BWW Interview: Anita Gillette of CHAPTER 3! at Birdland

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BWW Interview: Anita Gillette of CHAPTER 3! at Birdland

If you ask her friends about Anita Gillette's work, they will tell you she's a star. If you talk to her fans, they will tell you she is show business royalty. If you ask Anita Gillette, she will tell you she's an actor. Oh, she's a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, a friend, a New Yorker -- Anita Gillette is all the things that you would expect from the grooviest person that you know. When it comes to her work, though, Anita Gillette doesn't care about being a star, a legend or a royal. All Anita Gillette knows is that she is an actor, that which she has always wanted to be, and has been, par excellence.

With a long show business history, Anita worked on the musical theater stage with the likes of Ethel Merman and David Merrick, tackled television dramas, sitcoms, and movies, as well as being one of the most prolific celebrity game show guests of the 70's. Probably best remembered for playing Mona The Mistress in Moonstruck and Liz Lemon's mom, Margaret, on 30 Rock, Anita has continued to work on stages around the country, in films like Shall We Dance and The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, and on television, recently becoming a part of the Emmy Award-winning Web series After Forever. Her latest creative passion, though, has been as a nightclub singer. From her very first club act, After All, Anita has had the cabaret-going community packing the clubs on the East and West coasts, and London. With several solo shows, and duo shows with Penny Fuller and Harold Sanditen, Anita Gillette has taken home one Bistro Award and two MAC Awards.

Fresh off of a summer stint in Murder On The Orient Express at the prestigious Ogunquit Playhouse, Anita landed in New York and jumped right into filming the new season of After Forever and then went into rehearsals for her new cabaret, Chapter 3! This new incarnation of her very first cabaret show, After All, will feature new material and new stories, lovingly woven into some of her fans' favorite songs and stories. Shows like Chapter 3! populate the third act that has made brighter Anita's star, by broadening the scope of an already extraordinary career spent spreading joy through meticulous and reverent craftsmanship.

Before Chapter 3! Opens at Birdland on October 7th, I caught up with Anita Gillette to talk about Agatha Christie, Game Shows, and Mona The Mistress.

This interview has been edited for space and content.

Anita, some time ago I was with you and you said you were thinking about putting together your very first club act - but that the prospect was scary. You did it anyway and now you have six or seven shows under your belt and some MAC awards. Is the prospect still scary?

Yes! Yes, it's still scary, but the joy I receive when I know that they like what I'm singing and what I'm saying makes up for that. Scariness goes away pretty quickly.

How has it felt, conquering another corridor of the show business profession?

(Laugh). Well, it is an amazing thing. I like to do all of it. That's why I never gave up a job when I was little. (Laugh). People said to me "If you want to be a serious actor, you don't do game shows." I said, "If I want to have a good pension when I get older, I do game shows."

You've never been out of the business. What is it that keeps you coming back?

That's right, I've never been out of the business. I've kept acting. I just did a play! Murder on the Orient Express. So I'm still on stage, though the roles I do are getting fewer and fewer because of IMDB and the old age question, which I talk about in CHAPTER THREE. I think that it has to be addressed - because it's one of those things that we have to say. And when I did my Irving Berlin show I actually said the year of my birth. Barry Keinbort wrote that, and I said "Barry, are we sure about that?" and he said "Yeah, we're sure. Because they're here and you're doing this and you look the way you do and you should just keep on." This is what I say: I'm just going to keep on keepin' on.

That's what you have to do -- because it still is rewarding to you.

It is. It is! I love it! I LOVE it. I love making people laugh, I love making people cry. And if I can do that still, then why not?

Did you ever have a survival job?

Oh, yeah. When I was much younger, I was a secretary. I started as a medical secretary, way back when. Like Ethel Merman. I took shorthand and I got my 180 word a minute pin, and I got my 60 word a minute typing pin.

Do you still remember shorthand?

Yeah! I do! Have you ever learned it?


(Laughing) It's so out of date now. People just record it, which they used to do in those days, too. But you couldn't, when I would sit down and take dictation for an autopsy of an experimental animal when I worked in the science lab.

Do you still remember the medical jargon you used?

Yeah! Yeah, I know about epididymis!


That's a great word. (Laughing) And Pacinian Corpuscles.

I met her once at a party.


Now, on the subject of cabaret performing: Can you explain the different vibe rolling off the audience toward you when you're on a cabaret stage being Anita Gillette, as opposed to a theatrical stage playing a character?

I don't think it's them who changes, I think it's I who changes. I think that when I'm offstage ... I don't know, maybe I'm the same... when I'm me. But, especially in cabaret, that's what they've come to see, and that's where the scary part is because you're naked up there. It's your stuff, it's your material, it's like going to the therapist. So I find that I'm sort of the same when I do cabaret. But I sure as hell don't go around saying all the Russian phrases that Princess Dragomiroff says in Murder on the Orient Express.

I wish I could have seen that, the pictures looked fabulous.

(Russian Accent) She was! She was quite fabulous, my dear! She was very, very good.

How are you enjoying being a part of the juggernaut that is AFTER FOREVER?

I'm enjoying it. We whiz through them, you know. We shot that whole season in eleven days. So it's quite wild that it got nominated for all the Emmys, and won a lot of them! That was pretty spectacular, I think. And the cast is so much fun, and the writers. Michael Slade, it was his story and he wrote it up with Kevin Spirtas. I guess they got the backing to do it. I only wish that Amazon would recognize it as one of its' regular series, but they have not done it. But it's fun, it really is. I like my character, Frannie.

You start filming again this week.

Yes! Tomorrow! That's why I just got back last night. My grandson got engaged and he had a big engagement party. We went, and I have a new grandchild, which was another really big pull to go - a baby who's only six months old. So it's a great-grandchild that I have! (Laugh)

And you're a great grandmother.

I am! It's true! My son, you know, started when he was 21, but still, I am a great grandmother.

Now, in your Irving Berlin Show you said he only played on the black keys - do you actually mean that he never touched the white keys of the piano and everything he played was composed on the black keys?

Right. That's right! I think it's G Sharp, but I better check that.

Anita, which 70s Game Show could you still play today?

Pyramid. Oh, yes.

We need to get you on that.

I would love to. They don't ask me to do it anymore, but I liked the smartness of Password and Pyramid because you have to think, and it's really like playing a game.

Anita your new show is called Chapter Three - is this a play on your Tony-nominated star turn in the Neil Simon play Chapter Two?

Yes, this is some new stuff that I'm trying. I want to sing the blues, so I'm getting to do some new material and tell some new stories. It's weird because I have dates in London for this show and I'm selling more tickets to the show in London than I am here! I'm sure people are coming. It's going to be fun. It's not all new, but it's not the same either, some of this material I haven't done since 2012, so I feel like I can go back to doing some of those numbers.

When you were starting out in the business, do you remember what your audition songs were?

Baubles, Bangles, and Beads was my soprano one. And I'm Just Wild About Harry.

Can you still remember the words?

Yes! I sure can!

Are you able to memorize words to new songs?

Yes, I tell you.. I tested myself when I did Parallelogram, the Bruce Norris play. It took me a while to conquer it but there were two pages I had to memorize, and that was a lot for me. Once I conquered that, those long speeches I had, speaking to the audience. That was tough but I proved to myself that I could do it. I just have to focus and knuckle down.

I recently had an open conversation on my Facebook page about The Perfect Movies. And Moonstruck came up as one of The Perfect Movies.

I agree.

How does it feel to be part of a legendary piece of cinematic history?

I really am so thrilled that my first big feature film... I had done quite a lot of movies for television. Hallmark Hall of Fame movies and CBS movies for tv, I did one with Bob Newhart, a whole bunch of those. But the first big feature film where I was actually going to be on the big screen was Moonstruck. And I think it is a classic movie, and I thought Norman Jewison was brilliant. And what a joy to be able to work with Norman Jewison your first time out. And Cher, who was really wonderful to me, and treated me so well. When I showed up for work - the first day I worked on that movie was at the opera, that night that we shot that. Our makeup call was at midnight, cause they had to empty out the whole opera so we could get in there and shoot. I walked into what I thought was the makeup trailer and hair, and Cher was sitting there. And I said "Uh OH! I'm in the wrong place!" and she said, "no, no, no, come in!" And she said "Watch this!" and she had a wig cap on, with little tabs on her face, and a rubber band that the guy was pulling up on the top of her wig cap. And she said "First of all, look here" and she pointed to a spot on her cheek, which was this tiiiiiiiiny little line, if you really looked, and said "Now watch" and he pulled on the strings and she said, "Now look!" I really couldn't tell the difference, I could not. It was amazing that she let me in on that, the first time she met me! (Laughing)

Now I'm going to ask you a couple of trade secrets from Moonstruck.


The scene where you get out of the car and you wave goodbye to Vinnie Gardinia, you reach inside the sleeve of the coat and you pull it back so that the bracelet shows.


Was that your idea or was it Mr. Jewison's?

I think it was my idea.


(Laughing) And do you remember the scene in the Ladies' Room, when I rouge my breasts?

Yes! That's the other one!

My cleavage? He said "Oh I think I'd lose that. Women don't do that." And I said "Mona would." And he left it in, and it's one of the things people talk about.

I KNEW that you had come up with that!


Over the years you've played everything from good girl Lili in Carnival to Mona The Mistress. Is there any type of character that you haven't played that you'd love to play?

I haven't played one of those old ladies like Lois Smith does. You know those ladies with the wild hair that kind of never stays in place? And the crackly old voice and stuff like that. I'd like to play one of those mean ladies, with the voice way down there. I love it.

Anita, your shows are always autobiographically themed.


Have you considered writing a memoir?

I've thought about it. But I've never sat down to do it. You want to do one with me?

I would LOVE to. Where do I sign?


I've got the agent for it, we'll start tomorrow.

Ok! Alright!

Anita, we talked about conquering the fear of nightclub performing. What excites you, what delights you the most?

I just have the addiction, the applause addiction. When you've done a good job and you go out and take your bow. Or when you get a scene, really get it right, and you KNOW that they're listening to every syllable, and you've got a whole huge big house. We had that recently, it was 700 seats at the Ogunquit Playhouse. And you could hear a pin drop in the end, when Ken Ludwig wrote funny stuff, like in Lend Me a Tenor - you needed that to balance it out with the gravitas that Poirot has to have at the end of the play when he has what I called his aria, and he explains who did what and why. It was so quiet. They went from hysterical laughing back down to... it's moments like that that excite me! Really excite me! I'm on a high from then on. I call it the old addiction.

Anita Gillette Chapter 3! Plays Birdland October 7th Ticket Link

And October 14th Ticket Link

Follow Anita Gillette on Twitter @GilletteAnita and at her Website

BWW Interview: Anita Gillette of CHAPTER 3! at BirdlandBWW Interview: Anita Gillette of CHAPTER 3! at BirdlandPhoto from The Anita Gillette Collection

BWW Interview: Anita Gillette of CHAPTER 3! at Birdland

Photo from The Anita Gillette Collection

BWW Interview: Anita Gillette of CHAPTER 3! at Birdland

Photo from The Anita Gillette Collection

BWW Interview: Anita Gillette of CHAPTER 3! at BirdlandPhoto from The Anita Gillette Collection

BWW Interview: Anita Gillette of CHAPTER 3! at BirdlandPhoto by Stephen Mosher

BWW Interview: Anita Gillette of CHAPTER 3! at BirdlandPhoto by Stephen Mosher

BWW Interview: Anita Gillette of CHAPTER 3! at BirdlandPhoto by Stephen Mosher

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