of why this film and its warnings and its, you know, overweening care of the mothers and — it speaks to this time when children are, it’s harder and harder to keep the world out.
The worst parts of them out. To keep them in the little tower’s impossible. And all of the bad stuff comes in, and people worried about this film, that it maybe is too dark for kids. Kids know so much now. And they’re aware of so much, and yet they’re so resilient, and innately hopeful. So that’s — and that’s sort of what the film is.
Tracey: Would we have taken Mabel and Grace to see this? When they were like, six? They would have handled this.
Meryl : Are you kidding? You’d let them watch Cops.
Tracey : [LAUGHTER]
Meryl: When they were seven. And Gracie came home and she said, "Oh." And then she was imitating, you know, the people, and the crack addicts, getting pulled by their hair.
Tracey: …..downstairs at your house, watching those….
Meryl: No, never.
Tracey: Oscar screeners with Liam Neeson and the wife getting murdered and —
Meryl: No. No. [LAUGHTER]
Tracey: ……going: "Oh my God!" They would have liked it. They —
Meryl: They would’ve loved it. Oh —
Tracey: You’re right. She would have taken —
Meryl: — would have taken the kids at, well, I would say, seven, eight — wouldn’t you?
Christine: Maybe. Maybe seven, eight. But kids are really like, visuals can really affect, and you can explain it away, but be careful what — what you give them visually. I mean, I remember being — seeing a — a documentary on an African tribe. There was this leopard man with long fingernails, and a mask, and I mean, it just had such an impression on me, and it just happened to be on the television set, so you never know what image will — can really get to them.
Tracey: But it goes back to these Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and we all portray them as they were written. You know. I do smack the kid ’round the head, and I was always loving him afterwards, but, you know, when you would cut your child’s foot off to marry a prince. …. the tower. And there was — the fairy — fairy tales were so frightening when I was a kid. …. "Don’t play with matches. Your hair catches on fire." And all of those illustrations. They were terrifying. They were —
Meryl: Bluebeard. Remember Bluebeard? Ooh.
Tracey: Yeah. They were for children to be scared of. They did get sort of sanitized a bit, fairy tales, the last 20 years. And — and all of that.
Q : Which fairy tales did you love when you were children and wanted to share to your kids when they were little? Which ones stayed with you the most?
Meryl: Well, for me, I mean, I don’t know if that’s what I wanted to — what I — what stayed with me the most is what I wanted to share with my children necessarily, but I remember being really marked by Bluebeard, by this idea of a — a man who would take serial wives, one after another, and kill them in the castle. And I was terrified by that.
I think you know, I remember being dropped off at the library when I was eight, and just having the run of the place, and opening a book and seeing the pictures of the Kindertransport, in the — of the children’s, uh, a picture of the children’s bodies, because one of the trucks had been — where they’d just suffocated. And I’d never forgotten that. And it made me ask my parents questions about the Second World War and the Nazis. And what that was.
And kids want to get ready for trouble. They — it’s why my son used to draw lots of monsters. Boys draw lots of scary things, because they want to get ready. You know, they want to get ready.
Christine: And they’re intrigued by it. I mean, look at our fascination with violence in our culture. It’s just a part of it. I was always telling my kids, as read to them, that — that there was such a thing as the world of the imagination. I said, "You’re safe. If you’re in the world of the imagination, you can go anywhere, and you all come back from that, so you’re safe.
We will read this book, and it’ll take you places, but don’t worry. You will — you will come back. There is that world." And movies are like that. Movies should — you go there, but, remember that you can come back. You don’t transfer. It — but it can be tricky when a child is too young. They don’t know how to do that. So, I think — one, you know, be careful, be careful, I would say. Just take care of them, their little — their little psyches.
Tracey: I think it’s scarier for boys, actually. The boys, just the — they have the whole weapon gene.
……. Have you noticed? I’ve never liked guns or any of that toy gun stuff — but they would just get a stick, and they would just get, "Hey!" And they have that thing that they want to — yeah. So I think it’s harder for them, a bit, for the boys. It’s tough, and especially with all of the porn and stuff that’s available as soon as they’re like, you know.
Meryl: Little kids.
Tracey: I think Johnny punched in "big melons" for some bizarre reason when he was like 10 and went "Oh my God." Like, "Johnny, what the hell?" And it was like, said, "I know, ’cause we’d watched Showgirls." [LAUGHTER]
(And of course there was LOTS of laughter with this statement)
Meryl: That’s what she lets ’em watch.
Tracey: No! Alan! He showed Johnny Showgirls one night, and he’s like, nine years old, and he’s going, "Oh my God." It blew his mind.
Christine: We both raised our kids in Connecticut. But the reason we — I literally hauled our television set. This sounds so quaint. It’s impossible, now, I guess, but literally hauled the big television set out of our house, and we raised kids without a television set.
Tracey: Did you?
Meryl: Even though you’ve made your living in television?
Christine: I know, but they never saw Mom play that drunken character —
[LAUGHTER, how could you not laugh at that]
Christine: Is it — my daughter was maybe six or seven, and she just happened — and I was downstairs. I forget. I was downstairs, cooking dinner, so it wasn’t like I was 3,000 miles away on a movie set. I was downstairs cooking dinner, and she was upstairs, and the TV — she just took the clicker, and like, did that, and suddenly she was watching male strippers. On Sally Jesse Raphael, and she came downstairs, and she was very disturbed.
She said, "Mommy. All these women were screaming. And there were these naked men." And I was like, "What are you watching?" And this was an afternoon show. And I just said, "If I can’t control it when they’re just upstairs, and with a click of a button, they see something that’s so troubling," took the damned thing out, now, as Meryl said, I don’t know how you protect kids now. From all of this. All of these toys. But I would really recommend encouraging quiet time when you just talk to your kids.
And say, "Okay. We’re just going to get rid of all of this stuff. Let’s just be together, and experience, like, real time, and quiet."
(This was my favorite piece of advice. As a mom I wanted to keep my kids away from the TV and at some point I gave up, but it’s still so important to spend time with your kids and experience life together and not through the screen of a TV, Computer or phone)
Tracey: I’m very disturbed when I see kids now — and I mean, ’cause it’s such a different generation with me — and when they’re out at dinner with their parents.
Tracey: And everyone’s sitting around a table. And there’s a child in a high-chair, with a headset on, with an iPad going, being fed, like that, and then they take the headphone off, and [MAKES CRYING NOISES]. And put the headphones back on. I don’t know. I know, boy, I was exhausted when I was a young mom, and I would put on The Little Mermaid sometimes, and go, "Girls, please.
I’ve just got to try to go to sleep on the sofa." But I don’t like that thing. At the dinner table —
Christine: It’s like anesthesia. It really is.
Tracey: Yes. That really disturbs me.
Q : Last night you had mentioned that one of the things that kind of helped you find your character was coming up with designs. So, what else — for all three of you — what else helps you develop that character into your own, instead of being that exact character that was on Broadway or just to kind of create it as "you"?
Meryl: Well, for — for me, I feel like it — the part I played was so indelibly done on Broadway by Bernadette Peters. But it’s also been indelibly done by many, many kids, throughout the country, in their high schools, and in colleges. And it’s like any really good play, the part can morph to the shape of the person who is, you know, in there. And, so, I felt completely free, and also a failing memory helps me in this. [LAUGHTER] In this place, because I — I couldn’t have remembered.
I would’ve stolen from Bernadette more, if I could remember the thing. So I — I felt free, too, and he — he made us feel that way, Rob Marshall, and certainly Sondheim said "Do what you want." He also wrote me a — a song for this, and, um, that isn’t in the film, because it sort of halted the action, but it’ll be in the DVD extras. But when he — he sang this for me in a — in a — a private session, and I was so thrilled, and he gave me the sheet music at the end.
I said, "Could — do you mind — if I — could — could I keep the sheet music?" And he said, "Sure." I said, "Well, I hate to ask this, but would you — would you sign it?" And I did! And he said, "Yeah. I’d be glad to," and he wrote: Don’t fuck it up. [LAUGHTER] Don’t put that in the mommy blog!
Tracey: It’s going in, it’s Tweeting.
Meryl: But that was, ah, sobering. [LAUGHTER]
Q : So, back to the costumes and the makeup and hair and everything. How long was the makeup and hair process, and what was your favorite design?
Christine: You know, I was just thinking about this in getting — getting ready today, about how — the — the look of the — the step-family, and I — I will never forget, my first day on the set was a huge, huge scene at Dover Castle, with the arrival of Cinderella. And I had been going back and forth, doing Good Wife, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time for hair and, um, makeup tests and all. And this marvelous man, Peter King, he put on my blonde wig, and it was really big, because we — we originally conceived of them as a truly over-the-top, larger-than-life, trying-too-hard kind of family.
And I showed up and Rob took one look at me, and went…"too big." And I had to go all of the way [OVERLAP] — and then I thought as — as I look at the movie, and I see my various hairstyles in there, they’re a little bit, and then a little off, I think, but that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. These women, they are trying so hard. You know. You look in the mirror and go, "Mmm, no, that’s not enough, I need more hairspray. More, more, more." And so they’re actually —
Meryl: They’re defined by their looks. Yeah.
Christine: Yes. And they don’t get it exactly right. And so it’s — it’s funny. Little accidents can be very helpful and very human, and exactly right for the character.
Tracey: I loved my approach. Peter King said to me on the first day, "I’m going to make you a gray wig." And most people would be like, "I don’t want to go gray." I was like, "Great." Made me go gray, having this wig, and I put it up in this topknot, and I had this beautiful, simple, Colleen Atwood outfit, that reminded me of a sort of Dries van Noten peasant look, and I could roll around in the leaves, and there was just no vanity, and I — I just loved it.
I could see, you know, it’s — I loved — because I’d done so many things where I’d wear these extravagant make-ups. And just to come in and just smudge my cheeks with mud and become a peasant girl, I found it just wonderful. And it’s feeling comfortable in who you are, and getting older, and not worrying about it. It’s just such a relief. And there is so much pressure on how we all look, and it’s just exhausting. Dignity, girls! Aging with dignity.
Into the Woods is in theaters on December 25th Christmas Day.