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BWW EXCLUSIVE: HOW I GOT THE JOB... Ellen Greene On LITTLE SHOP Then & Now, HANNIBAL & Much More

Today, BroadwayWorld kicks off a brand new interview series titled HOW I GOT THE JOB shining a special solo spotlight on a performer in which they share candid recollections and revisit the point at which they became involved with a particular project on their resume, whether it be stage piece, film or TV project...

To kick off the series, we are talking to an internationally recognized stage and screen star CELEBRATED for her iconic originating role in the popular stage musical and subsequent feature film adaptation of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, the fiercely idiosyncratic Ellen Greene. Opening up about her experiences in landing that unforgettable part, Greene also previews what audiences can expect from her return to the stage as art of the hotly anticipated Encores! Off-Center mounting of the musical co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal at City Center later this week. Additionally, Greene reflects on some of her other standout appearances over the years, such as the acclaimed 1976 New York Shakespeare Festival production of THE THREEPENNY OPERA and David Rabe's IN THE BOOM BOOM ROOM at the Public Theater, not to mention the legendary cult musical RACHAEL LILY ROSENBLOOM (AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT), plus her notable ongoing collaboration with TV mastermind Bryan Fuller on HEROES, PUSHING DAISIES and HANNIBAL and much more.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1982) - Audrey

"How I got the job on LITTLE SHOP - I was sent the script. I had met Howard [Ashman] a year before when I was doing SEVEN DEADLY SINS in Cambridge and Howard was auditioning for a play then - I can't remember which one off-hand - and I wanted to meet him. I didn't know him, but I instinctively wanted to meet him - and, a lot of times, it's my instincts that lead me. As actors, we usually use technique first and then add our instincts and emotional insides and human it up, but I do it the opposite way: I follow my instincts first and then add technique. So, Howard and I met and we just clicked! I sang every song I knew for him and we spent an hour just laughing! We loved each other so much. So, the next year I was sent a script by his agent, who eventually became my agent - my god-agent who is no longer with us - and it was for LITTLE SHOP and it was much different than what it eventually became. It was very camp. I remember I said at the time, 'I don't want to be in a camp musical,' and I was on my way to unemployment and I was listening to 'Somewhere That's Green' and I immediately knew the song! I just immediately responded to it and the world of LITTLE SHOP. So, when I went in to audition for Howard and Alan [Menken], that voice just came out - I have no idea where it came from. So, I sang 'Green' and Alan sat behind the piano in this very small room where we were all very close to each other and by the end of the song we were all crying and it was this magical moment and I knew that these two men would be in my life from then on and that I would love them forever.

Originally, Howard first envisioned Audrey as younger and then when I came in he made her more over-the-hill. He took out all the camp stuff, too. He helped me work on the script with him and we edited it together. The first act was up the first week - edited, cut, shaped and the first act was up in one week - and then the same thing happened with the SECOND ACT the second week. And, it was a magical - magical - moment in time and you are just so lucky when those kinds of things happen - they don't happen, you know?! It was just amazing! Also, he let me help with the script but he also let me make Audrey - you see, some characters are over there for me; some characters are closer for me and some are farther away. For instance, in THREEPENNY OPERA, that character was over there; for IN THE BOOM BOOM ROOM, she was over there - but, then again, I love playing parts that nobody else wants to play. I mean, THREEPENNY was really hard! But, for me, I wanted Audrey to just fall off the tree like a ripe peach - I wanted her teetering on heels between the humor and the heart; you know, just when you are about to laugh, you cry, and when you are about to cry, you laugh.

At the end of those two weeks, I told Howard I had to take him to this wig place to get a wig and I picked out this long wig and he said, 'I'm not sure that fits, but run with it,' and that's how he always was with me - he got me and I got him and it was just amazing the symmetry that we had together. So, I came back to the theatre and Paul Holmes, the stage manager, and I fixed the wig - I cut the front of it and he cut the back - and we came out to show Constance Grappo, who was the assistant director, and Lee Wilkof, who was the most wonderful Seymour in the world with such a glorious voice and so dear and so wonderful to work with, and Howard - and they didn't really like it! I said, 'Let me get it together and finish her,' and Howard said, 'Run with it!' and they loved it once I had finished her. I suppose Audrey didn't have to be like this - she was just supposed to be a sweet brunette when I first read the script - but, she developed this look and all of her sweet and funny and dear Audrey-isms and lives in that funny land that she does; she's real, but she's larger than life, you know? It's such a strange combination. I created her with Howard, though - it's like Howard and Alan were my long-lost brothers and we were just fated to meet."

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (2015) - Audrey

"Jeanine [Tesori] called me up and asked me to do it. Jeanine and I did THE FIRST PICTURE SHOW together - this brilliant show about the first woman director at the time when men were off to war; we did it right after HEY, MR. PRODUCER! I just think she is so amazingly talented and she so deserves her success with FUN HOME and that Tony - she so deserves it. It's funny, because I always tell her, 'I want your hands! I love your hands!' I am a snob when it comes to pianists because I have worked with very few and they all have been so wonderful - Christian Klikovits, who I was married to and who is now remarried and we are all the best of friends, is who I have been working with and we just did a new album together; he is such a great pianist. He is an angel. I am really proud of our work together and we just released a Christmas album last year and we are already working on a third one together called NAKED. He is the one who actually got me to sing again - I mean, there were so many ghosts in the '90s; somebody was always getting sick and somebody was always in the middle of their illness and somebody was always dying. It was a cycle - an unending cycle - and so many huge people in my life I had to let go. People ask, 'Whatever happened to her?' Well, life happened to me - and that's what I've been writing about in a script I have been working on. I believe very, very, very, very much in supporting and working with people who are dear to me and people who have not gone away when it has been tough.

So, I am really doing this again now for all of the people who were there and remember LITTLE SHOP as this magical moment in time and also all the people who have asked me - and so many people have written me and asked me if I would ever do it again because they never got to see me. But, I am mainly doing it so that Howard will live again - because I am his LITTLE SHOP, you know?! So, anyway, I live in the same building as Jeanine and her daughter and I love working with her so I would do absolutely anything she ever offered me, so when she asked me about LITTLE SHOP, I was amazingly thrilled. I can't wait to work with Jake [Gyllenhaal], either - he is so handsome and so talented; and, so tall! He's extraordinary. I remember being at the BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN premiere when they first debuted it and he gave a talk afterwards - he's such an extraordinary actor."

HANNIBAL (2013), PUSHING DAISIES (2007-9) & HEROES (2007-9) - Mrs. Komeda, Vivian Charles & Virginia Grey

"Those are all my Bryan [Fuller] and you have to hear the story about the first time we met, but first: I got PUSHING DAISIES and HEROES the same day! Bryan made it work, too. I was able to shoot two days of the pilot for PUSHING DAISIES with Barry Sonenfeld, who I just love, and then go and work with John Badham, who was directing HEROES, and work with Zach [Quinto], who is an amazing actor, and then go back again. I loved the entire PUSHING DAISIES cast, too - Anna [Friel] and Kristin [Chenoweth] and Swoosie [Kurtz]; I love them all. Talk about another magical moment in time! Just like with Howard, the first time that Bryan and I met - and Bruce Cohen was there and Dan Jinx and Barry Sonenfeld were there, too, I remember - I looked at Bryan and said, "Oh, my God! He loves me!" Turns out, Bryan had worked in a video store and loved the movie of LITTLE SHOP. Bryan is so brilliant and he so reminds me of Howard - and I am so glad that I got to work with him on PUSHING DAISIES and HEROES and HANNIBAL. And, the PUSHING DAISIES musical they are talking about doing now? I mean, I would do anything Bryan or Bruce asks in a New York second!"

IN THE BOOM BOOM ROOM (1974) - Chrissy & THE THREEPENNY OPERA (1976) - Jenny

"I was performing at Reno Sweeney's at the time and my friend said that they were auditioning IN THE BOOM BOOM ROOM at the Public Theater with Joe Papp and my friend said he thought I was right for it - so, I went and kept auditioning. Everybody else who auditioned walked in there with a diploma, but I didn't - I left college after my first year because I got a job. But, anyway, I remember auditioning for Joe and a bunch of other people who were there at the time and after that the Public Theater became my second home and it was my whole education - if you weren't working in a show, you were working on something else for Joe; so many projects I worked on.

So, the first time I auditioned for Joe was for David Rabe's IN THE BOOM BOOM ROOM and then I came back five times after that. At my final callback he asked me, 'Why should I give it to you?' and I said, 'Because I can do it.' I felt instinctively that I could do this part - I just knew I could do it. And, so, he said, 'Well, you know you have to be nude at the end,' and I said, 'If the play calls for it, it's fine.' Then, he said, 'I want to do a rougher version than on Broadway. I want it to be rough and true-to-life and a really unvarnished version of it.' It was an amazing, amazing experience. Also, my father had died a few years earlier and I think I had worked out my heart onstage with that part - it was a very hard part to do. I've done a lot of parts that were very hard for me to live in, so it's funny to me that Audrey is the one that everybody knows now because I mostly have done dramatic parts like IN THE BOOM BOOM ROOM and THE THREEPENNY OPERA. And, with THE THREEPENNY OPERA I got to work with my dear, dear Raul Julia, who I just loved with all of my heart."

RACHAEL LILY ROSENBLOOM (AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT) (1973) - Rachael

"I auditioned for that and for the audition I wore a big polka-dotted dress with a big cowl neck that would make me look fatter because the character was supposed to be heavier - and, I wore flats and I put white make-up on my legs to make them look fatter, too. I remember Paulie [Jabara] and I did backer's auditions with [Robert] Stigwood for that. We did parties for Ahmet Ertegun, too, until it was on its feet. Oh, I remember Stigwood came backstage between shows and sometimes I would have the fat and sometimes I wouldn't - it was just crazy. We had so many directors, too - their names are all escaping me now, but Tony Stevans was choreographing and then Grover Dale came in and choreographed it, too. Of course, Grover was with Anita Morris, who I loved so, so much. It was an amazing company of talent that we had on that show - and I'll never forget the last song we did together, 'We'll Be There', right at the end of the show; I remember that everybody in New York and everybody at that performance knew that we were closing that night except for me! It was a star-studded, too, but a really weird audience - and, obviously, the show was a flop; it's on the wall at Joe Allen's even! I still remember my whole first speech - my first lines in the show - though."

More information on the Encores! Off-Center presentation of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS July 1-2 is available at the official site here.


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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)