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The Sunday Conversation: With Carrie Fisher

She tells all about herself in her one-woman play 'Wishful Drinking.'

December 12, 2010|By Irene Lacher, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Writer and actress Carrie Fisher
Writer and actress Carrie Fisher (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Carrie Fisher takes on the scandalous breakup of her parents' marriage, when her father, Eddie Fisher, left her mother, Debbie Reynolds, for Elizabeth Taylor; her erstwhile marriage to Paul Simon, her turn as Princess Leia in "Star Wars" and its continuing ripples and much more in her savagely witty one-woman Broadway play, "Wishful Drinking," which comes to HBO on Sunday at 9 p.m. The special includes archival footage from Fisher's colorful life.

You've always been very open about the most difficult, shocking and vulnerable parts of your life. Why?

You don't know that there's not worse stuff lingering somewhere back there. But usually the stuff I talk about is already out, so if it's going to be out, I want my version to be out there.

Also you mentioned in the show that you went public with your bipolar disorder in your 2000 interview with Diane Sawyer.

You know what? It had already come out that I was in a mental hospital, so you kind of do the math with that one, which was under "Carrie Fisher's Tragic Life." That was one of my favorite headlines, so to speak. That came out, so I did my version.

Do you have any regrets about any public disclosures?

No, I don't believe in regrets. I know they're human and I have them sometimes. But I don't like to hang out with them. The only stuff I regret is any discomfort I caused someone else.

Until this show, most of the writing you've done about your life has been thinly veiled romans à clef. Why did you move on to a memoir monologue?

It's more fun or comfortable for me to write in third person. I love the nice cool shade of detachment and the freedom to not have to check details or other people's feelings as much. And you can get kind of high falutin'. With monologue, it's conversational. It's a different way of working. I have been giving awards to everyone from George Lucas to Liz Taylor to Meryl [Streep] to my mother; I've been receiving mental illness awards, doing addiction monologues. This material was building like some not-so-ominous twister.

I was actually kind of surprised, favorably, when you sang "Happy Days" at the beginning and the end of your show. Of course, both of your parents were singers. Why haven't you sung publicly since your teens, or have you?

I haven't really much. It was always everybody else's thing. It was my parents' and it was Paul's thing. And Paul said to me, "You have an old Broadway voice." Two days later I said, "But it's a good old Broadway voice." And so that's what I have. And yeah, there was a certain point where I was going to replace Linda Ronstadt in "Pirates of Penzance." But I never worked at my voice as an instrument. It's just a gift I have not really taken advantage of, but it was never a thing that expressed me as well as, let's say, words did.

You open your show talking about your friend, R. Gregory Stevens, who died in your home. I read that you said he haunted your house. Do you still see him around?

I never saw him. I just felt him. I don't believe in stuff like that, but his death was so well, violent in a way. He was pulled out of this life so abruptly, yanked from it, that it didn't surprise me to feel his energy around. I was nutty during that time period; I was really, really nutty. And that really banged me up. I saw him snort the Oxycontin. I mean, I knew that was what he was doing in the bathroom. It wasn't, "Oh let me chop it for you." But I blame myself; it happened on my watch. I don't make a practice of stopping people from their indulgences. Anyway, that turned out to be a bad thing. I blamed myself, and I had a breakdown from that.

The HBO show is dedicated to your father, Eddie Fisher. How did your mom and Elizabeth Taylor respond to the news of his recent death?

People would come up to my mom and go, "I'm so sorry for your loss." She'd say, "What do you mean, the one 50 years ago?" For my mother, my father was this man who was not a good parent and certainly not a co-parent. And she had some compassion for him, because he was not that well prior to his death. When I told Elizabeth, she cried.

Well, he didn't screw her over.

No, he didn't. She screwed him over. Because I said to her, "Well, you know, he loved you." She said, "He did?" It was darling. Really, it's so many years later now. Some of those memories from my mom have to be positive, but he did a very rough thing to her; to recover from that kind of public humiliation is really not something that happened.

I thought it was interesting that even though you were raised as a Protestant, you mention your Jewish heritage a couple of times, and I've read you go to temple.

Oh, no, no, no. I have, and I go to it sometimes when it's 12-step. I identify in a way more on that side. I have friends who are Orthodox, and I go to Seder at their house. I really appreciate the rituals. And I don't find the same thing in the more goyim religion.

You say you don't like being called a survivor. But how did you manage to make peace with your demons?

What else is there to do? Give them a room in the house? Make peace with them? I make fun of them. That's different. And in that way, I get power over them.

Did the ECT treatments help?

Oh, God yes. I loved those.

So do you think they have an undeservedly bad rap?

Totally. That's why I talk about it. But I had to get in really bad shape to get the ECT. Because I believed in the reputation it had utterly as well, that it's a last resort, last last last last. You do it after you've tried everything else possible, including oils from India. I wish I hadn't waited that long.

I'm happy that I can be 54 and still have things I want to do in my life and still want to be actively in it and think things are possible. In my 20s, anybody in their 50s was heading for the old folks' home. There's a whole other way of living now. You're younger for longer. You're younger into your older age.

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