BRIDGING TV & THEATRE: Brooke Elliott & DROP DEAD DIVA
Tonight's the night! Just in time for the season finale of DROP DEAD DIVA on Lifetime at 9 PM, we have an exclusive, extensive conversation with the show's stupendous star, Brooke Elliott, in which we talk all about the first three seasons of the hit Lifetime dramedy as well as what we can expect from tonight's highly-anticipated finale and the just-announced fourth season of the show coming in 2012, in addition to casting a look back at her favorite moments so far, backstage stories and guest star dish. Plus, Brooke shares reminiscences of her time starring in the Broadway production of TABOO and working with Rosie O'Donnell and Raul Esparza on it and some of her aspirations for the future as well as much, much more!
Over the course of the last several weeks, we have been taking an extensive look at the sights and sounds both onscreen and onset of the hit TV dramedy series DROP DEAD DIVA - new episodes airing Sunday nights at 9 PM on Lifetime - featuring exclusive interviews with the leading lady divas and standout supporting men on the LA-based supernatural legal series. Featuring a memorable collection of musical performances and Broadway guest stars over the years - Paula Abdul, Rosie O'Donnell, Delta Burke and many more included - DROP DEAD DIVA is the quintessential TV series for Broadway babies looking for some laughs and levity - the latter available in many more ways than one, given the show's heavenly aspirations. DROP DEAD DIVA centers on a legal eagle named Jane whose body acts as the means for the indomitable spirit of a model, Deb, who loses her life, to make a second chance and how the girl inside must learn to adjust to looking like the woman on the outside that she is now. In other words, a model finds out what it means to look like everybody else in a delightfully quirky twist of fate - and learns to be a lawyer along the way, as well. Season Three picked up with the cliffhanger car crash that closed last season in a dark and shocking way. Questions and posed and answered so far: What will Grayson remember of the conversation he had with Jane pre-crash? What will Jane do to save him? What about his engagement (to somebody else)? What will happen back at the office with Teri, Kim and Parker? What about Stacy and Fred? Indeed, all of these questions and many more will most assuredly be answered tonight! Plus, as always, there's always a musical number or two not too far off if you stay tuned - such as last month's BroadwayWorld exclusive world premiere of "Lean On Me" and this week's exclusive sneak peek at tonight's fashion show extravaganza to the strains of the Bob Merrill/Rosemary Clooney classic "Mambo Italiano"! We have been asking all season long: Will there be a musical grand finale after all? Yes - yes, indeed!
Also, don't forget to check out the past interviews in this BRIDGING TV & THEATRE: DROP DEAD DIVA series - Margaret Cho, Kate Levering, April Bowlby, Sharon Lawrence, Faith Prince, Jackson Hurst, Josh Stamberg and Ben Feldman included.
BroadwayWorld will be back with even more DROP DEAD DIVA coverage for Season 4 next year so stay tuned until then!
If you missed it earlier this week, check out the World Premiere Exclusive clip of "Mambo Italiano" here.
DROP DEAD DIVA / True Triple Threat Talent
PC: Do you feel DROP DEAD DIVA has really hit its stride in Season Three? Season Two was great, but this season has more bite.
BE: Yeah. I think that it's weird because each season we have a different feel or a different something. But, I think what you are talking about is right: it has hit its stride now in Season Three. It is kind of - I don't know - I guess we are bonded more as a cast and that helps, too. And, we know our characters so well at this point. You are right - it has hit its groove. It's in the pocket.
PC: How have you seen Jane change over the seasons? Do you think Deb is becoming more or less of her personality or are they learning to co-exist in a way?
BE: I think they are learning to co-exist. You know, at the very beginning, we really saw Deb just not having it - that she was in someone else's body and she lost her life and she loved her old life so much. It was a very difficult time for her - everything was new; everything was different; everything was not the way she wanted it to be. And, then, in Season Two we saw Deb-in-Jane's-body kind of go, "OK, this is the life I have, and, frankly, it's not as terrible as I made it out to be." So, she kind of started living from that place.
PC: Definitely. She changed.
BE: In Season Three, it's even more - she's coming from a place of, "This is the person that I am." I do think that Deb still has so much to learn, though.
PC: Like what?
BE: She can be incredibly selfish and incredibly self-motivating.
PC: For sure.
BE: You know, we saw that several times in Season Three - when she e-mailed the other side against Grayson to give them all the points that Grayson was going to fight in court just so that her picture could live on in a newspaper; that's a very self-motivating action.
BE: So, we still saw her doing that, but she has grown so much and she has changed and had experiences that she would have never have had before. That has made her go, (Deb Voice.) "You know what? Maybe that old life that I had been fighting for isn't what I should have been fighting for." And, she's not clear about that - she's always going back and forth - but, it's the first time we see her go back and forth. You know, she never, ever doubted before that she was supposed to end up with Grayson and the life that she was supposed to have and Season Three is the first time that we see her go, "Well, wait a minute, maybe there is something different."
PC: And there was a dream sequence that you had where you revealed all to Grayson as Jane - telling him you are Deb.
BE: Oh, yeah - there's the one in Season One where we kissed.
PC: Tell me about that scene and working with Jackson Hurst in general.
BE: It was a really fun time to do that and any time I get to work with Jackson is a tremendously fun time because we get to play so much of that character development.
PC: He said much the same thing to me.
BE: Yeah! And, there are so many things that Jane gets to feel and express when I am playing with Grayson that I don't get to do in the courtroom and things like that.
PC: Of course.
BE: I always love the Grayson/Jane scenes. I think they are so beautiful and they are so deep and you learn so much about those two people. That particular scene you mentioned was really, really fun, though, and I think we had a fun time. I don't know what Jackson said, though! [Laughs.]
PC: He was very complimentary, no question.
BE: I remember I had a really good time - especially because I have to hold back every time I am in a scene with him, so it was fun to do a scene where I just got to say it all. Did he like it?
PC: He said he works with the writers to fill in the back-story - did you find that a particular challenge of the role?
BE: Filling in Deb's back-story?
BE: Yes and no. I mean, that's the fun part of what we do, so I really enjoy doing that. I love getting each script and finding out more and more about her and then adding my own take on her.
PC: Putting your stamp on it.
BE: Yeah. I think that that is so fun. I think that the challenge of this role is one of my biggest joys about this show - playing this character inside another character and figuring out, you know, "When is Jane influencing Deb and when is Deb just being Deb the way we know Deb to be?" And, "How have they changed?" And, "What lessons has she learned being Jane?" It's so fun going through the script to figure that stuff out.
PC: And the scripts are quite detailed. What was your first reaction to Josh Berman's pilot script?
BE: You know, it's funny, because my first reaction to the script was that I wanted to audition.
PC: It's a great part.
BE: You know, you see lots of scripts and you have lots of auditions. It was one of those that - I think the writers' strike had just happened so there was not a lot of auditioning happening - so, I remember being, like, "Oh, good. I hope I give a really good audition." You know, I didn't have a whole bunch of weight attached to the outcome of the audition.
PC: That probably helped!
BE: Yeah, I guess that is the ideal way to do it! [Laughs.]
PC: Indeed. No nerves.
BE: Yeah, I just wasn't necessarily paying attention like, "I have to have this role!" It was just something that I felt I wanted to audition for. So, it came kind of a surprise to me that I ended up getting it.
PC: Were you up against anyone you knew or were you aware of what the stakes of the audition were like at the time? It's the type of role where you need someone to pretty much carry the show.
BE: Yeah, I mean, I don't know anyone else's auditions and I knew a couple people at the audition there and I didn't really know how many people I was up against - I didn't know any of that information. I just had the script and had the sides. I think the main thing is that you had to get the gig - and by the gig I mean you had to get the script; that this was someone else in someone's body.
PC: The gist of the whole thing.
BE: Luckily, I think I did understand that process so I kept going through the audition process - but, that's all I knew! I knew I liked the show; I knew I wanted to do a great job; and, I knew that I got the gig - I understood that it was someone in someone else's body.
PC: The three things that mattered most at the end of the day.
BE: I just hoped that that would carry me - and, I guess it did! [Laughs.]
PC: Josh Berman, the creator, is doing full-time DIVA duty now that he is no longer working on BONES, too - all this season, yes?
BE: Yeah, he was doing BONES and DIVA, but this last season he was not doing BONES. I don't know what will happen in the future, but I am assuming his involvement will stay as active as he can possibly make it. But, I also know that he is in demand and he writes pilots that people like, [Laughs.]. So…
PC: Have you heard about your producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron's new musical pilot, SMASH?
BE: Oh, yeah! I've heard about it, but I haven't seen it yet. I can't wait to watch it. I just love Craig Zadan and Neil.
PC: Tell me what your first audition for them was like.
BE: Well, let's see. Let me think… [Pause.] I flew to New York and I did kind of a workshop with Josh and the director of the pilot, Jim. Then, I auditioned for Sony and I auditioned for Lifetime. So, I guess I didn't have a specific audition for Craig and Neil. But, I could talk for hours about Craig and Neil…
PC: Please do!
BE: I could talk for hours about Craig and Neil and I would never have a bad word to say, either! Like, I think they are so smart and they are so creative and intelligent and giving and supportive and I wish them so much good, you know?
PC: It's all true.
BE: They have been so good to me and so supportive of me. Like I said, I couldn't think of a bad word to say about them.
PC: Had you seen CHICAGO before you auditioned for DIVA?
BE: Oh, yeah.
PC: What did you think of CHICAGO and ANNIE and their musical adaptations?
BE: Oh, I loved both - and that was even before I knew who they were. I knew their work was tight - it's tight; it's exact; and, it's good.
PC: You have had so many amazing theatre personalities on the show, too.
BE: Oh, I know.
PC: What was working with the queen of Broadway herself like - Liza Minnelli?
BE: It was really surreal meeting Liza - which, I would imagine, anyone would think it would be. Let me explain: I noticed that when I was working with her - when we were doing the scenes - it was like I was working with an actress; we were doing the scene and then after we did the scene I'm like, [Breathless.] "Oh my God, I just did a scene with Liza Minnelli!"
PC: It finally sunk in. Such a thrill, right?
BE: [Laughs.] It caught me afterwards. As I was driving home that night I was like, [Screams.] "I can't believe this! I can't believe this! I can't believe I just worked with Liza Minnelli!" It was so weird and amazing, because who would ever think that they would get to work with Liza Minnelli?
PC: The best of the best.
BE: I got the opportunity to go to her Las Vegas show when they were filming it and I was just overwhelmed.
PC: Neil and Craig's fantastic video - LIZA'S AT THE PALACE.
BE: Working with her, though, I was so overwhelmed with her generosity as an actor and as a person and how kind she was. She was so purposeful in her commitment to our show.
PC: How wonderful.
BE: There was never a sense of, "Ah, this doesn't matter." It was never that way. It was like everything she did on our set mattered and she did it one hundred percent. I was like, "All of that wrapped up is why you are Liza Minnelli. You are so talented and you give it all, all the time." I was like, "That's why she's Liza!"
PC: That's why. Tell me about working with Kathy Griffin - who also did this column. What perfect casting as Kim's sister!
BE: I know! I know! Oh, my God. It was great. I actually was kind of disappointed because I didn't get to work with Kathy. I met her in the makeup trailer and I got to talk with her a little bit on the set, but I didn't work in that storyline so I was really disappointed I didn't get to play with them!
PC: They had great chemistry.
BE: They were so great. They were fantastic as sisters.
PC: Tell me about working with Kate Levering - a fellow Broadway baby. Do you ever talk about your old gypsy days?
BE: [Laughs.] We did a little bit at the beginning. She had done more TV than I had, too, and I remember her saying, "This is different than theatre - you don't get that immediate gratification; you don't get the audience response." She said that it takes a little while to get used to that - and, she was absolutely right!
PC: Good advice.
BE: One of the most challenging parts coming to TV from theatre is that you don't get to play off that audience and you don't get that response of, like, "Yep, that worked!" Or, "No, it didn't." You just don't get it.
PC: A big difference.
BE: And, you know, the set has to be quiet or the take is ruined. Then, when I finally watch it, I am at my house! [Laughs.]
PC: Right? That's so funny.
BE: Sometimes I sit there on my couch and I'm like, "I wonder if anyone watched the show?" [Laughs.]
PC: It's so strange.
BE: Yeah! You have no idea if anyone is watching it or not watching it. Kate and I talked a lot about that at the beginning.
PC: So, you and Kate have a great rapport.
BE: Oh, yeah. I love working with Kate. She makes me laugh so hard! We rarely get to play together, but I love when Jane and Kim have a storyline together. I think it is so much fun.
PC: Do you think Kim is the villain of the show? Is Parker?
BE: Hmm, you know, Parker does have some villain in him! [Laughs.] But, I don't know. I think they both have that to an extent, and, yet, as we get to know the characters more we see that, you know, "Are they really the villain or do they just have some personal problems?"
PC: That's one way to look at it.
BE: Actually, what I like about that, though, is that it is like life, you know? Sometimes someone that is the "villain" in your life, when you look deeper and you think of what their issues are and why they behave like that and where they came from - they become less of a villain and more of someone that you can understand. You may not like what they are doing still, but it's someone that maybe you can understand a little bit. I find Parker and Kim to be those characters.
PC: I agree. The show juggles the many characters well - there are sometimes four separate plots per episode.
BE: Oh, yeah.
PC: Do you ever find you are overextended as the lead? You are in virtually almost every scene.
BE: Well… no is actually the answer. [Laughs.] I know it requires a lot of focus and a lot of attention and it is very intense for about five months, but it is worth every second of it!
PC: You clearly love it.
BE: I wouldn't trade it, I really wouldn't - it's such a blessing and I am so lucky to get to do it. Working fifteen hour days and everything, and, even though I'm really tired at the end of five months - I wouldn't trade it.
PC: Rosie O'Donnell spoke so favorably of you when I interviewed her - I hope she comes back to DIVA next year.
BE: Oh, that's so nice. I hope she comes back, too! We didn't get to have her on for Season Three and I was really, really disappointed because I love having her on the show. She is one of the easiest actors to work with - she is so simple in her deliveries and so present and aware. She is so talented and I have always said that I don't think she gets the acclaim for her acting that I think that she should get because she is a wonderful actress. And, she has been a wonderful supporter of mine since she cast me in TABOO.
PC: What an awesome production that was.
BE: What an amazing producer she was on TABOO - as you know, Liz McCartney went out and went on maternity leave and Rosie plucked me out of the ensemble. She didn't know me and I wasn't a star name or anything like that - that's old-school producing for you; you trust the cast you've cast. She gave me that role. She has just been so supportive ever since. I love having her on the show and I hope she comes back.
PC: I wish she could be on every week and you two could have a wrap-up scene at the end.
BE: Aww - me too! Me too! [Laughs.]
PC: Stephen Sondheim told me TABOO was one of his favorite recent scores and he really enjoyed the show.
BE: I have got chills up and down my arms! I can't believe that! I mean, Sondheim is Sondheim! That is so amazing. I have always been a huge fan of his and always wanted to work with him, so the fact that he said that about TABOO… I mean, TABOO touched my heart. It was such a great project and it was so sad that it just couldn't make it. George was amazing with what he wrote and the fact that Sondheim feels that way about the score - George should feel really good!
PC: Could you tell me about working with Raul Esparza in the show? He is one of the only big male Broadway musical stars we have besides Hugh Jackman.
BE: Well, he did have that show PUSHING DAISES! He was great on that.
PC: This is true. But, he mostly does theatre.
BE: Of course. Of course. I know what you mean. I love Raul. His "Petrified" from TABOO - I still listen to that. [Laughs.]
PC: Me too! One of my favorites.
BE: I put the TABOO cast album on once in awhile and I always fast-forward to "Petrified". I think he did such a good job. And, I got to work with him when I played the role.
PC: What was that like? He is so talented.
BE: That was really, really fun. It was my second performance - and you know second show blues! We just always kind of have a bad second show. I remember we were out there singing… the song in the very beginning, [Sings.] "Oh mother…"
PC: "Stranger In This World".
BE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. "Stranger In This World" - and I sang the wrong note!
PC: Oh, no! What happened?
BE: I sang the ensemble note and I was supposed to sing a different note as Sue - and I was so upset about that! I was like - backstage - "I can't believe I sang the wrong note! Argh!" I was just lost in my own world about it.
BE: Yeah. So, the show is going on, and, then, finally Raul comes back to me and goes, "What just happened?" And, I was like, "I don't know! I just sang the wrong note. I feel like such an idiot!" And, he was like, "Umm, no - about the scene we were just supposed to do together," and, I had totally forgotten! I left him out there by himself!
PC: No way!
BE: I was like, "Oh… my… God!" [Laughs.]
PC: You have the understudy excuse, at least!
BE: I mean, I had had zero rehearsal and I learned everything at home. So, my mind was a mile a minute trying to remember everything that Sue was supposed to do - I was like, "Raul, I can't believe I just left you onstage!" But, here's the other thing, he's such a brilliant performer that the audience wouldn't have even known if I didn't show up for the rest of the show! [Laughs.]
PC: That's hilarious. He's phenomenal.
BE: He was so brilliant. I think I actually gave him a little care package of "I'm Sorry". He was really supportive to me and I wish him the best - he is kicking some serious butt and I think he deserves it!
PC: Hopefully he will be on DIVA someday.
BE: Oh, that would be fun!
PC: Speaking of fabulous stage stars: Faith Prince and Sharon Lawrence just did this column for their DIVA appearances…
PC: They are such class acts. "Lean On Me" was so great.
BE: Oh, I just love when they are on the show - the mother episodes are some of my favorite episodes. I love them. And, I love them both for how different their mothers are and how appropriate their mothers are. I mean, Sharon Lawrence is so Deb's mom, you know? And, Faith Prince is so Jane's mom. [Laughs.]
PC: You can say that again - twice! It's perfect casting.
BE: And it's so fun to get to relate to both of them since I am Deb and Jane. It's really fun.
PC: And, Sharon has had a great TV career, too - and Faith is known for the big Broadway roles. Not unlike your two sides!
BE: Aww, that's true! Absolutely.
PC: What is something you'd like to do on the show in the future? Will there be musical numbers coming up in the finale?
BE: Well, we do "Mambo Italiano", of course!
PC: Tell me a little bit about working with your best friend on the show, Stacey, and your popcorn and wine scenes with April Bowlby - to me, they are the heart of the show.
BE: I love working with April. I think we have a fun connection onset and our characters do, as well. I love those little heart-to-heart scenes that Stacey and Jane get to do.
PC: Do you foresee Ben and yourself duetting on your theme, "Lucky", in the future?
BE: Well… I don't know! [Laughs.]
PC: Are you a Jason Mraz fan? He won a Grammy for that song.
BE: Oh, yeah! I like him a lot.
PC: So, what's next for you during the hiatus?
BE: Well, I want to do voiceover for animation, so I am looking to do something along those lines. So, my agent is looking for something in that area and I think that would be a lot of fun.
PC: Is a stage role something you would consider someday soon?
BE: Oh, yeah. I have so many things I'd like to do, though! I'd love to go back to Broadway; I'd love to do animation; I'd love to do hair and make-up campaigns because I love hair and makeup - and, I'd love to do film. I mean, there are a lot of doors I'd love to open up!
PC: I can't wait for your next endeavor. It's so nice to see someone with real, genuine, triple-threat talent become a star like you in this day and age.
BE: Aww, I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for saying that.
PC: What a great way to end this DROP DEAD DIVA series! Thank you so much, Brooke! Do you have any fun hiatus plans?
BE: Thank you, Pat! No, not really - I plan to just rest. [Laughs.]
PC: You've certainly earned it after this season. Thanks again.
BE: [Laughs.] You, too! Bye bye.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro