Remembering Carrie Fisher
This interview originally appeared in the April 15, 2012, Adrian Daily Telegram and the April 22, 2012, Toledo Free Press. It is being republished here on the occasion of Carrie Fisher’s death at the age of 60.
Carrie Fisher offers ‘Wishful Thinking’ insights
By Michael S. Miller
DAYTON, Ohio – As Princess Leia in “Star Wars,” actress Carrie Fisher inspired galaxy-shaking visions in millions of young men. As an author, Fisher inspired a generation of young women with her insightful prose about love and life. As a wife (and ex-wife) she inspired lyrics in some of Paul Simon’s most affecting songs. As a drug addict with bipolar disorder, Fisher inspired legions of fellow sufferers with her direct, raw testimony.
The many sides of Carrie Fisher, 56, coalesce in her one-woman stage show, “Wishful Drinking,” playing through April 22 at the Victoria Theatre in Dayton, Ohio. During the show, she gleefully takes the audience through her Hollywood childhood with parents Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, her explosive “Star Wars” fame, its toll on her relationships and her struggles with drug use and mental illness (“I’m a Pez dispenser and I’m in the textbook of Abnormal Psychology,” she enthuses). During an interview Thursday on the stage set for “Wishful Drinking,” which replicates her Los Angeles home, Fisher was as direct and open as her onstage persona.
Toledo Free Press: Ricky Gervais was on CBS this morning and he made a comment that humor is an evolutionary tool to help us deal with “stuff.” That really resonated after seeing your show last night.
Carrie Fisher: It’s the best alchemy you can do, to take something that’s really not funny and make it funny. That takes time and it takes a certain slant.
TFP: Watching the show last night, I couldn’t decide if what you were doing was courageous or self-loathing or a mix of the two.
CF: No self-loathing.
TFP: It’s some raw, brutal stuff that you are putting out there for people to digest.
CF: Like what?
TFP: Like the electric shock therapy experiences, talking about the drug use, the suicidal feelings, the parental issues; those are things that people usually do on couches with the doors closed. You’ve put it out there and it has to be punishing to relive night after night.
CF: I have processed a lot of it. I’m not really ashamed of it. Most of it though, me being in a mental hospital, me being in a rehab, that was out there so I just put my version of it out there.
TFP: With the electric convulsive therapy (ECT) effect on your memory, is your mom still making the scrapbooks and the photo albums to help your memory?
CF: Actually it is only short-term memory that goes. Long-term I am really good at it, unfortunately. Or, I am as good at it as someone my age would be. You don’t know how much of your memory has been affected by age or drug use. It’s like I say, E-C-T, L-S-D or A-G-E. Those are your three choices.
TFP: I wanted to ask you about a couple of your movies, the first one being “When Harry Met Sally…”. What a tight movie that is with the back-and-forth dialogue. You worked with Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan and Rob Reiner all at the top of their games. Were there a lot of rehearsals to master the script?
CF: Well, like you said, it was people at the top of their game, people who know what they are doing and they have done a lot of it. The dialogue, it was really well-written and anything that is well-written, you are not going to have a problem with it. If you get a certain type of actor and they are well-cast they are going to be able to embellish on it a little bit if that is allowed. The one scene that was very difficult was the four-way scene we did on the phone. We did that in real time. They were all gathered in sets on the other side of the stage and Bruno (Kirby) and I were on one side. They shot it 50-some times and after the 50th time Bruno said, “I want another one.” And I said. “You will be doing that one on your own.”
TFP: “The Blues Brothers.” Working on the set with John Belushi and Dan Akroyd had to be wild.
CF: Everybody was high. Especially John. I was 21 years old and I wasn’t really off and running with the drugs yet but that was a fertile environment for that kind of behavior.
TFP: Was it clear then that John had a problem or was it just part of the party at the time?
CF: It was clear he had a problem and he involved me. He said, “You and I are alike.” John was like, if it was there, he wanted it.
TFP: Did his comparing himself to you resonate with you at the time of his death?
CF: No, it didn’t resonate with me, it scared the s— out of me. I knew he wasn’t wrong. I actually spent a night with John and it was horrible. He started drinking sake and he was knocking things over and by the end of the night, he disappears and there was someone that he ended up doing coke with. I have always stayed so pissed at that person. He came back to me and he said, “I did coke.” And I said, “John, we can leave right now.” He just looked at me for a minute and said, “No.”
TFP: Your next movie is “It’s Christmas, Carol!” That’s your first holiday project since the “Star Wars Holiday Special.”
CF: If you go back and look at that, it’s not even so bad that it’s funny, it’s so bad that it’s boring.
TFP: Did you and Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford have an obligation to George Lucas to do the special?
CF: We would have signed on to do anything with him. But it did seem bad at the time.
TFP: The other thing that came out about that time was the Ringo Starr TV special where he had a lookalike and you were the love interest confused by the two Ringos.
CF: I have no recollection of that.
TFP: It wasn’t great, either.
CF: It sounds awful.
TFP: It is a very interesting part of the show when you talk about the songs Paul Simon wrote about you. Are you Charlie the Archangel from the song “Crazy Love Vol. II” on “Graceland?” With the lyrics, “Fat Charlie the Archangel files for divorce?”
CF: No, that’s Lorne Michaels. I was from the title song, “She’s come back to tell me she’s gone/As if I didn’t know that, as if I didn’t know my own bed/As if I’d never noticed the way she brushed her hair from her forehead.” I feel privileged to be in one of his songs and certainly if the choice was, “Would you read one of my books or listen to one of his songs?” I would listen to him.
TFP: Did you do that a lot, brush your hair from your forehead?”
CF: (Brushing her hair from her forehead) Yes, just like that. I still do it if it’s down.
TFP: You have two iconic images in pop culture, the doughnut-braid hair and the metal bikini. What would the trifecta be? What would be the one additional thing that you would like to put in the Smithsonian to fill out the shelf?
CF: Probably the image (from the “Wishful Drinking” book cover) with me looking down, the stoned Princess Leia.
TFP: Are you looking forward to seeing yourself on the big screen in 3-D when the original trilogy comes out in 3-D?
CF: I am looking forward to doing that. Hyperspace should look cool in 3-D.
TFP: If I were to go to your house, would I find “Star Wars” everywhere?
CF: Yes, you have to look but you would find it. It’s not obvious, except for one thing. On my birthday, George Lucas sent me a painting of me as Princess Leia in a metal bikini. I am sure it’s re-gifting. Someone gave him that, and he was wondering, “Why is that in my house?” so I have it in my back room now. And I am confused as to what I should ultimately do with it.
TFP: You mentioned that George Lucas came to see your show. Did you hold back on the jokes about him?
CF: Oh, no, I was worse. I’ve been making fun of that man forever. He invites it; he doesn’t talk a lot.
TFP: Your Democratic politics come through pretty strong in the show. Are you a big Obama supporter?
CF: I love Obama.
TFP: Have you taken any heat for getting into the politics? That is a different arena from the personal stuff, when you talk about Dick Cheney.
CF: I can’t imagine that Cheney is popular. Who donated that heart? He didn’t know where it was going to.
TFP: What is your next writing project?
CF: I am trying to adapt an earlier book of mine but I want to try to write something that has absolutely nothing to do with me. Fiction, I hope.
TFP: Thank you for your time.
CF: Thanks for coming and wondering if I have self-loathing.
TFP: That’s a fair question.
CF: Is it? I’ve never been asked that.
TFP: As I said, the things you choose to relive publicly seem to be as punishing as they are therapeutic.
CF: If I had self-loathing I wouldn’t talk about it. I make fun of it but it’s not self-loathing. It’s self-acceptance run wild.