Bebe Neuwirth

3.8.2005

By Jeffrey Epstein

We have adored Bebe Neuwirth for a long time. Heck, we put her on our fifth anniversary Out cover! Whether she was making Dr. Crane crazy on Cheers or Frasier, she had us laughing. And the actress has always stayed true to her theatrical roots (she picked up Tony Awards for Sweet Charity in 1986 and Chicago in 1997), recently appearing off-Broadway in Here Lies Jenny, an evening of Kurt Weill songs. She is now starring as tough Manhattan district attorney Tracey Kibre on the newest Law & Order spin-off, Trial by Jury. Neuwirth took a few minutes to sit down and chat with us.

It's great to see you!

(Laughs) I'm with my people now.

Have you been on any of the Law & Order episodes?

You know what, I've had a little part on the fourth episode of SVU, and that's the only Law & Order I've done.

There's been a tradition of the Law & Order shows using New York theater actors.

Yes. Oh, my gosh. The people that have been on our show have been just incredible. And it's really inspiring but it's also'sometimes I feel embarrassed because some of the people who come on and say 'He went that way' are so over-qualified for that.

Obviously it was difficult after losing Jerry [Orbach, her costar who died after filming just a few episodes of the show]. Did you know each other from the theater?

Well, I'd been acquainted with Jerry, we'd been friendly acquaintances for a while just from seeing him around. And, of course, I've been a huge fan of his since I was 15 when I saw him play Billy Flynn in Chicago. He is and always will be the sexiest man I've ever seen on Broadway. Unbelievable. It was blissful to be able to work with him and be on set with him.

Speaking of Chicago, you were in the revival of Chicago and you're actually one of the few actors'

I'm a girl, you can call me an actress. I know, I know, I'm politically incorrect, but to me, I'm a girl, so that's the feminine form of the word, so'

And you are definitely a girl, with those high kicks! You're one of the few actresses who actually balances television and theater so well. I have a feeling that you love both, but they're such different mediums.

Well my first love is the theater. I've been on stage since I was 7.

So 30 years ago'

Okay, 30 years ago. (Laughs) If I said 30 years ago, I'd be lying wildly. So because I've been on stage since I was 7 and also because I'm a dancer. I don't consider myself an actress really. I consider myself a dancer. It's my first mode of expression; it's my way to express myself physically. So also because of that I feel most comfortable with theater because that's a physical place to work. It's a more visceral experience to work in the theater than to work in front of a camera.

Were you looking around specifically for a TV thing or would you have done a sitcom if it were offered?

No. Probably not, probably not a sitcom. As I've said to somebody today, several times, it's really hard to get me to do television. You know, it's not the first place I'm drawn to, but as I said, this came out of the blue and it was so good. I'm glad to do television, and it has to have a couple of things: It has to be really, really well written, really intelligently produced, it has to be shot in New York, and the character has to be interesting to me. And this has all those things for me.

Did anybody ever try to get you to do a Lilith spin-off from Frasier?

No. I'm not sure. It sort of came up in a conversation once with an executive only after I had said, 'Oh, my God. Well, I would never do something like that.' So I don't know if they were actually going to ask me that or not. I didn't think that was a good idea. I mean, Frasier was miraculous. That show was a miracle. It was a fantastic show and that so rarely happens.

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