Ahead of her Australian vaudeville tour, the Will & Grace star reveals her creative muses...
I don’t want to be braggy, but I’m friends with Yoko Ono. I’ve had dinner at her house and hung out
with her in her living room with the white piano John [Lennon] gave her for her birthday that he wrote “Imagine” on. [It’s like] she’s lived her life 50 per cent completely in the present and 50 per cent still with John. I really admire her strength, especially after what she’s gone through as a woman. She stood there while her husband was shot to death in front of her. She’s so brave.
She is in her mid 80s, and has dedicated her life to working for peace. There is nobody like Yoko Ono. She’s a true artist. When I was a kid, my parents subscribed to Time magazine and they did a piece on her conceptual art. I was captivated by it. She is the rst female conceptual artist of note. Period. I’ve seen her perform live and she expresses herself emotionally in the most vulnerable way. Before I go on stage [to perform in the band Nancy And Beth], I’m usually worried about how my bangs look and readjusting my false eyelashes, but we always meditate before every show. So, in that regard, we are channelling our inner Yoko Ono.
Nina is another real original. She was a natural and raw talent, and explored so many different music eras and genres. Nina started out in the classical world and was disciplined in the arts, which is something I can relate to because I was in a ballet company for years and have spent tons and tons of time working on my singing voice. I once covered a song of hers called “In The Dark”, which is a real bluesy, sexy song. I also really like the songs where she deals with civil rights and politics. Nina was fearless; she stood for something and had the courage of her convictions.
My first television show was called The Ellen Burstyn Show; Ellen Burstyn played my mother and Elaine Stritch played my grandmother. Elaine was eccentric, but at the same time very chic. She would come to rehearsals wearing a man’s button-down shirt, a white cap like Gilligan in Gilligan’s Island, black tights, white sneakers and no pants. She was 60 at the time. I’d be like, “Where are your pants?” She didn’t wear ’em. Elaine’s humour was unparalleled; she was a real broad.
She had a long career and a smash-hit Broadway show called Elaine Stritch at Liberty [when she was 76]. She passed away in 2014 and she’s someone I really miss because of her level of intelligence and talent. She didn’t have any pretensions about who she was and she taught me to be myself.
All of the women I’ve spoken about are total originals. They weren’t pretending to be stars in Hollywood – which is a made-up construct – they were real.