The day before we meet Patti LuPone, an interview with her about making a return to London’s West End in Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company went live. In it, Ms LuPone went in on everything and everyone in the way only she can – brutally.
So when it came to arriving at Patti’s rather flashy London home, we knew this would be an afternoon with honesty served by the bucket – and we weren’t wrong.
“Hello darling, it’s great to see you,” she booms with her instantly recognisable tones – projecting across her living room so loudly as if she were stood centre stage. Not one to tone down her voice because she has company, at one rather humorous part during our interview, Patti even managed to activate Siri on a charging iPhone two rooms away. But apart from being able to raise her voice loudly for a paying audience, what makes Ms LuPone such a fan favourite with the LGBTQ community?
“People ask me why I have such a strong gay following,” Patti begins, taking great time to think about her answer. “I don’t know whether if it’s a gay following or if it’s a recognised, left of centre, outsider emotional force.”
She continues, seemingly grabbed by emotion as she explains: “I think what people recognise in me is that there isn’t a boarder or distinction in me. I’ve had to fight, like the LGBTQ community has had to fight for identiy. For a simple way to live. For acceptance.”
Revealing that she “always” felt like an outsider when growing up, the LGBTQ community has played a huge part in her family life – and obviously including her time on stage portraying some of the greatest female roles ever. But does the current political rhetoric coming out of America stir a fear in her for the community’s safety? Well yes, but Patti knows who would win if people were asked to rise up and name which side they’re on.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen as we keep leaning more and more right. This faux Christianity. I keep thinking there’s going to be civil war and I don’t know who is going to be fighting who, but I know the LGBTQ community is a hell of a lot stronger than the white supremacists – oh I think so, and smarter. A hell of a lot smarter.”
Here, with the West End opening of new LGBTQ-inclusive musical Company opening to rave reviews, we talk rewriting the classics for a modern world, the social and political threats to the queer community today, and why people think she’s “a bitch”.
Patti LuPone incoming!
Patti! Welcome to London.
Thank you darling. I’m returning.
What made you want to return to London, the West End, and star in an all-new gender swapped production of Company?
She (Marianne Elliott OBE, director) was the major reason to be involved. I had just finished a musical in New York and had given them up musicals because they’re hard. I’d seen War Horse in New York and wanted to know who the directors were. I’d seen Curious Incident and I said then that I wanted to work with this woman (Marianne), and then Marianne called and offered me the part. I said ‘no, no, no, no’ and then I thought that if I decline again, she will never ask me again, and I had put it out there that I wanted to work with her. I did reconsider and I’m so glad I did!
A dream come true?
Sometimes your dreams do come true. It sounds like a cliche statement to make, but if you put it out there, your dreams come back to you. It’s supposed to be. Sometimes we recognise it and sometimes we don’t, and this time I was fortunate enough to
acknowledge that I wanted it and here it is.
This is an updated version of Company, with LGBTQ inclusion and a gender-swapped female lead. Did these additions excite you?
Oh, yeah! Oh, totally. It’s interesting because there was a delay in the production of this and, again, destiny. It couldn’t be at a more perfect time to have Bobbie (the lead in the show) as a woman in the timeframe we’re in right now with everything
going on in the world with the #MeToo movement. The fact that Amy and Paul is now Jamie and Paul gives… the response to Jonathan Bailey (Jamie) who is stunning in the role, and the impact of the marriage and marriage equality and the fact he doesn’t want to get married. It’s loaded, so loaded now with importance and meaning. It’s interesting and cliche is not the word to use but it’s typical that a guy would be non committal in a relationship, but to have a woman have that is a whole different thing. It has more power with Bobbie being played by a woman.
How does the show shift in relation to events happening in the world like the #MeToo movement you referenced?
There’s a shift in the universe about a woman’s place, plus the fact they’re not putting up with the crap anymore. I… urgh. I’m thinking about Brett Kavanaugh. We just saw a bit of it and I couldn’t watch because it’s Ted Cruz who I abhor, but how they are dissing and dismissing these women that have come forward with the sexual harassment. This guy Brett Kavanaugh? The compromise these fucking white men make for putting this guy on the Supreme Court compromises the Supreme Court.
Who listens to this guy when he makes judgements? Who can trust him? The way they are diminishing the women that have come forth. I hope it’s another wake up call for everybody, and especially women.
What do you think their actions say about the position of women in their mind?
They’re secondary, third class citizens. It’s horrible, it’s horrible. That’s why I have to say that the idea that Bobbie is now a woman is very powerful. The fact the songs have switched, too. All of a sudden it’s the women singing about somebody who is hot and all you have to do is fuck them. For a woman to say that, there’s power. We all felt powerful when we dismissed the boys.
What does having that same-sex couple included in the show do for the piece itself?
Is there any difference between two people in love? No. Is there any difference between two people in love who are trying to decide; one wants to get married and one doesn’t? Is there any difference between this person saying, ‘I don’t love you enough to get married because I don’t love myself enough?’ There’s no difference. I’m married to a heterosexual, mid-Western man who has said over and over again, it’s just love. We’re just talking about love. I could cry right now. To delineate or to distinguish or to make a distinction between genders when it’s just love. We all have the same problems and colour blood. I don’t see it, in any way, diminishes the original. These changes make the piece more topical, contemporary and more powerful.
Have you ever played an LGBTQ character on stage or in film?
You’re making me think about my life. I don’t think so. I’ve played a witch? But no, I don’t think I have. If you search Patti LuPone into Google, every article praises your work for LGBTQ equality, and almost every one names you a gay icon. Really?! Really?!
How do you feel about having all of that associated with your name?
It’s the best audience, are you kidding? I’ll tell ya. People ask me why I have such a strong gay following. I don’t know whether if it’s a gay following or if it’s a recognised, left of centre, outsider emotional force. When I was a kid, I wasn’t in the popular crowd. I was in the music department with those kids that were, as I was, outsiders. We had our own life and we didn’t want to get in the box as they were the people we wanted to hang out with. When I was five in the very early 1950s, somebody who is still my friend today… I met him and and I knew that he was different and I would have to protect him. I knew at an early age that people who acted like him were going to be made fun of. I don’t want to say bullied because we were all bullied. My tendency was always in that direction to associate with the outsider. There wasn’t a distinction between their sexuality. We were young. I think what people recognise in me is that there isn’t a boarder or distinction in me. I’ve had to fight, like the LGBTQ community has had to fight for identity. For a simple way to live. For acceptance. It’s still fucked up. Especially now. In America. I don’t know what’s going to happen as we keep leaning more and more right. This faux Christianity. I keep thinking there’s going to be civil war and I don’t know who is going to be fighting who, but I know the LGBTQ community is a hell of a lot stronger than the white supremacists – oh I think so, and smarter. A hell of a lot smarter.
If you look at figures from Stonewall, hate crime figures are on the rise.
Yeah because of the fuckers who opened Pandora’s box. Yes. Yes. It’s scary as hell. I agree with you 100% for all of us. But are there more of us than more of them?
Have you ever witnessed any form of homophobia in your career?
I’ve grown up with it so I can’t. My brother is a dancer. He showed an extraordinary skill and at 15 was commuting to New York City to study. The homosexuality aspect of life was in our family very early on and there was these people who were family. We knew they were gay but we didn’t use those words back then. It’s difficult for me to think of a time when I encountered homophobia, but my friends did during the AIDS epidemic. One of my closest friends who writes on Modern Family can tell you a story because people we knew were dying. He would go to the hospital and the food would be left outside the patient’s door and he would have to bring the food in and they didn’t know what was going on and didn’t want to touch anybody.
Because I’m a woman, I don’t have that first-hand experience… well actually I do, we did a play in 1984 called The Cradle Will Rock and one of the kids in the company before we came to London… I didn’t know he was sick, nobody did. Because nobody knew how it was transmitted, and I can’t remember his name but God I can see his face. Something was being passed around and we said to him to take a sip and he declined. We all thought he was germaphobic. He’s dead. He was being cautious of the rest of the actors. Of course I’ve experienced homophobia if that’s the word maybe backstage with nervous stagehands.
Do you pick people up on it?
Oh, yeah! It’s, ‘What are you doing here if that’s how you feel? Look at where you are!’ There’s also a delicate balance as you have to instruct them. I’ve seen that happen a lot in environments where people come to their senses. It’s a threat, so you wonder where the threat comes from? What’s buried deep down inside that you are threatened by a homosexual? What else are you scared of?
Some of the roles you’ve played like Eva Peron, Reno Sweeney, Mrs Lovett, Fantine connect with the queer community. Do you notice that support?
I don’t tend to know if the audience is full of gays, but I do know they go to the theatre. That’s what keeps up employed. Seriously. I don’t know if I’m a gay icon or in the theatre and supported by the gay community because they go to the theatre. They know they’re on the cutting edge of art.
And the escapism of celebrating the beauty of flawed characters.
You go out and you get to play this role. I never think about how it relates to any community, really. I don’t think in that way but I have been told that they are powerful women and they are flawed – but why don’t they flock to things with powerful men who are flawed? Why is it the women?
There’s a unity between women and the LGBTQ community.
Yes. That’s right, Mother Earth, baby!
How do you feel about Adele wanting to one day play Moma Rose in Gypsy?
Adele said she’d like to star on Broadway in Gypsy when she’s 50.
She’s fantastic. If she wants to play it, she’s probably going to be able to play the shit out of it. I wonder why she wants to play Moma Rose? When I played her, I realised it was a tour de force. It was exhausting. I’d be curious to know why she wants to play it? What she relates to.
Because it was incredible, would you ever go back to American Horror Story?
Yeah, sure, but if I had a better part. I love Ryan (Murphy).
What’s it like working with him? What makes him so brilliant to you?
God knows! He’s got the golden touch. I think there’s no compromise. When you’re hit with something like Glee, the doors open up. Something that popular. Everything he touches turns to gold.
And finally, what is the biggest misconception of Patti LuPone?
That I’m a bitch. I would think that I’m some tough, hard-ass woman. I’m not. I defend myself. I have to because I’m a woman and there’s abuse in this business. For some reason, I just have never understood why, even as a kid. As a kid, I found it unjust and didn’t stand for it but because I’m a woman and speak my mind, I’m a terror. I wasn’t born tough, I was made tough.
More information on Company can be found here.