Order of the Good Write

That Magic Feeling When the Words Flow. A Blog by Debi Rotmil


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Kate Mulgrew: The Funny with a Side of “Teeth”

katemulgrewbook

In August 2012, I interviewed actress Kate Mulgrew for my television/comedy blog TVBlogster.  Back then, she was promoting NTSF:SD:SUV, an outlandish comedy series on Adult Swim that spoofed TV network and cable police procedural dramas.  Kate portrayed the forceful yet sensitive Detective Kove, and she was hilarious.

While interviewing Kate, I realized I was speaking with a true professional with a warm heart and the most wicked sense of humor.  Our conversation touched upon some interesting stories about her life and her creative process. It was a great phone call, my favorite interview ever conducted. She’s a goddess.

Since then, Kate has found continued success as part of the cast ensemble on Orange is the New Black where she plays Red, a Russian cook who will starve your ass you if you cross her.

In honor of her recently published memoir Born with Teeth, I’d like to share my interview with you here on “Order…”. I had a devil of a time trying to post this on WP yesterday. Hopefully the text alignment will read clear on this site, but if not – the original version can be found on TVBlogster.com

Exclusive Interview: Kate Mulgrew Finds Her Funny Side

(originally published August 28,2012)

The day Kate Mulgrew returned to her hometown of Dubuque, Iowa to receive the Pioneer Spirit Award at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival in April, it was almost her last day on Earth. After a calm takeoff out of Chicago O’Hare, the weather took a turn for the worst as the plane approached her destination.
“We were flying in a soup!” the co-star of Adult Swim’s NTSF:SD:SUV  recalls, the memory of this harrowing experience still fresh in her mind. “Dubuque is in a valley. But when we got close to the landing strip, there was zero visibility. The pilot tried to land and he couldn’t get the nose down. We hit the tarmac, but we then went straight up like a rocket with the plane shaking side to side.”One can imagine how Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Starfleet Starship USS Voyager on Star Trek: Voyager, a role Mulgrew inhabited to much acclaim, would have handled such hideous turbulence: With steely eyed determination? Perhaps. But this was real life in the face of a massive storm, and the real Kate, who wasn’t the Captain on this flight, was ready to meet her maker until the pilot gained control of the aircraft and landed safely. “Ten  minutes after landing, I was on stage getting this award! But, then to add insult to injury, I told the whole audience the story and said, ‘Can you
believe it? I almost crashed on American Airlines!'”.Why “insult to injury?”  The whole evening was  sponsored by  American Airlines. “Comedy of errors!” laughs Kate, obviously still shaken, but never stirred. (More on the Bond reference later.)
With forty years of hard earned stage and television work under her belt, (some viewers may remember her as Mary Ryan in the soap Ryan’s Hope), it’s a curious turn to see her join the ranks of alternative comedy on NTSF:SD:SUV, where she plays Kove, the eyeball challenged head honcho of the National Terrorist Strike Force in San Diego, a fun send up of the plethora of cop procedural shows that infest the network airways.
 I spoke to Kate about working on NTSF and this new genre of niche comedy Adult Swim is championing. She was charming, hilarious, charismatic and open to the world of the absurd.
Paul Scheer and Kate Mulgrew in NTSF:SD:SUV

  • You’ve done everything from Shakespeare to Star Trek Voyager to portraying Katherine Hepburn on stage. What made you join the NTSF team at Adult Swim?

Paul Scheer. He’s beyond wonderful. I keep saying it, and I can’t say it often enough or emphatically enough. He’s a singular human being in Hollywood. Kind, generous, funny. He called me, and I had no idea who he was. He watched me on Star Trek and had this idea that I would be “M” 007, and he said “What do you think?”, and I said “Is it lunacy?”, and he said “Complete lunacy”, and I said “I’m in.”

  • Alternative comedians have such a sense of the absurd, which opens an outlet of creativity that doesn’t fit within the boundaries of mainstream entertainment.
Well, I think Paul is held in great regard because every time I turned around in the second season, there was another terrific comedian. Everyone wants to work with him and for him.
  • Is there a little Captain Janeway in Kove?
No. Paul was thinking of Judy Dench in the James Bond movies. He was thinking of a serious female figure, so of course, he put an eyepatch on me.(Laughs)
  • Is there a back story on how Kove got the eyepatch? I don’t remember anything eluding to the reason why she has one.
 
We haven’t examined the back story, but Paul and I are always laughing about it. I think that I should switch the eye patch to the other eye! Maybe we’ll have an episode about the history of the eyepatch!
  • Does Scheer keep the door open for you to contribute to a scene?
Oh yes, he’s collaborative. He knows the best work must be collective. He listens to you with every part of his being. He uses what he can use. Never once does anyone feel less than necessary. He has that fantastic gift.
  • Does the cast come to you for acting advice, or how they should approach their character?
No, but they often look at me and say “does anybody know you’re funny?” (laughs) because they know I’ve had a 40 year career as a legitimate actress, and it’s so much fun to play with them and be, in their eyes, a comedian.  It’s very freeing.
  • The show is so kooky, was there ever a time or a scene that was so over the top that you had to say, “Oh no, Paul I can’t do this?”
I’ve never said I can’t do it. I don’t know how to say those words, but the chopping off of thumbs and appendages with a machete last season – that was very challenging. I did look at Paul and thought “Arrrgggh!” But you have to let it go. There is nothing precious. Nothing.
  • Trent and Kove have been married and divorced twice…
Right!  And we have two children Jericho and Cherokee. Neither of them speak, but they are karate champions.
  • Of course!  What else would they be? Do you think Trent and Kove will get married and divorced twice again?
Well, hope springs eternal! I think it would be brilliant, don’t you? To be married and divorced twice in the same season – it would be brilliant. Someone actually does get married this season. But it doesn’t last.
  • I hear that Kove now has a podcast? What kind of guests will she invite in for an up-close-and-personal interview?
We’ll, she’s less interested in sane people than she is in bizarre people. But Kove wants to be highly regarded by the team. She would give anything, her right hand and her left eye – her only remaining eye – to be part of the group. But she’s so un-hip, and Kove is so desperate to be hip.
  • It’s the whole aspect of her character, that off-center pattern of characteristics that make her so funny.
Right! And it’s her self-importance. She just knows that she’s never going to be invited to the party. Just like that whole episode in last season when they wouldn’t invite her to a birthday party. She’s obssessed.
  • Since NTSF and Childrens’ Hospital pool of talent and producers are intertwined, has Rob Corddry ever asked you to make a guest appearance as Kove at Childrens? Perhaps in a NTSF/Childrens’ Hospital crossover?
I don’t know anything about that, but it sounds intriguing. It’s the new wave, but I think Adult Swim has a pretty good idea what’s amusing to every demographic. You should suggest that! (TVBlogster: If anyone in power is reading this…hint, hint.)
  • Any plans on returning to Broadway or the off-Broadway stage in the near future?
Yes, I’m doing a play in the Spring called Somewhere Fun, written by the very gifted playwright Jenny Schwartz, directed by Ann Kaufman. We go into rehearsals in April in New York. I’ve been working on this play, workshopped for them and with them, the last two years, and now we’re going into the theater. I’m very excited. It’s a dark comedy, but it’s brilliant. The playwright is truly magnificent – a great, great mind. So come and see it if you can.
  • I would love to get back to New York to see it!

Well, Get your buddy pass and get on Jet Blue now!For more on Kate Mulgrew and for updates on her upcoming projects, please check out her Twitter feed @TotallyKate (and @TheKateMulgrew) and her official website www.KateMulgrew.wordpress.com

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Paul Williams and The Music Connection

paulwillliams

When I was a child in the 1970’s, you couldn’t watch a television show without seeing Paul Williams. Whether he was guest starring on an episode of ‘The Brady Bunch’ or ‘The Love Boat’, or showing up on The Mike Douglas Show – he was one of the most multi-talented and ubiquitous performers alive. He was even a heart throb. He made Marsha Brady woozy.

He was also a songwriter who crafted some of the most successful songs of the decade: “Rainy Days and Mondays”, “We’ve Only Just Begun”, “Evergreen” and “The Rainbow Connection” from the classic “Muppet Movie” of the early 1980’s.

Mr. Williams faded from view for years, likely resting from the drink and the cocaine binges so prevalent at the time. When the documentary “Still Alive”, written and directed by Stephen Kessler,  came onto the scene a few years ago, I was basically giving him up for dead. The film corrected me.

I’ve been watching and re-watching this documentary on Netflix.(As you can see, I’m going though another bought of documentary obsession lately, having mentioned “Good Ol Freda” last week.) “Still Alive” shows Paul Williams in his recovery glory. He’s a man who lives in the moment, living with grace and gratitude for all his good fortune and clarity.

stillalivePWHe makes Kessler, his side kick documentarian, look like a nervous Woody Allen. As a Paul Williams fan back in the day, Kessler is constantly self conscious about how Paul perceives him. Things get weird and tense when the camera is pointed at Williams during quiet moments. They initially bond over their love of squid dishes, like Calamari and…well…Calamari. However, their bro-hood is sealed when a stressful trip to the Philippines – fraught with Kessler’s concerns of Al Quada living the jungle – turns into a nice experience. Paul Williams took all warnings in stride, never letting travel advisories get in the way – always thinking positive and never assuming the worst in people.

Paul Williams could care less about adversity. It shows in this documentary. He’s been through the ringer of his inner demons, and he approaches possible challenges like they’re nothing compared to the problems he left behind. Williams always seemed fearless, even in his drug addled days. The fact he has skydived on television, and loved it so much he did it again on his own – speaks volumes. When you view the film, you realize it wasn’t drugs that gave him strength. He has enough of it on his own.

To me, he looks better than ever. At 74 years old, he’s trim, affable, and maintains the sparkle that started to fade in the 80’s when the drink and the drugs began to show on his face and his behavior.

He disappeared. He found sobriety. He helped raise his kids and he kept the musical home fires burning.  Behind the scenes, he’s emerged as celebrated businessman, having been a member of the ASCAP Board of Directors, and then officially voted in as President in 2007. He even went on to win a Grammy for his work on Daft Punk’s album “Random Access”.  Not too shabby for the shaggy haired jack of all trades.

Paul Williams is a legend, although he may not want to hear it anymore. His big time Hollywood days of appearing on Johnny Carson’s show, or the Hollywood Squares may be over.  He may play small venues in Vegas and lay low compared to his days on the big stage. But he’s found an even bigger form of success. Happiness.

I highly recommend “Still Alive”. If you remember Paul Williams, you will find a deep admiration for him. If you are too young to have known him, you’ll know him now.


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For Lovers of Dylan and Hounds

It’s Monday and I need a diversion.

This is a lyric set to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.”  Because I need a hound fix and I’m becoming a ridiculous dog person.

baxterblues1

“Well, I howl in the living room, babe…
Can’t buy a thrill.
I’ve been nudging that red rubber Kong,
..around for treats but I get nil.
Oh, if I howl like a bluesy hound shill….
Maybe she’ll come home, and hug me ‘til I’m chill.

These ears are dragging low, babe,
My belly needs a scrub.
The television’s on, but I do not give a blub.
I wanna be your buddy, babe – I don’t wanna be your schlub…
Awww, come home now, momma, come home and give me a tummy rub.

Well, I give up waiting on you,
Think I’ll jump on the couch.
I wanted to tell everybody that,
alone watching “The View” ain’t much.
If I die while viewing “The Chew”….
Then tell my buddies playing at day care – aww… FU…”

Here’s the original tune if you’ve read this far and need the tune in your head:


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I’m on a Target High!

target pooch

Hello readers of “The Write”!  It’s the end of another Monday. I’m still working on the finishing touches of “Hitting Water” which feels like it will be birthed next week, but I can’t say just yet. This detail is up to Amazon and Createspace and all the wonderful people who work tirelessly on my behalf to get these books out for do it yourselfers like moi.

But, I’m just checking in because I’m still on a high from shopping at Target on Saturday morning. Yes – it’s been over 48 hours since I ventured out to the “Big Red Bullseye” or “Targee” as they pronounce it in hoity toity fashion, but I’m still floating. And may I just say – this is not an advertisement. Not at all. I wish I had a sponsor in Target, but I don’t.

I haven’t stepped foot in Target since I lived in New York in 2010. I don’t know why I haven’t. It’s likely due to the parking situation here in LA. I haven’t been to a Whole Foods in two years for the same reason. You just can’t find a parking space. It’s nuts.  But since I’m was in the market for a new vacuum cleaner and a Crock Pot, I was determined. I got out early on Saturday, and set my sails for the nearest store.

The nearest Target is 2 miles away, in a shopping center known as The Beverly Connection, across from a mall known as The Beverly Center. I turned into the parking lot, drove up the ramp to the level Target lives, and was slapped across the face with the gorgeous sight of a sea of empty parking spaces. I happily parked my Prius C next to the entrance to the store. Yes, it was open. Yes, it was huge, roomy, clean and full of bargains. I was back baby. Not since I lived at City Center in White Plains, where my apartment building was above a shopping mall, and a branch of Target was my basement, had I felt this wonderment. I was a child in a candy store, ready to buy bargain workout clothes, boots and appliances I had longed for.

Just the shopping cart alone was a pleasure, in it’s heavy corded red plastic. The wheels were shock absorbed, floating on air ready to hold the spoils of my hunt.  Man, I needed hosiery. Knee highs and tights – I’ve let it go too long, wearing socks with holes in the toe or agonizing over uncomfortable stockings where the crotch ends up near your knees after walking 10 feet. Done. Good price. Hosiery – I’ve got you covered.

Then, I needed a nice pair of three inch heeled booties for my bootleg dress yoga style pants. This is now my staple. Middle age and hormones, exacerbated by the loss of an ovary last year, has made it uncomfortable for me to wear jeans. So, I starve and work out and live luxuriously in these form fitting comfy bootleg pants in different colors that desperately need a nice heel and toe to complete the look. The three inch booties I’ve worn since 2007 (yes, I wear stuff to death) were ripped, pulled, stretch and done. Whatever will replace them? Boom!  Over in the shoe department, a nice set of cute black suede boots will do the trick. Forty bucks. Better than the $119 boots I saw at Zappos. Come, little booties. Come join the knee highs, tights and the new workout top in my lovely, quiet and cozy red shopping cart!

But enough with all these distractions. Time to get what I came for – a Crock Pot – to make all those yummy meals while I’m at work.  Easy enough – they were right there in kitchen appliance aisle. Twenty bucks for a nice pot that will fit in my cabinets. Done!

And now, the final piece to the puzzle. I needed a vacuum cleaner. Badly. The one I had used to be amazing, sucking up dog hair like crazy. But in the three years I’ve used it, I realized that it’s heavy, cumbersome and giving off a horrible puke smell. Why? I don’t know.

Over to the vacuum and cleaning aisle. And there I saw it…the king of all vacuums. The stylish and highly coveted Dyson. La Creme de la Creme.  I’ve avoided it for years. It’s so expensive. Is it worth paying so much for something that involves cleaning?  Well, the smell of puke emulating from my old Bissell said – YES!

I didn’t get a deal on this. I missed the Black Friday sales. I paid the usual price.   But – when I brought it home and used it, the whole picture became a revelation. Floors were immaculate. Carpets were fully cleansed. The lightness of the appliance and the ball technology help mold the vacuum to every surface and difference in height between floor and rug. I haven’t seen my place look so great since the day I moved in and unpacked.

So, although I have a book coming out, and am thrilled – I’m also riding a Target High. Happy for the goodies I got and the good use to come.

Now, I have to get a DropCam to monitor my dog while I’m out at the office – and then I’m good!

And then a new digital piano.

And a trip to San Francisco for Comedy Sketch Fest.

Okay, and then I’m good.

For now.


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The Winning is in the Losing

 

Lauren Hill and her team after a big win.

Lauren Hill and her team after a big win.

There was a tear jerking segment on yesterday’s CBS Sunday Morning reported by human-interest journalist Steve Hartman. It was part of an ongoing update on the latest news of  Mt. St. Joseph University freshman Lauren Hill. Lauren is a star basketball player who has terminal brain cancer.  She has not missed a practice or game, despite her worsening condition – determined to play until it’s absolutely impossible. Last week, when she placed the winning shot against The Hiram Tigers, something amazing happened: The losing team cheered. It’s quite a beautiful story about a wonderful young lady, and how those who lose gracefully can be the biggest winners of all.

It got me thinking about my days in school, when I competed in high school track and cross country.

I wasn’t a great runner, but I was addicted to my daily runs around town and on our school track –  an addiction that would last decades, until age and injury slowed it down.  The terror of the starting line made my adrenaline crackle. The run itself was a thrill. Crossing the line was euphoric. The only thing was – when I crossed the finish line – I always…despite showing up each day for practice and running miles on weekends…always came in last. Sometimes so last, people would have to wait until I finished. I was in great shape. I had a decent pace and gait. I was trim. But I did not have a light runner’s body, and sprite muscles.

Despite all that work…. last. Did it bother me? Yes. Sometimes I’d finish with tears in my eyes. Did it deter me? Never. Just finishing made me feel great in some profound way. But, it’s difficult to put so much work into something you love, only to have nothing to show for your team.

Me! Finishing the Avon 1/2 Marathon, Central Park, NYC - August 1981.

Me! Finishing the Avon 1/2 Marathon, Central Park, NYC – August 1981.

I used to run the 880 yard dash and the 2 Mile relay in spring track.  Despite earning  “Most Improved” on winter track a few months before, I still lumbered in last during meets in spring. But there were some interesting lessons on winning and losing in between the frustration.

Our girls spring track team was undefeated for the first month of meets. We embarked on a meet with our rivals, Eastchester High School, who were also undefeated. So, you can imagine – someone would lose that mantel by the end of the day.

Well, it was us. We lost out to some really fast runners and a few strong field event girls whose size and girth could place a shot-put through your head.

We boarded our team bus nonplussed. A little disappointed, perhaps, but we were laughing at our team mate Becky, who went on about how one of the Eastchester girls reminded her of her dad. (Okay, it’s not nice, I know. But this particular opponent wasn’t very nice.)

Our laughter made our Coach- Mr. Galanka – stand and address us. Uh oh. What did we do?

Actually – we did good. He told us how proud he was of us. The fact that we were laughing and enjoying each other after a disappointing loss exemplified our strong character. He said that we should always remember this in life. And that as strong young woman, we should never define ourselves with superficial things like hair do’s and nails and clothes. That our character in the face of losing is what matters.

What a guy. It was the most meaningful moment of my life – even today.

Yet, Coach Galanka wasn’t done teaching lessons. A few weeks later, we were at home, running against an all girls parochial school – St. Ursula Academy –  a team that was beating us on our own track.

Galanka came to me to prep me for the 2 Mile Relay (which is an 880 yard dash for each of the 4 members of the relay team).  Apparently, he wanted me to be 4th in the heat. If you know relays – usually the fastest person is 4th, because that’s the last runner who brings it all home in the final stretch. I though he was mad. Insane.

“But Coach – I’m the slowest runner. Why?”

“Because I know you can do it,” he assured me.

“But, we’ll lose the whole meet!”

“Yes we will – if you don’t finish this race for us. But I have faith that you can do this,” he said.

I though he was crazy. This must be a joke. My heart was beating in my throat. I thought I was gonna hurl my pre-game Snicker’s bar, eaten ritually before a track meet.

The race began.  My fellow relay runners were KICKING IT!  They worked up a very wide lead, and by the time it was my turn to grab the baton, Ursula was more than half a lap behind us.  It didn’t quell my nerves, but I was ready for my leg as the baton was handed to me – literally.

As I ran the first 440 yards, I gained on the Ursula Academy girl who was in the 3rd leg of their relay team – until I ended up passing her. (Remember, I’m in the 4th of mine). Oh my God… I lapped her! We were now one full lap ahead. I finished the relay – and we won as the Ursula team continued to run out their last lap minutes later.

We won. WE WON! My team was amazing. They created that amazing lead, and I was there… to bring it home. (A big cosmic ‘thank you’ to them.)

Coach Galanka came over to me and said, “I knew you could do it. See? Don’t ever doubt yourself. I did that on purpose. I wanted you to see how you can test yourself.”

I’ll never forget him or that moment. Today, he’s an award winning assistant football coach and woman’s track coach at Fordham University in the Bronx, NY, where he leads young athletes to titles and championships. Lucky bastards.

Yes, he’s one of those coaches – one of those teachers whom you never forget. They teach you lessons in life – like how to be a good loser – how to allow someone to see for themselves that hey can do anything, given the determination and love of the sport.

Much like Lauren Hill and the ladies from the Hiram Tigers – it’s not the winning that’s important – it’s how you lose.


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Getting That Dystopic Feeling

Ghost in the machineMy book “Hitting the Water” is finished. I can’t believe I’m even saying it. After writing the stories, editing, revising, and re-editing, it took all my strength to finally let it go. With all the nit picking of phrases, words, re-naming characters (to protect the innocent), and fine tuning the introduction and verbage of each entry, it’s a relief to see it through.  The stories are mediations, dreamy vinettes about life and death. It was a book that I needed to get out in order to move on.  Now, it’s done. Time to lighten up.

So, what will be the next project?  Ahhh….(as I rub my hands together with delight)….I’m going into the world of satirical SciFi.  Think Douglas Adams and Terry Gilliam. Think “Brazil”, “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or “Metropolis”. The vibe of the old Police album “Ghost in the Machine” is humming in my brain – providing the tone for this new work I began months ago before putting it aside to work on “Hitting Water”.

I’m  fascinated with the book “The Writer’s Journey: Mythological Structure for Writers” by Christopher Vogler. Joseph Campbell also covered this ground in “The Hero Has 1000 Faces”. Both books provide a fascinating pattern of archetypes that sew together the flow of a solid story. You feel the thread in one form or another in every movie you’ve ever seen. Grand stories like “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Hobbit”, “Harry Potter”, “Hitchhiker’s” or “Lord of the Rings” are built on this architecture.  For the first time ever, I’ll be using the blueprints provided in these books to develop a story that takes place in a futurist world.

This will be an uphill climb. But I love this feeling of being uncomfortable and pushing myself to do something new.


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Attack of the Killer Pigs

cheaper by the dozen house on LorraineJust your average, ordinary neighborhood, where lovely palatial homes with perfectly manicured lawns stretch out to a perfectly maintained sidewalk. If you’ve ever seen the film “Cheaper By the Dozen” with Bonnie Hunt and Steve Martin, this is the house where it was filmed. It’s a few blocks from where I live, and it seems to house a family that is just as boisterous and charismatic as the family in the movie. The kids are between thirteen and seven – all freckle faced and gregarious. Their driveway is parked up with all-terrain vehicles with back hatch bike racks and shiny BMW’s. Nice folks, too. And yes – apparently there is really a pig somewhere on the property. While walking by the white picket fence toward the back part of the house, you’ll hear the low guttural grunts of a porcine piggy. Or – so they say. I usually hear a dog, barking angrily at my hound who just whines and trots away in fear.

And another thought… I was watching this clip from The Fisher King. It suddenly occurred to me that the progress in digital technology has rendered the old video store obsolete. Yes, I’m sure there are some video shops hanging onto the old school love of a video (that is – if anyone still has an operating VHS machine, and I’m sure there are folks who do). So, with the Blockbusters and Mom & Pop shops now turned into dry cleaners or a Whole Foods, what happens to the life-long card carrying members of that dusty old Video Shack? Is a life long membership applicable to the life of the member, or the life of the shop. Details. I bet it’s in the small print on the back of the card.

Lovely scene. Beautiful movie. You didn’t think I could go a week without a Robin Williams moment, did you?