Where The Spirit Moves Her

5.6.2009

By Justin Ravitz

Best known for her iconoclastic, Tony-winning turn as Little Edie Beale in Grey Gardens, Christine Ebersole has been twinkling and zinging on Broadway, the cabaret circuit, film and TV (including an early '80s SNL stint and the upcoming USA show Royal Pains) for over 30 years. Channeling the lemony silly-sexiness of Carole Lombard, the actress-singer is currently on Broadway in a non-musical capacity in a delightfully carbonated revival of Noel Coward's comedy Blithe Spirit. As Elvira, the deceased, vixenish first wife of Charles (Rupert Everett) whose ghost is summoned by a medium (Angela Lansbury) during a dinner-party seance, Ebersole floats, flits and chirps across the stage, Coward's cunning wit humming through her. Out phoned Ebersole recently, and though she was quick with an infectious laugh, the conversation got shockingly serious on matters both spiritual and political.

Out:Is performing in a play less draining than a musical?
Christine Ebersole: It's like a walk in the park. It's much, much harder [in musicals]. The voice is a muscle. When you're tired or stressed that's the first thing to go. This role is not emotionally taxing. I don't come on stage for the first 25 minutes -- they just talk about me. So it's easy!

Anything uniquely challenging about doing Noel Coward?
I do comedy just like music. It's rhythm and notes that you hit; you're just not singing. Sometimes you do end up singing; when you elongate a sound, that's a note.

Are you superstitious? One to dabble in Ouija boards, s'ances, etc?
When I was a teenager, but I don't do that now. My life is spiritually driven. The way I see it, we are spiritual beings having a human experience, not the other way around. That's our true form. It's just that right now we're in these bodies, this temporary housing.

What do you think of the non-musical adaptation of Grey Gardens with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, which debuts on HBO this month?
I was told that there was a lot of made up things that weren't true. I don't know because I haven't seen it. But I think overall it's great that they did it. I really admire both Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange as artists. It's great that the world gets to know the Beales.

Do you feel possessive of Edie?
No. I feel very devoted and very loyal to the Edies, but I don't own them. It was almost like she came into me and I went into her. We inhabited one another. I'm just forever grateful to her for that experience. Playing the role, the way I describe it, I was driving the bus but I wasn't the only one on the bus.

You've got tons of gay fans, obviously --
I'm always working my gay icon status. [Laughs] The character of Edie was so important in the gay community. She's been marginalized, a spiritual warrior not ashamed, afraid or apologetic about who she was. That's why I'm very keyed into gay rights. It can be a leader, really, in the charge for personal freedom. We're all challenged by that right now by the climate we live in, one that's defined by economic slavery. We're not free.

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