It was the fall of 2012, mere days before the surprise announcement of the Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and its various and sundry properties including, of course, its crown jewel “Star Wars,” and I was sitting in a cramped backstage dressing room at The Improv outpost in the California suburb of Brea about an hour outside of Los Angeles, speaking with that film franchise’s still-reigning princess as she pet her dog Gary, both still a bit dusted in sparkly residue from the glitter she’d tossed at the comedy club’s patrons earlier in the evening.
Had the conversation occurred just days later, the primary topic Carrie Fisher and I would’ve discussed was the future of the “Star Wars” franchise and her – and by extension Princess Leia Organa’s – role in the movies ahead. But at that moment, there was no future for Star Wars, no looming sequels and spin-off, no J.J. Abrams involvement. It was over. Dunzo. At least as far as anyone but the most insider-y of insiders at Disney and Lucasfilm knew. Fisher, of course, was one of them. She’d been tipped by George Lucas during a dinner with Mark Hamill much earlier when the creator of the two epic trilogies laid out the latest master plan for his brainchild and his own personal empire. But during the course of our conversation, Fisher never offered even a glimmer of New Hope that we’d ever see her in character as Leia again.
But that’s not to say we didn’t talk about “Star Wars.” We did, a lot, because Fisher has just spent considerable time on stage reminiscing and fielding all kinds of audience questions related to the iconic film series that, now and forever, serves as defining chapter of her Hollywood career – though just one of many wildly fascinating facets of her now-storied life.
As pretty much the only major female character in “Star Wars,” the daughter of two showbiz superstars caught in a sex scandal that rocked the world harder than Brangelaniston, a pal of John Belushi, the ex-wife of Paul Simon, the mother of a daughter fathered by a powerful agent who turned out to be gay, a best-selling novelist and top movie script doctor and a bipolar former drug addict, Fisher was intimately familiar with the stuff her fans were just dying to ask her. That’s why after winning acclaim in recent years for various incarnations of “Wishful Drinking,” which started as a series of anecdotes she used for awards-giving and -getting speeches and begat a bestselling book which then begat a hilarious one-woman live stage show which then begat an Emmy-nominated HBO special – Fisher was testing out a new performance piece called “Any Questions?” in which she spent the entirety of her time on stage fielding inquiries from the audience.
She shrewdly included a few built-in bits to bolster the entertainment value during certain expected questions – like an uproarious look back at the disastrous 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special” in which she sang in character as Leia, joining herself for a live duet via video clips. But for the most part Fisher – her only onstage companion being her lazing lapdog and the occasional audience participant – relied on her razor-sharp wit, relatively intact memories, vivid storytelling abilities and seemingly limitless verbosity to captivate the room for nearly two full hours, amusing, surprising and sometimes shocking herself as much as the audience with her mostly uncensored recollections.
Once “Star Wars” returned as a hot button, zeitgeist-y phenomenon and she headed off to reprise her role and reunite with former cast members for “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” Fisher likely has had little time to mount the show as a touring production, but in honor of May the Fourth, I thought I’d share some of her extended recollections about herself, the unusual Hollywood journey and the film franchise that may prove forever fascinating, where she provided even more answers to the questions she never stops fielding.
I loved the format. Was this the first time you’d done a full night of Q&A? You did a little bit in your previous live shows.
In ‘Wishful Drinking,’ yeah. It was always my favorite part of the show. I basically started the show that way with Greg’s [Stevens] death. It started with the worst s**t, and it was just, like, double back. And I would say ‘Any questions?’ and they wouldn’t believe me. And it would take a while, and then they would start doing it. But I haven’t done it beyond that to this or whatever.
Are you genuinely surprised at how much of your own personal mythology the fans know, chapter and verse? I’m sure before it was all ‘Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars’ but tonight you had questions about “Under the Rainbow,” “Soapdish,” “The Blues Brothers,” your dad Eddie Fisher–
It is mostly ‘Star Wars’ though. It’s a lot of that, but, yeah, with the Internet, they just have more access to everything. And when people are fans, certain people, they’re obsessed like Kevin Smith. ‘Star Wars’ brought out something in people. And I’m the only girl in it.
There’s a generation that’s never going to get over ‘Star Wars’. The obsession just persists and persists.
It is strange. It’s like a scent that lives in the rug. It’s our own fairytales. The Grimms were for a hundred years ago. So what is it for our generation? What is it that we can relate to? So with Grimm’s fairytales, it’s all folksy and hobbits, and we like all that. But this was just a whole other landscape to imagine on, and people had a real hunger for it.
And what’s fun for you now, to see in this kind of context, to see the people have these burning questions and can ask in a looser, more fun way than being a fan coming up to you for an autograph?
That’s better because people freak out when they just meet you, and they want to ask you something, but they get so nervous and end up saying they’re a fan. That’s not a real conversation. It’s nice to hear, but you know they would rather engage. And they don’t really know what to say, and so they say, ‘I’m a big fan.’ And I’ll say, ‘Thank you.’ And then where do we go? I mean, I could probably guide it probably, but this context is better because people have more to ask or say than that, and they don’t have to feel afraid.
And then you’ve got the guys who suddenly become part of the show, like the shirtless guy tonight.
TWO shirtless guys!
Is that kind of stuff just a gift that you have to be ready to accept and know where to go with it?
Yeah. I mean I’m willing to go with whatever. I never expected – well, the guy set his one up. So I didn’t have that planned at all – or planted? Why did everybody keep having such cute bodies, though? Brea: the land of the abdomen, the six-pack.
What’s it meant to you to be able to take your past and share it with everybody and always find new, fresh comedy in it and put it out there for everybody to enjoy?
Well, you always have to be willing to look at in a new way. Then none of it gets stale for me. I don’t just have one way of looking at it, any of the experiences that I had in a movie. And sometimes I won’t remember something, and I’ll suddenly remember something. So you have to be willing to go where it takes you, where someone asks you. The thing that I used to say about some of the people I love listening to, are the people that are genuinely interested in their own reply and what it meant. And there are certain politicians that have that. Shirley MacLaine has it. They don’t know what they’re going to say, but it’s like they’re listening too. That’s what I do. You do listen to people that will talk that way because there’s nothing set in stone. It’s all smoke.
Have you been asked questions by fans, and by people like me, long enough that’s nothing’s going to throw you?
No. Well, if someone asked me my best ‘poop story [like they did tonight]?’ That I have not been asked before. But, no, you can’t faze me.
Is there a big picture plan for this show?
What I was doing was feeling it out. It’s like an out-of-town tryout, just not that far out of town, just working it out. It’s not that you just want to talk about yourself, but your opinions on things. My fear is just becoming lost in a swamp of narcissism. I’m afraid of seeming that way, but there is a level of narcissism in being a celebrity anyways. You talk about yourself a lot.
You always knew too that you were not just a good storyteller, but a funny storyteller. You knew that for a long time before you started doing these kind of performances, right?
Yeah. When I grew up watching my mother [Debbie Reynolds] do this, in a way – what she would call ad-libbing. Ad-libbing means that you work within a certain framework, but you f**k around within that. I don’t even work within the framework. I didn’t think about doing it myself probably until I was 30 or something. I mean, I knew I was funny, but basically, to me, that meant I was someone who could be a good interview. And all that meant was, ‘Thank God,’ because I have to do these things. So I always did seem to be able to do them because I was brought up around that, but it’s the slant that you have on it that makes it more palatable.
The bit with the ‘Star Wars’ Holiday Special’ – my friends and I got very excited to watch last year. It’s way worse than I ever remembered.
It’s shocking. If you deliberately tried to make something to punish people for liking ‘Star Wars,’ because people have this huge appetite for ‘Star Wars’ – something that will kill it. It’s devastating. It’s a total mystery how that happened. It is a car crash. It is a terrorist attack. It’s worse than the worst dental work you ever had. I just thought of it when we were going to do this. We were trying to think what I would bring. Over the years, I’ve talked about it, and it was sort of these things: the ‘sand genitals’ [in ‘Return of the Jedi,’ [Billy Dee Williams’ off camera comment], ‘Your mouth would look so great on my…,’ being drunk [in a scene in ‘Empire Strikes Back’] that one time.
I’m never going to look at that scene the same way again.
Actually, I would have to look at those movies again. I haven’t seen them in a long time. And I probably would remember funny stuff, but it has to be awakened in me.
Did anything that got knocked loose tonight from the questions surprise you, like a memory that you hadn’t tapped in who knows how long?
I was surprised that I forgot who I lost my virginity to. I just will forget things, I guess, for a while, but I hadn’t thought of the Princess Margaret thing for a long time.
[Fisher had recalled on stage a trip to London with the “Star Wars” cast in which they were received by Princess Margaret, whom her father Eddie Fisher had reportedly had a fling with. The story ends with Fisher successfully scoring a Quaalude-style drug made only in England at the behest of her friend John Belushi, and with Harrison Ford remarking, after being cornered for some time by the royal, that Fisher’s father ‘would f**k anyone.’]
I could see it in your face that that was a memory that was amusing you.
That was f**king brilliant. That’s the funniest thing Harrison ever said.
Are you writing now – any new books or screenplays?
I haven’t. I was working on maybe a musical of ‘Postcards,’ and I’m starting to organize my mind around doing another novel. I need the third person distance. This is as first person as you’re going to get, and it’s sort of nice to have that in doing a book. And there’s an adaptation floating around of ‘The Best Awful’ that I’ve done for f**king years, and who knows? There’s always something going on, and I do speeches, I guess you could call it [laughs].
The whole ‘Wishful Drinking’ book and show was born out of you doing speeches.
About giving awards and then getting mental illness awards.
With all of the things that you share about your own life, what do you get back when people have a chance to grab you privately and say, ‘This is what you talking about that meant to me”?
The best one I had was this girl. When she was 14, she was told she was bipolar, and she was really upset. And she went home, and her mom said, ‘Hey, Carrie Fisher’s bipolar.’ And it made her feel like –I’m sure it was like Princess Lea, whatever it is – and it made it okay for her. It didn’t just have to be some thing that she got saddled with. And I think it’s funny that on ‘Homeland,’ the girl’s named Carrie and is bipolar and has ECT. But has it in that f**king way that it doesn’t exist, and it’s really destructive to do that. I mean, I understand the dramatic whatever, but it’s upsetting.
To make the treatment appear traumatizing.
Because then someone that needs it, that can get reset. Do you know the power of that if you’re suicidal, and you don’t want to sit and have three weeks to see if medication works or not and be hospitalized and feel like killing yourself the whole time? And because of these shows that portray ECT as a punishment, people aren’t going to do it. And that’s the biggest thing if I can ever do anything because it really works, and it works fast. And that’s a mess that doesn’t get cleaned up easily.
Do you have other places, when you’re done here at Brea, lined up already to take the show?
No. It was just to try it out here. Who knew how it was really going to go? So it’s something that has to evolve so that it actually has a shape to it. Really, this is the first time we ever did it, rehearse it, nothing. So it has to have a beginning and an end. We just decided that I would come on singing [Patsy Cline’s] ‘Crazy’ an hour ago. So basically it’s making it up as we go along.
The first thing I noticed driving up and seeing the marquee: Carrie Fisher from ‘Star Wars’.
It’s like a land. I’ve never seen that before. That made me happy. There was an area code, and there’s a stamp. And we have our own currency. I’d live in ‘Star Wars’ if you want to come visit me. Come on down. From ‘Star Wars’, like from L.A., from San Francisco. I’m from ‘Star Wars’.