We always knew Ana Gasteyer was hilarious. After all, she spent six seasons on Saturday Night Live making us laugh with her impersonations of Celine Dion and Martha Stewart (to name just a couple). But it wasnt until 2005s tele-musical Reefer Madness that we learned she could sing. And not just singblow the roof off the place. After a little Madness, it was time to get downright Wicked, and Gasteyer donned gobs of green paint to transform herself into Elphabathe much-misunderstood girl who would grow up to be known as the Wicked Witch of the Westfor the Chicago production of the award-winning musical. Manhattan soon beckoned. Gasteyer, who lives in New York City with her husband and 4-year-old daughter, was one of the standouts in the 2006 revival of Threepenny Opera, and she recently took over the role of Elphaba in Wickeds Broadway company (through January 7). While her daughter flitted excitedly between their three Christmas trees, Gasteyer took a few minutes to chat with us.
Are people surprised that you have such a kick-ass voice?
They continue to be. Id been fighting a long time to get onto the Broadway scene. People have had a hard time historically with brand changes. But I think it definitely is slowly changing. I reached a career high recently. Randy Jackson was at the show a few days ago. I was like, Oh my God, Ive arrived!
You bring out a lot of humor thats in the role, which I think is critical for the audience to fall in love with Elphaba.
Its just in the script. It wasnt a concerted choice on my part. Otherwise shes just angry. Comedians are a lot like the Elphabas of the world. They tend to be outsiders who see things from a different perspective. That usually means theyre funny.
Have you always wanted to be a big Broadway diva?
Yeah. Basically. [Laughs] Its definitely a dream come true. When people say Was SNL your dream? Well, it was at a certain point. But it wasnt something I lay in bed when I was a kid thinking about. I wanted to be Annie.
Youve played Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, Mrs. Peachum in Threepenny Opera, Columbia in Rocky Horror, and now Elphaba. Is there another role youd love to play?
I would love to do Fanny Brice in a New York production. Its absolutely a dream. I dont know how to get the rights or to get someone to do it. I need to find a wealthy gay patron! Its something I can really relate to. And of course Id like to originate something. Because Idina originated the role in Wicked before me, its still her part: her phrasing, her blocking. There are times when that can feel, frankly, like a big pain in the ass because youre a bit shoehorned. But thats the nature of replacing. The nice thing about doing Wicked in New York is that Im starting to meet new songwriters and have been getting some calls for workshops, and thats really where it all begins.
Its rare that someone goes from Saturday Night Live to, say, musical theater. Did people question your decision?
I didnt really ask. I am with a manager who really gets multifaceted performers. Frankly a lot of other people would have said, Youre crazy, you have to stay in TV. I did a pilot. I did Reefer. But I definitely have someone in my life professionally who understands the value of what it means. He encouraged me to write my one-woman show, Let It Rip. I have this act and this real goal in mind to create a life of Broadway shows and concerts. The truth of it is, at the end of the day, I am happier when Im singing. My therapist told me theres a study that says people who sing every day are happier. I wasnt going to do Wicked on Broadway. I was done with Wicked. But when it came back upand I had to start just one week after Threepenny closedI like the feeling of using my voice every day Its a unique way to express yourself. If I had gone the other routeto say no theater ever and gone out to LA, I would go crazy. Im not the type of actor who wants to sit around auditioning every day and doing deals. In New York youre always doing a workshop or a benefit. You can put your anxiety on hold because youre working. Its not the most lucrative route or the fanciest. Its the most fulfilling. At least for me.
I like to imagine a little lesbian tension between Elphaba and Glinda in the show.
A lot of academics think that. Joe [Mantello, the shows openly gay director] basically calls it a love triangle. I think its a platonic love. But I do think female-female relationships are complicated. Women are complicated. They get very deep and very intensely intimate with their relationships. For sure thats a formative one.
After hearing your voice back in Reefer Madness, I thought, The gay boys must have always loved her.
I have always had gay men in my life. Cmon, look at me. But more just because theyre more fun than most other people. In theater school I was funny so I hung out with the funny gay guys. The singing thing has been relatively new. SNL is really a straight world. So when I sang, it was just a usable skill for sketches. The fact that I sang all the time just irritated straight people.
I read a quote where you said: Im a liberal in a liberals body.
I played Liddy Dole way back on SNL. Because I played older conservative women a lot, some reporter asked me if I was a conservative in a liberal body. Thats what that was a response to. Now its so horrifying to me. I was born and bred a liberal hippie girl. I am practically a registered socialist.
Im assuming that liberalism includes gay rights.
Everybody has the right to be legally bound to the person they love. As a straight person theres a great validity to marrying someone. It enrages me. Beyond. That kind of rage where I cant even talk about it.
On a less political note, how long does it take to paint you green each nightand how long to wash it off?
It takes about half an hour to get on. And I shower after the show, but Im always pretty green along the hairline.
Wicked has some pretty dedicated fans. Whats the most unusual encounter you have had with one of them?
Actually Reefer Madness fans sent me lingerie backstage. Theres a line about he sends me lingerie so they sent me lingerieand cigarettes.