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    5. Patti LuPone: 'The Kardashians have killed generations of girls'


    Patti LuPone: 'The Kardashians have killed generations of girls'

    “I'm built for eight performances a week, tapping my toes”: 74-year-old Broadway doyenne Patti LuPone. Sophie Holland

    “Do you want to know about the penis monster?” asks Patti LuPone. The 74-year-old Broadway elder is referring to one of the many surreal characters in “Bo's Afraid,” a three-hour Freudian nightmare from Midsummer director Ari Astaire's film. As Mona, the stunningly manipulative mother of Joaquin Phoenix's anxiety-ridden Bo, LuPone steals every scene she appears in—at least until the giant animatronic phallus rears its head near the end of the film.

    “I thought, damn it, it’s ugly,” LuPone laughs, recalling her first unsettling encounter with the invention, which she recognized as Harry or the Nose. “Then I saw his tiny hands. And her teeth…” She leans back in her chair, hooting, almost chokes on her toast, and wipes her eyes. “What is the funniest thing? I didn't know it was a comedy when I read the script! I was playing straight psychological horror!”

    LuPone is definitely playing the funny side today, making me laugh all the time during a 45-minute video call from Atlanta, where she's filming Marvel's new series Agatha: Chaos Coven.

    I was afraid it would be more intimidating. LuPone is almost as famous for her confrontational candor as she is for her stage presence — and I heard Joaquin Phoenix fainted while filming his showdown with her in Bo Is Afraid. A fierce defender of theatrical standards, she called Madonna “a movie killer…dead behind her back”; called Andrew Lloyd Webber a “dirty sack” and most recently spoke out against Kim Kardashian's move into acting, quoting Noel Coward's withering line, “Don't take your daughter on stage, Mrs. Worthington.”

    She is no less harsh on wayward audience members: she has been known to snatch phones from their hands in the middle of a performance, and during the pandemic she told one woman to put on a mask or “get the hell out” of the theater.

    Her temperament brought her reputation as a “prima donna”, but she rejects the term. “I don't particularly care,” she says. “This word belongs to the opera world, where people do something supernatural with a natural instrument. It should stay there.

    “The fact that I have such emotional abilities should not stigmatize me,” she narrows her eyes. “But I'm a woman, what else can they do guys?”

    LuPone, whose parents were Italian-Americans, attributes his direct and passionate attitude to his heritage. “I don't think it would be a problem if I was filming in Italy,” she tells me. “Every time I go there, I notice that there is a lot going on,” she gestures wildly, “and I realize that I am Italian to the core. That's probably why I get all these great roles. This Italian part of me means that my emotions are great, they are all on the surface. She gleefully sings Dean Martin's “That's Love!” then, with a shrug, points to the obvious: “That's why I'm in show business. I've been on stage since I was four years old.”

    LuPone was born in Long Island, New York in 1949 and grew up in a musical family. Her mother, a librarian, passionate pianist and opera lover who named her daughter after her great-aunt, famed soprano Adeline Patti, and her father, a school administrator, paid her to teach singing, piano, drama, and dance. LuPone, who was never shy about making loud noises, also played the tuba in the school band. As a teenager, she performed with her older twin brothers in The LuPone Trio, then went on to study drama at Juilliard, where she began an affair with fellow student Kevin Kline, and after graduating in 1972, she joined the John Houseman acting troupe.
    She won her first Tony Award playing Eva Peron in the original Broadway production of Evita in 1979, but also began to earn her reputation as a drama queen. When the dancers from the London production of the show (acted last year) gave her advice, she snapped, “Shut up and let me figure it out myself!”

    'I've been on stage since I was four': LuPone in 1975 when she was a member of the John Houseman Acting Company. Photo: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

    In 1985, she became the first American woman to win an Olivier Award, playing Fantine in the West End production of Les Misérables. Eight years later, returning to the London stage as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, she was furious to learn that Glenn Close had replaced her for the US transfer. In her memoirs, she recalls that when she heard the news, she “practiced hitting in my dressing room with a floor lamp. I swung at everything that caught my eye – mirrors, wig stands, cosmetics, wardrobe, furniture, everything. Then I threw the lamp out of the second floor window. LuPone sued Lloyd Webber for alleged breach of contract and won $1 million in damages. She used the money to build a swimming pool in her home, which she named the Andrew Lloyd Webber Memorial Pool.

    On the big screen, she had good supporting roles in Witness (1985) and Driving Miss Daisy (1989); while on television she achieved success playing a mother in Life Goes On (1989), the first mainstream American show to center on a character with Down syndrome. More Britons remember her recurring role in the late 1990s sitcom Frasier, in which she played the Crane Brothers' terrifying meat-cleaver-wielding Greek cousin. “I have no idea why this happened,” she tells me. “When did Fraser become Greek?! But I was ready – just give me this cleaver! It imitates a small artificial slaughterhouse. “It was so much fun to get into this role. I don't act to sit back!”

    Astaire knew LuPone had the “tough” chutzpah required for her role as Mona in Beau Is Afraid after she saw footage of her on the red carpet calling Donald Trump a “bastard—–“; for her part, LuPone immediately felt that this was the best film role she had ever been offered. She filmed her first scene with Phoenix, in which his character calls her to tell her he's late for a visit before they even meet. It is a scene during which Mona's long, frustrated silence causes her son more anxiety than the intense violence and intimidation he recently witnessed outside his apartment. He will soon embark on a punitive odyssey home, during which he is: hit by a car naked and on the run from a serial killer; abducted by a suburban surgeon and his teenage daughter; then pursued by a deadly war assassin. But most of all, Beau is afraid of the monstrous Mona – the source of his deep sexual addictions. 39;I don't think Mona is a monster': LuPone in Beau is Afraid Credit: Takashi Seida

    LuPone is keen to point out that Phoenix's fainting was not so much a consequence of her overpowering performance, but rather due to “the fact that the poor fellow was exhausted. I met him at the end of a shooting marathon, when I was just gaining momentum. He was squatting down, out of frame, cheering me on, when he suddenly stood up and just rolled over.”

    She says the cast (as well as Phoenix's co-star, actress Rooney Mara, who joined him on the set with her child) were bonded “by the run-down wedding hotel we stayed at. Ari, Joaquin and I had rooms with adjoining rooms.” balconies, so I went out in my nightgown and made them coffee in the French press. It was a relaxed family atmosphere.”

    It may seem surprising given the tone of Aster's films, but according to LuPone, “I don't think Mona is a monster. I think she is a devoted mother – perhaps too devoted – to a pathologically indecisive son.

    Having been married to cinematographer Matthew Johnston for over three decades, LuPone also has a son, Josh, who “grew up behind the scenes” before following her into acting. For her, motherhood is “a 100 percent anxiety that will never go away. It's 100% wanting the best for your child and 100% disappointed when they disappoint you. It's always 100 percent, right? There is no middle ground here.”

    “The Italian part of me means that my emotions are great, they are all on the surface”: how Fantine in Les Misérables. Photo: Donald Cooper/Alami. Photo

    She becomes tender when she remembers Josh's Childhood. “When I was doing Sunset Boulevard, he came to the matinee when he was about two or three years old. During the intermission, I had to strip naked to put on my clothes for the second act, and Josh also stripped naked, put on my black stockings, put on flip-flops, went to the dressing table and put red lipstick on his lips.

    She is laughing. “No one has a photo, but this is one of my favorite photos of my baby.” Spending so much time in his formative years backstage with his mother means, says LuPone, that her son “knows who I am.” So nothing like Mona? She is laughing. “He was asked about it, and he said: “Of all her roles, in this one I don’t recognize my mother at all!” Thank God!”

    LuPone shocked the theater world last year when she ditched her Equity card and announced she would no longer appear on Broadway. As an explanation, she regales me with the classic LuPone rant about “stupefying theaters, audiences…civilization.” The mere mention of Kim Kardashian appearing on Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story (which also starred LuPone) lights another fuse.

    “What's she doing?!” LuPone screams. “I think that the Kardashian family has ruined more than one generation of girls. All they do is encourage girls to spend their lives looking like them.”

    She looks suitably shocked when I talk about how an audience member defecated in the aisle during the Broadway performance of Some Like it Hot earlier this year and that the police were called to a Good Friday performance in Manchester after a fight broke out in the stalls. “What the hell is going on in theaters?” she asks.

    “I gave up Broadway, but I didn't give up the stage”: in The Company: Musical Comedy . Authors: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

    LuPone's theory is that “it all started with Mamma Mia!” , an Abba musical whose posters include the slogan “You already know you're gonna love this!” LuPone grimaces. “The theater will not remain if the audience is interested in going only to what they know. No new ideas can penetrate these people.”

    She's on a roll. What about standing ovations? she snorts. “I refuse to get up. I think people are only worth it because they paid so much for the tickets to believe they are worth it.”

    While she admits that good new shows can still break through – she “loved” Six, the original musical about the wives of Henry VIII – LuPone is heartbroken by “the many talented writers whose work will never see the light of day because they are blocked by it.” trash with the lowest common denominator.” And she believes that “Disney and all the big corporations should be taxed to support theater. But that won't happen. So I gave up Broadway, but I didn't give up the stage.”

    She was last in the West End at the 2018 revival of Stephen Sondheim's company and says she “will be working in London in a minute.” But she also tends to slow down. “I'm built for eight toe-tapping gigs a week,” she laughs. “But what if that's not what I want? What if I want to travel, do other things?” She smiles warmly and then lays out her plan: “I'd like to end my film career.”

    Afraid of Beauty” will hit theaters on May 19

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