BWW EXCLUSIVE: Anjelica Huston On SMASH, Singing 'September Song' & More
Today we are continuing BroadwayWorld's extensive coverage of NBC's musical dramedy series SMASH by talking to an Oscar-winning actress known for her genre-spanning performances in CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS, THE WITCHES, The Addams Family, PRIZZI'S HONOR and THE GRIFTERS - among many other notable performances - the simply divine Anjelica Huston. Sharing stories about her famous family - father, director and actor John Huston; grandfather, stage and screen actor Walter Huston - Huston opens up about her experiences preparing for the tailor-made role of Eileen Rand on SMASH and drops some hints about the future for her character, in business and romance, as well as what we can expect her to sing in a future episode - the classic Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson gem originally written for her grandfather in KNICKERBOCKER HOLIDAY, "September Song". Additionally, Huston recalls previously musically collaborating onscreen with stupendous SMASH songwriter Marc Shaiman on The Addams Family remember The Mamushka? and reflects on her unforgettable role in the Stephen Frears modern classic THE GRIFTERS. Plus, Huston's memories of performing Shakespeare on Broadway, her reaction to Stephen Sondheim's insights on her father in his recent book, and much, much more!
Be sure to check out the previous interviews in this special SMASH series with songwriters Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman available here and star Megan Hilty available here.
SMASH airs Mondays at 10 PM on NBC.
The Mamushka To September Song To Hollywood, Bollywood & Beyond
PC: SMASH songwriter Marc Shaiman famously wrote the unforgettable music for one of your most beloved films, The Addams Family…
AH: I know! I know. Isn't that funny?
PC: I was curious if you two had met at a premiere for that film or in the intervening years between that and SMASH?
AH: No, we hadn't spoken before SMASH, and, because ADDAMS FAMILY was so sort of long ago, I had forgotten that element of the movie, you know? But, coming back to Marc on SMASH was just fantastic - he's just so brilliant and such a sweetheart.
PC: When they did this column they expressed to me a desire to have you sing on the show, so is it true you will be singing on SMASH in an episode coming up after all?
AH: Yes. I do a little number in a nightclub - and I don't know for who else I would have done that [but for Marc and Scott Wittman]! [Big Laugh.] But, they made it a really safe place, and, so, it was great to do. A lovely experience.
PC: It's not a Shaiman/Wittman BOMBSHELL song, is it?
AH: No. It's a cover of a song.
PC: Can you give us a hint of what the song might be?
AH: Well, it's a bit of a surprise, I think, because it's a song that has lived in my family and that my grandfather was well-known for singing. It's a song called 'September Song' by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson.
PC: One of the great standards.
AH: Yes. It really is.
PC: That will be divine! Speaking of Weill, I've always thought you seem to be a perfect fit for Brecht. What are your thoughts on Brecht in general?
AH: Well, I've actually haven't thought about him, but, this year, I am thinking about a lot of things I haven't thought about before, so, it's all an absolutely an open book.
PC: Did you consider a return to Broadway after your time spent in HAMLET or do you see SMASH as your grand return to the theatrical universe?
AH: It is, really. My life look to me to Los Angeles, which, now, you know, has some pretty good theatre, but it's never been a town that I thought of synonymously with theatre. [Laughs.]
PC: You can say that again! Have you had offers for stage work?
AH: I have been asked a few times and I have been tempted to come back to Broadway or London, but I haven't really had the chance to do that since I was married and my husband lived in Los Angeles. I think that, being an artist, he didn't like being very far from his studio and it would have meant that we had to be separated for too long a time, so I decided at that time that I was going to concentrate mostly on movies. But, you know, the more you are around Broadway, the more alluring it is, of course.
PC: Your tribute to your husband in Vanity Fair was absolutely exquisite - so heartfelt and revealing about what he had achieved and the impact he had on your life.
AH: Oh, yes - thank you. That's very kind of you.
PC: You famously played Cinderella's mother in EVER AFTER and Bernadette Peters played the iconic part in the CINDERELLA film with Whitney Huston, so I have to ask: did you compare notes on the role onset at any point?
AH: Sadly, no - but, Bernadette's role is an ongoing character and I think when we come back for our second season she, of course, will come back, too. So far, I have only shared a makeup trailer with her, so I long to do a scene with her.
PC: Wow - how glamorous was the makeup trailer that day?!
AH: [Laughs.] Well, I'm not so sure about that - it was pretty early. But, I do have to say that she looks very good in the morning.
PC: A frequent collaborator of Bernadette's is Stephen Sondheim and the first time he did this column we discussed your father's brilliant insight to him about film editing being, at its essence, eye-blinking, which Sondheim writes about in the first volume of his book, FINISHING THE HAT.
AH: Yeah, yeah - right. I think that my father even mentions that in his own book - his own autobiography; AN OPEN BOOK. It is absolutely brilliant advice on how to cut - because it is that moment where you take measure of something and move on; a blink is exactly that.
PC: Rosie O'Donnell has also done this column and spoke so favorably about working with you a few years ago as director on RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER.
AH: Aww, I love Rosie and I think she's incredibly talented and creative. I am actually going to be seeing her later this afternoon and I am very excited about that.
PC: While we have already discussed "September Song", looking ahead to next season on SMASH: would you like to take on a different genre of music? Perhaps some Charles Aznavour or Serge Gainsbourg - perhaps some chanson?
AH: Exactly! It's so funny you say that because, for some reason, I actually spoke with Scott and Marc about how French songs are easier to sing than songs in English - I don't know what it is; I think it's because the vowel sounds are very intoned. So, yes - Charles Aznavour is a lovely choice. I, of course, tend to favor Jacques Brel, though - truly, he is my hero.
PC: That recent Off-Broadway revival of Jacques Brel IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS was so fabulous.
AH: Yeah, yeah - it was.
PC: Since you have been in NYC shooting SMASH for a few months now, I would love to know: what are some of the shows you've seen recently that you particularly enjoyed?
AH: Oh, I've seen tons of stuff! I saw ONCE, VENUS IN FUR, BOOK OF MORMON, LOOK BACK IN ANGER - it's really more about what didn't I see, at this point! I mean, I've even seen flamenco dancing! I've seen lots of theatre - not enough opera; not enough music; but, a lot of straight drama.
PC: Can you confirm Nick Jonas will be coming back in the season finale?
AH: Yes, Nick Jonas is coming back - that's right.
PC: What can you tell me about Uma Thurman and the big Bollywood number coming soon?
AH: Yes, we all do the big Bollywood number, and, actually, that was really the height of our happiness as a cast - getting all dressed up in beautiful saris and doing a gorgeous Bollywood number. The energy was very high on the set that day! [Laughs.]
PC: It sounds thrilling! Where was it filmed?
AH: We shot it in this sort of ancient tabernacle downtown that, I guess, they use for many things - and, oh, it was so, so beautiful. And, you know, it's always great when the whole cast gets into a number - it's really just so fun.
PC: The first full group song since "Howl", I think - which seemed to feature almost everyone but you and Kat McPhee!
AH: I know! I know - but we're all in this one.
PC: What can we expect from the character of Eileen coming up? Is it truly, now - as you say in that great tag with the gun on Episode Five - your turn?
AH: "It's my turn!" [Laughs.] Yes, it is a little bit my turn, I think. You know, the first thing I did when I went to do SMASH - when I spoke to the writer, Theresa Rebeck, I said, "Since my life generally follows my art, there are two things that I would like from the character of Eileen: one, is that she gets her money; two, is that she has a charming and gorgeous love interest." And, she gave my both!
PC: How fortuitous for you!
AH: Yes - and I couldn't be more grateful to her and I look very, very much forward to next season.
PC: You can confirm that BOMBSHELL is the title of the show and the season finale takes place in Boston, correct?
AH: Yes, that's right.
PC: Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are such great champions of musical theatre and SMASH has such an accomplished group of creators - Steven Spielberg and Theresa Rebeck included. Do you feel particularly proud to be a part of a prestige project like this?
AH: I think that, you know, we are all running together in a great pack - and everyone is doing their ultimate to make sure that this show is great. I think it's a really great group to be part of - yes.
PC: You are the biggest name in the cast, as well - who else could pull off walking through a hallway with such gravitas as you do in "Let Me Be Your Star" in the pilot episode?
AH: [Laughs.] Well, it's quite a hallway, too! It's the Brill Building - that hallway does its part, too, let me tell you!
PC: Am I right in thinking that the Francis Ford Coppola-directed CAPTAIN E.O. co-starring Michael Jackson for Disney is the only movie musical or musical entity you have been involved with prior to SMASH?
AH: Yes, I think so - I think you're right.
PC: Did you ever discuss with your father doing something onstage together - perhaps even a musical?
AH: Well, he did direct the film version of ANNIE, but, no, we never talked about doing a musical together - but, given enough time, we probably would have gotten around to it. [Laughs.]
PC: What could have been!
AH: But, you know, we did do PRIZZI'S HONOR, A WALK WITH LOVE & DEATH and THE DEAD together - three wildly divergent movies - so, who knows what we would have done.
PC: THE DEAD has recently been released on DVD and the new THE GRIFTERS on Blu-ray is beautifully remastered. Have you seen it yet?
AH: Oh, how great! I didn't know it was remastered - I haven't seen it yet, but that's wonderful to know.
PC: How would you define collaboration in terms of your experience working on SMASH?
AH: Well, I think that everyone came into this putting their best foot forward - because I think we all realized that it was something unique and something that, you know, provided an alternative to the very heavy and very kind of dead stuff that we have been watching on television; this was something that could bring music and joy to our lives on a weekly basis. I think that the choices and the combinations that have been put together for this are so smart - and, I think that largely had to do with Steven Spielberg, Theresa Rebeck and, of course, Robert Greenblatt. To put Debra Messing, Megan Hilty, Kat McPhee, Christian Borle, Jack Davenport, Jaime Cepero - all of these characters - and have them fit so well together completes the great puzzle of SMASH, I think. I really admire them for that. I think that these are consummately professional people who are really killing themselves to put it out there.
PC: You're all giving it your all - all the time.
AH: I mean, just look at little Megan Hilty - what an amazing powerhouse she is! And, Kat McPhee! You know, I am watching these two girls stay for hours in rehearsal and on the weekends and work as hard as is humanly possibly to achieve a standard of excellence. [Pause.] It makes me very proud to be in a group like that.
PC: And you have worked with best of the best, so you are a great judge!
AH: Oh, you are very sweet!
PC: Looking to the next few episodes for your character, Eileen - is there something nefarious going on with Ellis?
AH: Well, you could say that! [Laughs.] I can't give it all away, though!
PC: Will Michael Cristofer be returning?
AH: Yes. Michael Cristopher - or, his character, Jerry - sort of haunts Eileen's life. I think that in some oddly perverse way they rather enjoy it.
PC: Broadway is known to be masochistic in its way, after all - and incestuous, as well, if only due to proximity!
AH: Exactly! Exactly. It's a small town.
PC: Michael Riedel is coming up in a guest role soon, yes?
AH: Yes - Michael will be on an episode and he has already done another guest appearance, too, so those will be great.
PC: You have completely wrapped for Season One, correct?
AH: Yes - and I apologize for sounding a little gravelly today; we worked 'til quite late last night! [Laughs.]
PC: SMASH is a Broadway baby's dream come true and we are so lucky to have you on TV each week. Thank you so much for this today, Anjelica.
AH: Aww, that is so great to hear coming from you! You take care, Pat. Thank you so much. Bye bye.