DIVA TALK: Chatting With Death Takes a Holiday/Tokio Confidential's Jill Paice, PLUS Carol Channing

By Andrew Gans
03 Feb 2012

Carol Channing
photo by Dramatic Forces

The new documentary "Carol Channing: Larger Than Life" opens Feb. 3 in New York and San Francisco and offers an in-depth look at the Tony-winning star of Hello, Dolly! I thought you would enjoy this fun chat with the humorous Channing, which was provided by the press agent for the film. Directed by Dori Berinstein ("Show Business: The Road to Broadway"), the new film features interviews with Channing, her husband Harry Kullijian (who died earlier this year), Jerry Herman, Lily Tomlin, Margie Champion, Betty Garrett (who has since died), Chita Rivera, Barbara Walters, Tyne Daly, Debbie Reynolds, Phyllis Diller, Loni Anderson, JoAnne Worley, Bruce Vilanch and many more.

Q: Are there any roles you would have liked to have played, in either a recent or a classic musical or play? What are they, and why?
A: I don't know that I've ever had time to think about what or whom I would like to have played. I would, of course, dearly loved to play Dolly in the movie version. I remember thinking, Oh Jerry's Mame would have been fun. But how could you top Angela’s performance? Although she and I did switch roles ever so briefly… oh years ago, during a tribute to Jerry when she came out as Dolly and I as Mame. Oh, that was fun!

Q: Which performers today do you particularly admire, and why?
A: I wish I could answer that with more knowledge. So many times I'm introduced to someone whose work I know I should know and I don’t. I’m always so embarrassed that I haven't kept up better. I'm awfully impressed with Catherine Zeta-Jones. It’s pronounced Zeeeeeta, you know … Oh, and Kristin Chenoweth. I'm impressed with her. There is also a young man I met from a show called "Glee." I've never seen him on the show, but have worked with him on stage. Oh, what’s wrong with me? Why can't I remember his name. Anyway, him.

Q: Had you not become a performer, what field would have interested you?
A: Oh! Ahhhhhh, I don't know. I’ve wanted to be a performer since I was 7. I imagine if I hadn't, I'd have found something associated with the industry.

Q: You've led an extraordinary life, on stage and off - what continues to inspire and motivate you?
A: Others. When I see someone who's passionately working on something, whether on stage or for the community, it inspires me. My motivation is always that next show, that next character or that next appearance. I'm always so sure that it will be my best performance or my greatest accomplishment.

Q: Imagine if they were real people who met each other, what would Lorelei Lee have thought of Dolly Gallagher Levi, and vice versa?
A: Isn't that odd, no one has ever asked me that before. I imagine they would have gotten along wonderfully. They were both and are such strong personalities that I think off stage they would have been tremendous friends, but on stage …well, the poor audience would have difficulty focusing on just one of them. They would overpower each other.

Q: What do you think of "Carol Channing: Larger Than Life?" Did you enjoy the filmmaking process?
A: [Director] Dori Berinstein's film? Oh, it's wonderful. There have been many who have approached me over the years, asking to do a documentary. However, they discovered how much work it was going to be and it never happened. Oh, Dori was so patient with me. Sometimes my schedule would change at a moment's notice and I’m sure it would completely mess up her plans. I don't think most actors think in terms of looking at what we’ve already done, rather than what can I still do now. They don’t write their memoir until someone pushes them and it takes a very special person to go through all the archives … or junk, and I have a lot … to weed out the important things that the audience will want to know. I've always relied on those around me, knowing and caring about what they are doing to make me look good. It's a team effort. You don’t take those people for granted. The really good ones truly love what they're doing and believe in it. I was just lucky enough to have someone like Dori, who believed enough in me, to do it. And do it so well. There were times when I thought, isn't it done yet? But, Dori wanted it to be perfect and I think she accomplished it … even if I wasn't wearing my eyelashes in that one scene. 

For more information visit www.carolchanningthemovie.com.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.