Andrea Martin: Comic actress. That's what most people think when they conjure the woman who created a slew of indelible characters on "SCTV," the Canadian-originated comedy program that found a loyal audience in the U.S. Her "SCTV" colleagues included John Candy, Martin Short, Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy, among others, and her wild characters ranged from a leopard-fur-garbed Edith Prickley (who snorted when she laughed) to a singing and dancing Indira Gandhi in a spoof of Evita called Indira. Martin's comic talents translated to the Broadway stage in the short-lived musical, My Favorite Year, for which she won a Best Featured Actress Tony Award, to playing The Old Woman in the Hal Prince-Garth Drabinsky revival of Candide, for which she got another Tony nomination. She starred in a critically-acclaimed one-woman show, Nude, Nude, Totally Nude in Los Angeles and New York. In recent years, she has turned down comic work, including the role of The Cat in the Hat in Seussical, in order to concentrate on family and aim herself at work with a different flavor. She is a 2002 Tony nominee for playing the no-nonsense Aunt Eller in Trevor Nunn's hardscrabble revival of Oklahoma!, at the Gershwin Theatre. (She can also be seen in the current feature film, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding.") Martin talked to Playbill On-Line's Kenneth Jones about her image, her current role and her love of New York City.
Playbill On-Line: Aunt Eller isn't like anything you've done. She's of the earth, she's serious. Was taking this part a conscious effort to move away from the comic roles?
Andrea Martin: It was a very big conscious effort to do it. Over the last couple of years I've turned down a lot of work that would keep me in the same track. I think I had one reservation when they asked me if I was interested. I thought I was not old enough. I didn't want to give up what might be some glamorous parts that might come my way. Then I thought, it's an acting part. I really wanted the part. I auditioned for it three times.
PBOL: What does the script indicate her age is?
AM: It indicates that she's 50, and that's certainly my age. But most women 50 don't want to play Aunt Eller. The truth is, Aunt Eller has always been played by women in their 60s — kind of quirky, crotchety old ladies. And I certainly didn't want to do that. I've never played anything like this before, and I didn't know I could do it, really. I wanted to, but I didn't know — it's so nice that other people think it too.
PBOL: Have you seen the film version?
AM: I made sure I never saw anything before. I've never seen Oklahoma! before. So when people say, "What an interesting take on Aunt Eller." I think, thank God I didn't see anything else, I didn't have anything to compare it to. It was my take and Trevor's. I think Trevor really wanted to hold out for somebody much bigger in size. The woman he had in London was six feet tall. I think that was his quest and I think that's why it took a while. I'm quite petite.
PBOL: There's a nice connection between your Aunt Eller and Laurey in the show. It's clear Eller cares. Trevor is a detail director.
AM: He's a detail guy all the way. He creates an enormously safe, non-preferential environment to be in. He treats an ensemble member like he treats a star — just like he treats a crew member — so you immediately feel like you're protected in the environment and that you can try anything. PBOL: What's beyond the Oklahoma! horizon for you?
AM: I'm not thinking beyond the horizon. This is a wonderful time in my life. Both my boys are in college. That's why I turned stuff down in the past. That's why I am here with no baggage. They're both in college, doing great. I'm having a beautiful relationship for the first time in a long time. I love this show. I'm purposely not looking at anything else. I want my days to have off so I can enjoy what I'm doing. This is very satisfying for me right now. I really have no ambition to do anything else. It takes a lot of my concentration. Unlike comedy, this part I can reinvent internally every night. I'm not waiting for laughs. I can really think about being a pioneer woman and what all of that meant. It refuels me every night, really, unlike most things I've done.
PBOL: The energy it takes to do this part is different than past roles...
PBOL: Completely different. It's connected with the cast as opposed to needing something from the audience. It's a real different energy, it's very supportive — it's wonderful.
PBOL: Are you tri-coastal? Toronto, L.A. and New York?
AM: Not Toronto so much anymore. For a long time it was three. I've kept an apartment here for 20 years. I love New York. I've been in L.A for 17 years and I can tell you, I never felt like it was home. I have a beautiful house there, I raised my children there, I have excellent friends, and New York is where my heart is. I grew up in Maine. You know what? People appreciate me here. I don't know if I've ever been appreciated in Los Angeles.