"Carrie Fisher: The Hollywood Family," premiering Sunday on A&E, is a darkly comic expose of life in Tinseltown from the viewpoint of a denizen who lived and survived many of its extremes.
Fisher, an actress-turned-best-selling author ("Postcards From the Edge," "Surrender the Pink"), wrote and is host of the two-hour documentary produced by A&E and the BBC. The daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher (her stepmother was Elizabeth Taylor, no less) talks openly about love, marriage, her 3-year-old daughter Billie Catherine and life in La-La Land.
Fisher visits with good friends Penny Marshall, George Lucas (who directed Fisher in the classic "Star Wars"), her down-to-earth grandma and actor Martin Sheen. Among those profiled on the special are her parents, a gentleman who operates a sperm bank out of his rattletrap of a car, a woman who makes the painful decision to give her baby up for adoption and a wealthy Beverly Hills matron who seems to love her two dogs more than her family. The second half of the documentary explores the difficult, often cruel world of child actors in Hollywood.
In a display of cable counterprogramming, Lifetime also is presenting a documentary on Fisher and her mother Sunday night, "Intimate Portrait: Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher."
The sardonic Fisher, 38, who also has appeared in the films "Shampoo," "The Empire Strikes Back," "Return of the Jedi" and "Soapdish," discussed "The Hollywood Family" over the phone with Times Staff Writer Susan King.
The documentary is fascinating, but I found a lot of it also quite sad.
Everything I get involved in is sort of sad.
The whole segment about kid actors in Hollywood ...
I know. That's so awful, isn't it?
Do you think it's ever the decision of the child to go into the profession?
Well, obviously if there were no child actors there would be no children in movies. I don't know the sort of way of determining when your child is capable of dealing with it or if a child has any talent at all.
I just think it's horrible. I have had people come up to me, the way of complimenting my kid, and saying she would be perfect for commercials. What about just saying, "She's cute"? But in L.A. you can't say she's cute. It's, "If you want to get some extra money, you should go to an agency." It's just awful.
How did "Carrie Fisher: The Hollywood Family" get started?
I think [the producers] came up to me in a party and asked if I would like to do something like this. I don't think it was fully formed at the time, or maybe I wasn't fully formed.
Did you find all the participants and conduct all the interviews?
No. I thought I was going to have to do more. I was concerned I wouldn't be able to find those people. What I ended up doing was asking Lucas and Penny. They asked Martin Sheen [to do it] because I had never spoken to him. I had to look at a lot of the footage they shot and write voice-overs.
I thought you also had interviewed your parents.
I didn't have to do it. I especially thought she [mother Debbie] was good with her stuff ... She is very accountable about not making good choices in men. My father is still saying, "[Elizabeth Taylor] is the love of my life." Really? Did you ever read what Elizabeth said? It is too bad. It is too bad. [My parents'] whole relationship was basically a press release.
I loved your grandmother.
She was sweet. She is a good broad (laughs). She's tough. She's very tough on my mom. She is great. I come from a long line of short, potent broads who render their mates sort of obsolete.
Would you like to do more of these Hollywood documentaries?
Only if I lose weight.
But you looked fine on your treadmill in that one sequence.
I looked OK at that moment, but then all the other moments it was me with like 5 extra pounds. ...
So you've totally given up acting for writing?
Has anyone not noticed I haven't been acting in a long time? In the last five years [all I have done] is--as a favor--three days' work with [Richard] Dreyfuss, who is directing something for Showtime. I owe another book, but that's sort of tragic. I just finished a script for Penny and, I don't know, I have about two or three more scripts to do and I am doing articles.
If you hadn't begun as an actress ...
I would have done this. Acting was a mistake. I mean it wasn't a mistake. It was the family business.
So going into the business was your mother's idea? Why did you stay with acting for so long?
My mother put me in a nightclub act, in effect, to be with her. She was not having a good time at that time. My mother was really my parents. I didn't see my father hardly at all. It was a way of keeping the family together. So I went with my mother when I was 13 and did her nightclub act in Vegas and Reno. Then I acted in the chorus of "Irene" [with her] when I was 15. Then I just started acting. Once you get into that stuff, it's very seductive. How do you walk away from something that you can do OK, that's sort of fiscally attractive? You get to travel and the people you meet are great. Writing is very solitary, and [acting] is a community effort. There's a lot of drama about it and your mother can give you advice forever.
"Carrie Fisher: The Hollywood Family" airs Sunday at 5 and 9 p.m. on A&E; "Intimate Portrait: Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher" airs Sunday at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.