DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Tony Award Winner Faith Prince

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Tony Award Winner Faith Prince
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Faith Prince
Faith Prince

Faith Prince may be considered one of the great comedic actresses of her generation; however, it was her more dramatic work in the musicals A Man of No Importance (by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Terrence McNally) and A Catered Affair (by Harvey Fierstein and John Bucchino) that moved this writer tremendously. In fact, her rendition of "Tell Me Why" in the former, which was filled with a mix of anger, regret and empathy, as well as her lengthy sob in the latter, which revealed a life's worth of frustrations, remain thoroughly etched in this theatregoer's memory. Fans of the gifted singing actress, who was most recently on Broadway in the Disney musical The Little Mermaid, are in for a treat when Prince returns to the acclaimed Lifetime series "Drop Dead Diva." Prince will again step into the role of Jane's (Brooke Elliott) mother in the July 11 episode, which is titled "Senti-Mental Journey" and also features a guest appearance by Emmy winner Rosie O'Donnell. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chatting with the intelligent, Tony-winning actress, who spoke about roles past and those to come as well as her new solo recording; that interview follows:

Question: How did you originally get involved with "Drop Dead Diva"?
Prince: I got a call from the casting director asking if I would do the role of Elaine. When I read the script, I thought, "Yeah! This is good! . . . Oh, boy. Perfect!" I was doing Little Mermaid at the time, and it was great because they let me off to go down and film it. The first season, I went down  three times to film one episode, 'cause I was in a lot of the scenes, and [I] went back and forth three times. I didn't get to meet the executive producer, Josh Berman, when I was down there, so he wrote me an email afterwards and just said that he loved my episode and loved my character and could we meet, just to talk? And so we finally met in L.A., and he's great, so smart and savvy. I think he went to Princeton and then came out to L.A. and started writing for "CSI" and "Bones." He's just lovely. So then he wrote me this episode that's going to air on Sunday. I think there were two women writers as well. And he said, "Oh, I have this idea. Elaine's bipolar." And I went, [laughs], "And you thought of me! Okay."

Question: In this episode you also get to work with Rosie O'Donnell.
Prince: Yes, who I love. I was on her [talk] show, and my husband used to play the trumpet any time they needed a trumpet on that show, so I've known her for a while.

Question: Are there more appearances planned?
Prince: You know, there aren't, which is surprising. I think they just have so many storylines, and the core is big, so they had to follow through with a bunch of storylines. But it sure is a great character. I kept thinking she'd pop back in. The gentleman that plays my husband, [Kurt Fuller], is very good, too. He's a great actor. So you never know what the third season will hold, but it's a lot of fun. I would love to have a full-time part like that. She's just so wacky and wild and kind of turns on a dime. I like things like that. That's why I loved "Huff" — same kind of thing. I love it when you can play two tones on the same series and be completely out there and then on a dime, it goes to the dark place. It's my favorite kind of shift to do, and not a lot of writers can write it. It's just very fulfilling for me, because it's the only time in television I've felt as fulfilled as in the theatre.

Question: You do a lot of TV work. How does it compare to you with working in the theatre?
Prince: I've worked with some great people. Like being on "Spin City" – Gary David Goldberg – any time I can work with somebody [who] was like, I don't want to say "old school," but where they were sort of controlling [the show]. I've done a lot of pilots where too many cooks get in the kitchen, and there's no point of view left. But I've been lucky to work with people like Gary David Goldberg, Glenn Gordon Caron, Bob Lowry, who did "Huff." They really keep an airplane view of the point of view, and I would put Josh Berman in that category. It's a clear point of view, and it's just rare to find that, and I think a lot of shows don't make it. I remember doing "Sweet Potato Queens," which should have been a no-brainer. I thought a lot of women would really get into that series. It was with Delta Burke, and I was playing her best friend. But it was on the wrong network. It was on WB – it should have been CBS. And halfway through, they shifted the focus from us to the young people, and I thought, "That's not what this story is about." I just remember thinking, "Oh, we're headed for a big crash," because there were just too many cooks. Question: Did that ever get on the air?
Prince: No, and she's brilliant – Delta Burke. She's very, very gifted.

Question: What year was that?
Prince: Oh, God, let's see. I'm thinking [it was] before I moved to L.A. I'm thinking 2001, 2002, somewhere in there.


Faith Prince in The Little Mermaid
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: When we last spoke, you were just about to go into Little Mermaid. What was that experience like for you?
Prince: You know, thrilling. I have never done anything so technical, where the outfit sort of dictated a lot of the character. But I think I managed to put my take on it, and I certainly loved working with the cast and being with Alan Menken again even for a little bit. I think his material and Howard Ashman['s are] just brilliant. . . .The costume really dictated a lot. I love puzzles. . . . I always take it as if it was written for me, anyway, and I do that with revivals or replacing. I was a replacement in The King and I. I enjoy that, I enjoy the challenge of it because I'll always bring myself to the table. I mean, I just can't do anything but. That's just who I am. . . . What I love is not really throwing a cast off but just gently moving in [a different] way. And, I never do anything the same way twice, anyway, eight shows a week. I kind of always live in the present. That isn't to say that the tone of it isn't correct. I believe in that infrastructure, but I think the kids were surprised because I never gave them the same line the same way twice. I think some of the younger kids were like, "Oh, this is a different way of working." And I enjoyed scaring little children. It was thrilling. [Laughs.] It made me more powerful on the subway at times. At times I was like, "Wow, Ursula's really coming out." [Laughs.] But it was enjoyable, and it was also enjoyable working for Disney. It was a new kind of thing for me. I'd never been part of a corporation like that.

Question: I know there was talk about a new solo recording.
Prince: Yes, I just recorded it down in Palm Beach — "Live at the Colony Hotel from Palm Beach, Florida! The Royal Room!" We're just about to edit it and get it on its way in August, so yes, it will be out.

Question: Do you have a label?
Prince: It's called "Total Faith."

Question: What type of material?
Prince: It's a combination of things I've done in the last ten years mixed with some jazz. My husband and son are on it. My son plays guitar. Alex Rybeck, who helped me put together "Leap of Faith," is still my pianist and confidante. We have a wonderful bass player from Florida down there on it, and the audiences were great. We recorded over four nights live, and I was surprised I did another live album again, but it really is my milieu. I don't think of myself as somebody in a studio you listen to sing. I'm more of a theatrical person. I noticed Jane Krakowski just came out with an album, and they said [about] that, "Oh, it's brassy from Broadway." And I thought, "But that's who we are. If you didn't want to hear that, why would you buy the CD? That's just the kind of gals we are."

Question: I tend to like live recordings because I think you get an extra layer that you don't get in a studio, especially from people who know how to deliver a song.
Prince: And it's really interesting, and I really purposefully played with it and found a different way in each night. And it's fun putting it together, because it really is like a decoupage. "This goes with this," or "I like this better," or "This is more sane" and "Even though it was rowdy, I thought this was the better take." It's a tricky process.

Question: You mentioned your son. How old is he now?
Prince: He just turned 15. He goes to a great public school out here in California that has a lot of jazz. They have four jazz bands and four concert bands, and he's just getting a tremendous amount of music. He's kind of found his thing.

Question: Does he want to do that professionally?
Prince: You know, I don't know. . . . but he has the goods. I can see him at 25 going, "I don't know, I'm gonna go out for this thing," and him just being able to do it. He's got a lot of gifts. I always told him when he was little, he was Harry Potter. He was a wizard, and he didn't even know it yet. I could see the talent percolating, and it's interesting to see what children absorb and then what they do with it. I think my husband and I were just wanting him to do whatever he wanted to do and not to feel like he had to go into the business 'cause we were in it. But he's an interesting kid. He's a lot of fun to be around, and who knows? He may be mayor or governor.

Question: What's it like for you performing with him on the stage accompanying you? What's that dynamic like?
Prince: He's a very confident performer, [but] when I watch him at festivals and things, I am always just a wreck. I said to my mother, "How'd you ever do this?" And she goes, "Oh, it gets easier," and I said, "Really? 'Cause I'm about to puke." [Laughs.] But I think when we're engaged together doing something, it's somehow easier. . . . He's got a real ease about him. He's just got that natural gift, and he sort of has a sense of humor in his playing. It's interesting to watch.

Question: What's next for you? Do you have any stage plans?
Prince: I have some concerts booked. There's a workshop and a small run of something that I agreed to invest my time [in], but the contract's not completed, so I don't feel good talking about it. . . . I'm always looking for projects that are right for what I have to give. It's fun finding different roles . . . [and] I've always been an old soul in a young body, so now I'm an old soul in an old body! [Laughs.] Which is fine with me.

Question: Are there any roles that you're dying to play or would you rather do something new?
Prince: I like new projects [but also] anything Geraldine Page or Ruth Gordon or Shirley Booth or Maureen Stapleton — anything that those women dabbled in I find interesting. I always look to Angela Lansbury. I could see myself as a Mrs. Lovett. I could see myself as an Auntie Mame, a Hello, Dolly! I'd even probably kick ass in Gypsy. [Laughs.] I think those things will definitely come down the pike, but I always like new stuff, and I like straight stuff. I could see myself doing a Tennessee Williams play. In a way, I feel it's just begun, and I love how people try to slot you and put you somewhere. I just make sure I keep a good boundary on that, and by that I mean, whoever "they" are, they don't know me. So I don't know, I always see past what seems confining to other people. I think if you buy it, then you're there. If you see yourself the way you see yourself, somehow you get there, and you can defy all those rules. Right now, I'm wanting to get my son through high school in a relatively consistent household, so he's got three years left. And then I think the world better watch out, 'cause I could just be anywhere and do anything. [Laughs.]


Faith Prince in A Catered Affair
photo by Jim Cox

Question: It's funny because two of my favorite of your performances were darker characters, in A Catered Affair and A Man of No Importance.
Prince: Thank you. I think probably that's where my humor comes from, like most of us, and the more I dabble in it, the more intrigued I am by it, and that's kind of what excites me. It's like when I went to L.A. Basically, my husband and I went to L.A. to be with our son more. We were doing eight shows a week, and – I tell this story in my act – he basically said at supper one night, I think he was six, [and said], "Do you think you could put me to bed sometime before college?" And we moved to L.A. and people were like, "Oh, my God! Why are you going out there? They don't like any woman over 35, and they don't care about Broadway." It's amazing what people really will say to you. And I was like, "Well, I'm just thinking, 'Doris Roberts can't do it all.'" [Laughs.] I mean, I got amazing roles — "Monk," "Huff," "Grey's Anatomy," "CSI," "Medium." And interesting, interesting people. I'm sure you find this in writing, too, everybody has an opinion about everything. You just have to listen to yourself and go towards the thing that your instincts tell you. And I think with me the best is yet to come. I'm writing a book trying to help kids that are out there. I get a lot of letters from young students and even from their parents [saying], "Tell my kid it's too hard." Or "My parents say, 'Do something that's gonna be a real job.'" I realize it just sort of pissed me off that people don't think of the arts as a viable profession still, in this day and time. So I had this idea, and I'm writing this book to help young students or people that really have a desire [to be in the arts]. How to listen to that voice and find the route, 'cause it's out there.

Question: Especially today, I think there are so many opportunities for people.
Prince: I think so, but you'd be surprised how many people are just clueless about that.

Question: It sounds like it could be a good service for people. . . ..
Prince: Right. . . .I got an honorary doctorate from the University of Cincinnati, and they asked me to do the commencement speech. And I was like, "Oh, God, couldn't I just get the prize?" [Laughs.] I thought, "What am I gonna say to these thousands of students?" 'Cause it wasn't just at the Conservatory, it was for all the colleges, so there were about 5,000 people I had to deliver this speech to. And I thought, "What am I going to say in the middle of a recession to these young people?" So I was out walking and walking and walking and thinking and thinking, and then it hit me, and I thought, "Of course. I've been living in a recession my whole life. Actors always live in a recession. You never know where the next paycheck is coming from, what's coming down the road. The unknown and the uncertainty is always there." And I thought to quote Eckhart Tolle, "When the only thing you can do is embrace it and quit fearing it and just put your arms around it and just go, 'This is where I'm at.'" And I think when you can do that, as he says, you'll find that the world just opens up naturally. It's when you fight it and it can't be in your vocabulary that it really messes with you.

Question: How did the speech go over with the students?
Prince: It really went [well]. I was walking down the aisle with all that academia and thought, "You know, I don't have that many big words in my speech." [Laughs.] I could feel even the professors [responding]. The other thing I said to them was, "Look, today, you're diving off this diving board, and I can tell you're all really passionate, and I just challenge you to be that way your whole life. If you find yourself at the fork in the road where you're feeling embittered or jaded, take responsibility and change course." And I have to say, I've definitely gone through ups and downs in my career, but ultimately I take responsibility for where I am, and if it's not working for me, I change it up.

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

Faith Prince and Brooke Elliott in "Drop Dead Diva."
Faith Prince and Brooke Elliott in "Drop Dead Diva." Photo by Lifetime
Today’s Most Popular News: