Q&A with Ana Gasteyer

Currently starring as Elphaba in the Chicago production of Wicked, Ana Gasteyer is best known for her six seasons on "Saturday Night Live," where she brought to life such characters as music teacher Bobbi Moughan-Culp, NPR host Margaret Jo, as well as impressions of Martha Stewart and Celine Dion. Gasteyer's theatre credits include the The Rocky Horror Show on Broadway, as well as Off-Broadway productions of Kimberly Akimbo, Roulette, and The Vagina Monologues. Regionally, she played Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (Pittsburgh CLO). She is a Northwestern grad who appeared in Mary Zimmerman's original productions of The Odyssey and The Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci.

In addition to her TV and film work, she is featured on the soundtrack of "Reefer Madness," as well as the newly released Actor's Fund recording of "Hair." Ana continues to perform her musical evening "Let It Rip" around the country.

We checked in with her during previews in Chicago. Stay tuned for additional interviews with the Chicago cast of Wicked.

What made you want to take on the challenge of playing Elphaba?

I wanted to extend my experience and my resume; I have been working hard to be taken seriously as a singer for some time and, while I have always been thought of as a funny woman with a pretty good voice, being able to sing Elphaba is a whole other animal. And honestly, this role is a crazy plumb. She's vulnerable, fierce, sexy and witty. She's like the Fanny Brice of the current Broadway lineup.

When did you first see the show?

I saw Wicked the fall it opened, but I'd been aware of it for a long time, as I'd been in the mix for a workshop at one point, while I was still on SNL.

How has the rehearsal and preview process been going so far?

Honestly, aside from the physical grind, really smoothly; the show just beats people up, so there are a lot of tired bodies. But "process-wise", this cast seems to share a kind of wisdom and actorly-ness, so there hasn't been any awkward trying-to-connect stuff. And, at the same time, no one's too serious or pompous or prone to conniptions, which is pleasant. Also, I adore working with Kate Reinders, she is a marvelous Glinda and it is a real on-stage partnership.

How do you intend to make Elphaba your own? Are you adding any humor to the role?

I don't really focus on making her my own. That just happens naturally. I do think Elphaba's funny, yes, but my job is to tell the story.

Will you be bringing your daughter to see the show and if so, how will you explain to her when she sees you kissing someone that's not her dad?

Oh, we've got to get past those monkeys first, and based on her backstage reaction, that ain't happening any time soon!

Wicked is a show that's known for its rabid fans as much as anything else, are you looking forward to or fearing that?

What a luxury, to be in a pre-ordained hit. The last two plays I did were wonderful, weird Off-Broadway gems, and it was not always easy. It is lovely and unusual to not have to worry about whether an audience will connect to the show.

We've learned that you read the message boards to see what people are saying about you. Anything you'd like to say to those that doubt your abilities to play Elphie?

I have been giving this some thought. I do not read reviews and I do not read celebrity magazines, but sometimes I go fishing for some nameless, faceless approval on the boards and I always regret it; it's odd that anyone invests in chat room feedback, since it's statistically screwy and it's difficult to gage or address misconceptions.

I have not read anything since I started Wicked, although I confess that I occasionally ask around for a temperature gage. :-) I learned my lesson when I was cast in the role; because of my TV comedy name, I thoroughly expected people to question my ability to sing the role, but what was amazing was that several of the postings seemed concerned about my age. I've played a lot of older dowdy women on SNL and in movies, and people are always surprised by my real life youth. It was so odd and funny to me. There are people out there who truly believe I'm a pear-shaped matron in my fifties.

Rumor also has it you're addicted to "googling" yourself? What's the best and the worst you've found?

I made a New Year's resolution not to google myself, though occasionally I fall off the wagon. My husband and I are currently working out some version of parental controls. "I don't do it anymore" because I only remember the bad, and "the worst" is way too icky to repeat.

What made you first want to act on stage?

I don't know about "first" because, well, isn't that what you do in middle school if you're someone like me? (First Helen Keller, then Annie Oakley, and the rest is history). But, I want to act on stage now because … I love the discipline.

In spite of what I did for years as an improviser and on live TV, I really love the slow process of stage work. There is such an opportunity to improve night after night after night. I really feel myself grow. Also, I worry less when I'm in a play, the nitty-gritty of it keep the nuts part of my brain quiet; it's such a gift for a an anxious person, to have a satisfying job everyday, to be busy but not stressed.

What are 5 things people don't know about Ana Gasteyer?

1) As discussed, I'm not in my fifties, do not wear dentures, etc.
2) I wear the same outfit on the day after two-show days, since I spent most of the day in costume and who's got the time to come up with more 'looks'.
3) My grandmother was born in Transylvania.
4) My first professional job was as a child ghost in Verdi's Macbeth when I was 13.
5) I'm not deep enough to have five nifty secrets.

For more information on Wicked in Chicago, and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.wickedthemusical.com/chicago/

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