InDepth InterView: Betty Buckley
Few stars - or even legends, like this one - boast a resume that includes a Tony Award, the leading role on one of the most cherished sitcoms of the early eighties, a star-making film debut in one of the greatest horror films ever made (with one of the most exciting casts ever assembled), as well as an unparalleled career on the concert and cabaret stages around the world - in addition to a dozen or so leading roles in musicals on Broadway and in the West End, and just as many notable film roles, ranging from intimate indies to big-budget behemoths. Yes, Betty Buckley has conquered every arena of entertainment and it is a rare thrill to reveal such exciting news as Ms. Buckley revealed to me in our comprehensive conversation last week. In this BroadwayWorld Exclusive InDepth InterView we discuss her upcoming albums, BOOTLEG: BOARD MIXES FROM THE ROAD and GHOSTLIGHT - the latter produced by Oscar and Grammy-winning producer extraordinaire T Bone Burnett - both in connection to her Town Hall concert on October 16th. Here you will also find the first news of working with Jason Moore, Jake Shears and the rest of the cast and crew of the hotly anticipated new musical based on Armistead Maupin's TALES OF THE CITY premiering next Spring in San Francisco where Ms. Buckley is creating the lead role of Anna Madrigal. We also talk the recent big Emmy-winner out of all of TV this year, HBO's miniseries THE PACIFIC. In this illuminating conversation, Ms. Buckley bares all and reveals that it is the supreme dedication to excellence and unwavering commitment to craft that has helped her to become one of the biggest Broadway names of our age with an astoundingly accomplished career almost beyond any comparison. And if all of this breaking news weren't enough, this is the complete unedited conversation where we also look back and talk about everything from CARRIE to TENDER MERCIES, CATS to SUNSET BLVD, William Finn to WYATT EARP, Roman Polanski to Robert Duvall, cabaret to country concert stage and much, much more. Now is the very best time of all to let the memory live again, so it's all eyes (feline and otherwise) on the extraordinary future in the life and career of the legendary Betty Buckley!
21st Century BLB
PC: What was it like working with Robert Duvall on TENDER MERCIES?
BB: It was extraordinary! I mean, I had been on the TV show EIGHT IS ENOUGH for four years. Working on a show like that is like working in a factory. During the end of the run of that show, I did I'M GETTING MY ACT TOGETHER AND TAKING IT ON THE ROAD for six months in Los Angeles. While I was doing that show - following the fourth season of EIGHT IS ENOUGH - Fred Roos, a brilliant casting guy, had been asked to recommend an actress who could act and sing country western music. He called me and said, "I gave them one name, so go get the part!" So, I went in and met the director Bruce Beresford. It was a thrill! It was like a gift from the heavens after doing EIGHT IS ENOUGH for four years. (Pause.) When I first read the Horton Foote script, I wept.
PC: It's a beautiful movie. Was there another reason you wept besides just the emotional reaction to the material?
BB: I had gone to acting school for years. It was the kind of thing I had studied to do. I had worked with good coaches and trained to do this my whole life: to be a realistic actress capable of doing truthful work. The script was just perfect! And it was beyond perfect to work with Robert Duvall. And Bruce Beresford,the director.
PC: Your performance seems so real and authentic. Did T Bone give you pointers on the sound in the songs or was it just your country roots coming through?
BB: T Bone and I weren't really in touch during the making of that film. That was just what I knew from growing up in Texas.
PC: Did you enjoy working on ANOTHER WOMAN with Woody Allen? He has called it one of his absolute favorites of all his films.
BB: I think it is an extraordinary movie. I loved working with him. I got to ride to work everyday with Gena Rowlands, who is one of my favorite actresses of all time. Gene Hackman was also on that movie, and I got to later work with him on WYATT EARP where I played his wife. He's one my favorite actors. I loved being a part of that.
PC: Did you have to audition for Polanski or did he just give you the role in FRANTIC? He's famous for difficult auditions.
BB: They flew me to Paris on the Concorde and I met with him. The agent that represented me also represented him, so it kinda just worked!
PC: Did you like working with Harrison Ford? You had great chemistry - especially in the beginning versus the end of the film.
BB: Yes. He's really lovely. A truly lovely man.
PC: CARRIE is one of the best horror movies ever made. Did you enjoy making that?
BB: Oh, yeah. I loved everyone on that movie. Seven of us were making our first film - including Travolta, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, P.J. Soles, Michael Talbott and William Katt - it was a great group of people. There was a real energy to the whole experience. We all felt like we were a part of something very, very special. I had worked for DePalma on several movies looping voices for minor characters. So, I finally got wise to the fact that he would go on location and cast non-actors and then bring me in to give a voice to them and give their "performance" credibility. You know, to make you think they were acting! (Laughs.)
PC: Well, that's just wrong!
BB: Yeah! So I said, "Wait a minute!" And I told him all these roles would be great for young actors who studied and paid to go to school, so it wasn't right for him to do that. So a few months later he took me to dinner and gave me the book CARRIE and said, "This is my new movie and I want you to play the gym teacher," and I was like, "OK!" Then, about three months later, I got the script and found that he had combined the role of the principal and gym teacher into a major film debut role. That was another occasion where I read the script and cried because I realized the gift he had given me with that role.
PC: And the death scene! What a gift that is!
BB: Yes, he gave me a great dying scene.
PC: The basketball hoop...
BB: Smushing me in half!
PC: Tell me about doing the HAIR movie, the voice work.
BB: I sing the role of the Vietnamese girl who sings "Walking In Space" in the film.
PC: Of course! Chilling and thrilling! Tell me about that.
BB: The music director of the film called me in because they couldn't find a Vietnamese girl that could sing the song. We recorded "Walking In Space" one afternoon and then the actress they had cast did lip-syncing to my recording of it.
PC: Time has looked so favorably on that film. It's considered a great film musical now - by many, one of the best since the 60s - though at the time it was not well received.
BB: That's so wild! I didn't know that.
PC: CARRIE is back in fashion, too. I recently broke the story that it is coming back to New York in a public production.
BB: I've always thought it was a great score... beautiful music. I just think it was misconceived stylistically when it was first debuted. The show had tonal problems. I think it could be wonderful.
PC: Your cabaret shows are so unique. You remind me of Lena Horne in how you change everything about yourself in every song.
BB: Thank you.
PC: Your voice is like a different character for every role - Grizabella in CATS, then TENDER MERCIES then Margaret in CARRIE to Norma in SUNSET BLVD. All so different, all you.
BB: Well, the teacher I studied with for nineteen and a half years was a man named Paul Gavert. He was a great lieder singer, so basically I'm a trained lieder singer because of that teacher. The teacher I currently study with - since 1995 - is Joan Lader, who also studied with Gavert.
PC: It's a small world!
BB: Paul told me when we first met that the voice follows who you are - how you take care of yourself, your psychological state, your emotions; everything. So, for each of those characters you pointed out just now, the voice follows who the character is. So, I think that has a lot to do with how the sound changes. As you get older, your voice changes, as well. Your voice should be able to last as long as you last, Paul always told me.
PC: Does the arid Texas air help?
BB: Oh, I don't know about that! (Laughs.) You have to be careful. Usually, I fly in the day before a concert so your voice can acclimate to the new environment. Like, last weekend I had a concert in Malibu on Friday night then I had to fly back to the East coast all day Saturday, then I had to drive to a concert that night. That was very, very difficult and hard on me physically. There's a lot of maintenance that goes into being a professional singer.
PC: Those complex - and treacherous songs - in ELEGIES certainly are not easy to sing! They're all so uniquely exquisite, each of the songs you premiered in that.
BB: Yeah, that's a beautiful, beautiful score.
PC: What was it like singing those optimistic songs in a post-9/11 New York? "Looking Up"...
BB: I especially loved "14 Dwight Ave, Natick, Massachusetts" that he wrote for me to sing in that show about his family and his mother. His mother was very influential in Bill Finn's life, so to get to represent her in songs that he wrote was very meaningful to me. I think he writes very, very interesting melodies and really interesting story lyrics where the characters are very clear and I really like those kinds of songs.
PC: What have been your favorite songs to sing in concert?
BB: I love Mary Chapin Carpenter songs. I love her songs "Come On, Come On" and "I Am A Town", they're two of my favorite songs. I had a request in Malibu to sing "I Am A Town" - I hadn't sung it in quite some time - someone had written to my webmaster and asked if I would sing it. The repertoire was meant to be all-Broadway but I sort of just stuck that song in there.
PC: Tell me about this new album.
BB: I'm so excited about both my new albums!
PC: First, tell me about the first release that comes out on October 16th - the same day as your Town Hall concert.
BB: Yes, I'm releasing a CD on October 16th - the same day as the Town Hall concert - called BOOTLEG: BOARDMIXES FROM THE ROAD out on iTunes now (http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/bootleg-boardmixes-from-the/id397443365) It consists of eight of my favorite songs that I have sung in recent years in concerts all over the world. It includes a new song written by Michael McDonald and two collaborators of his that has never been recorded before called "Honest Emotion". The second one is a song called "Falling In Love" that Lisa Loeb wrote, which is a lovely story-song about a young woman.
PC: Great songwriters, both! What else is on BOOTLEG?
BB: "Ghost In This House" is a really beautiful song, a duet featuring Peter Eldridge. Also, there's "On The Fourth Of July" by James Taylor, "Bye, Bye Country Boy " by Blossom Dearie, "Stormy Blues" by Billie Holliday and "Straighten Up and Fly Right" - which is a very funny song that I included because it is something my father always said to my brothers and I. He was a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force. Then, "It Might As Well Be Spring" in a version that I've always especially enjoyed singing.
PC: It sounds great!
BB: That's not all! This is a big announcement I wanted to tell you about, the most important thing on the album: the ninth track is a preview track from a new recording!
PC: No way! What is it? What's the new recording?
BB: I'm so excited to tell you about this! I made a new studio recording in August produced by T Bone Burnett!
PC: How cool is that?! He's huge!
BB: It's pretty cool! That recording will be coming out in 2011.
PC: I can't wait!
BB: We're including a preview track from that new album on BOOTLEG, a track of the song "Blue Skies".
PC: How wonderful! Just a tease of the new album!
BB: Yes, and I will also be singing "Blue Skies" on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, to also preview the new album.
PC: What's the title of the Burnett collaboration album?
BB: The new record is called GHOSTLIGHT. It is a beautiful, very unique, timeless recording. I'm really, really excited about it.
PC: How do you two know each other?
BB: T Bone and I grew up together in Fort Worth, Texas. He had his own recording studio by the time he was seventeen years old. When we were both nineteen he made the first archival recording of my voice. There were only two reel-to-reel tapes of that recording and one was sent to my first agent - now Broadway producer, Rodger Hess - and he kept his reel-to-reel recording and he played it for Phil Birsh who released it on Playbill Records two years ago.
PC: Of course. A great album.
BB: Thank you. Betty Buckley: 1967 was released a couple of years ago. When T Bone heard our 1967 recording, he was very moved.
PC: That brought you two back together?
BB: T Bone and I have been friends all these years. But then he called this past June and said, "Let's make a new record." So, I was listening to material from my boardmixes that my wonderful sound man Terry Gabis had made. He's recorded all the shows we've done. I was listening to these songs - seventy-five songs that I'd yet to record. So, I was editing them down listening to my iPod walking around the city when I was in WHITE'S LIES this Summer, just trying to discern what was best to present to T Bone. Then, I started realizing some of them sounded pretty good. There were different configurations of musicians on each track, in all these beautiful live concert hall settings. So, when I played all these songs for T Bone I had edited it down to about fifty songs and it took us about three days in July to get through them. So, then, T Bone said to me, "You know, some of these performances are really great just the way they are. Why don't you release a live recording of just these songs?"
PC: Great idea!
BB: Thanks. So we narrowed it down to just eight. Then, after we made the new record, we added the preview track, "Blue Skies". It's a really cool package! On the front cover is a picture of my cowboy boots with my spurs that have my initials on them!
PC: How fabulous!
BB: It's nice! So, the BOOTLEG recording comes out October 16th. We will be selling it at Town Hall and it will also be available on iTunes.
PC: Tell me about Town Hall and what you are singing. Do you like that space?
BB: Yes! I do. I've done a couple of other concerts there. The musicians working with me on the 16th are: the pianist Clifford Carter, the bass player Tony Marino - with whom I've worked for twenty years -, a guitarist named Steve Cardenas, and my drummer Anthony Pinciotti. We'll be doing the BOOTLEG songs and some of my other favorite songs.
PC: What songs will be on the new T Bone Burnett album GHOSTLIGHT?
BB: Things like "Comin' Back To Me", which is a Jefferson Airplane song. "Lazy Afternoon". "Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered". "Body & Soul". "Come To Me, Bend To Me". "This Nearly Was Mine".
PC: So, musical theatre songs, too!
BB: Yes, musical theatre songs, too. Plus, "Blue Skies" and some others. There are twelve songs total. The band are all musicians T Bone put me with, including the great guitarist Bill Frisell. Tom Canning is the pianist, Matt Betton on drums, David Piltch on bass, Charlie Bisharat on violin and Cameron Stone on cello. They're all great musicians!
PC: Please give me the scoop on the TALES OF THE CITY musical.
BB: It's gonna be really cool!
PC: The demo is fabulous. The score is awesome. What's it like working with Jake Shears and John Garden of Scissor Sisters?
BB: The music is absolutely beautiful. They just wrote a new song for me over the past couple of days that's really lovely that will end Act One, at least in the current incarnation. It's just great. The voices in the show are wonderful! It's exciting to work with all these guys. Jason Moore is a fantastic director.
PC: Were you familiar with Scissor Sisters before the show?
BB: Oh, yeah! I love the Scissor Sisters.
PC: They're opening for Lady Gaga on her new tour!
PC: It's so exciting you are coming back to Broadway originating a role in the most cutting-edge show and score in twenty years!
BB: That's a pretty exciting thought!
PC: Are you thrilled to be back in a new musical aimed at Broadway?
BB: Hopefully, it will come in! You know, we're doing the workshop now and then the production for A.C.T. is next May/June in San Francisco. We'll see where it goes from there, but hopefully it will make it all the way!
PC: What have you seen recently on Broadway that you liked?
BB: When I was in New York for WHITE'S LIES, I saw AMERICAN IDIOT and HAIR. I loved both of those.
PC: What was doing THE PACIFIC for HBO like?
BB: It was great! They brought me to Melbourne, Australia twice over the period of a couple of months. It was a multi-million dollar project. The actors that were part of the core cast had been there for over a year working. It was a massive venture. I was very happy and grateful to be a part of it. I loved the nice little cameo that I had. I was really happy for everyone winning all those Emmy Awards!
PC: What else is coming up?
BB: I'm doing ARSENIC & OLD LACE directed by Scott Schwartz at the Dallas Theater Center with Tovah Feldshuh. We go into rehearsal in January and then it runs February/March. Then, the A.C.T. production of TALES in the Spring. Then, I'm in talks with people in London about a revival of a musical there that I'm not at liberty talk about just yet, but that's for late Summer/early Fall.
PC: You're so busy!
BB: I'm most excited about this new T Bone Burnett record which is coming out in early 2011. I can't wait for people to hear it! It's just... I think it's the best studio recording I've ever done. T Bone is genius. The way they've recorded my voice and the instrumentation to these songs is really quite extraordinary. I'm just really thrilled that out of this friendship and of our love for each other he gave me the gift of this record. I'm beyond thrilled.
PC: It was so sublime to talk to you tonight, Ms. Buckley. Good luck with all these exciting events and albums!
BB: It was fun! Thanks so, so much! Talk to you soon!
Be sure to catch Betty Buckley on October 16th at 8 PM at Town Hall! Tickets are available at www.the-townhall-nyc.com! Also, don't forget to pre-order her new album BOOTLEG on iTunes! Also, don't miss her in TALES OF THE CITY and ARSENIC & OLD LACE, as well as all her other exciting concert and stage appearances coming up in 2011 in anticipation of the new T Bone Burnett-produced studio album GHOSTLIGHT!