Originally born in Tallahassee Florida, actor/comedian Mary Birdsong grew up in the small beach community of Long Beach Island in New Jersey. She was voted one of the “Top Ten Talents on the Rise” by the Hollywood Reporter. She can currently be seen in the movie “Adventureland” as well as the feature film “Made of Honor” with Patrick Dempsey. You may also remember her as Deputy Kimball on the Comedy Central series “Reno 911!”, or possibly as a correspondent on “The Daily Show”. And she just so happens to be our guest this week in 5 Questions.
1. You were one of the three characters killed off of “Reno” between seasons 5 and 6. Could you tell us why you left that show?
MB: You’ll have to ask Comedy Central that question. But I hear they’re an AWESOME talk-show guest. In all seriousness, I wish I could say the departure was one that I chose, but that’s not the case. I don’t think I’ll ever fully know why Comedy Central decided to change the cast after season five, or why the show ended after season six. The thing I like to focus on is that I had a great time doing that show, and I was really lucky to be a part of a show so smart and so beloved by its fans.
2. Do you have any behind the scenes stories from the set of “Adventureland”?
MB: I remember a lot of talk about wigs. 🙂 It’s strange to think that a film could be affected by something as seemingly innocuous as cosmetic as a wig, but the original plan was to do an extensive bald cap on my character, and then put a wig over it. (My character was a woman who wore a wig because she was a cancer survivor and her hair had fallen out from the treatment) Greg Mottolla wanted to get a really clear shot of my character’s wig being thrown into a pool at a party, revealing that she was bald and very humiliated in front of her friends. However, I’m not bald. And it turned out (if I remember correctly) that to make a bald cap look really realistic, it was going to be far too costly on the budget that we were working with. So the director and the hair/makeup people had to do some fast thinking, because here was this actress that had flown from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, and was scheduled to shoot the scene early the next morning in which her stepdaughter (played by a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart) dramatically pulls off my character’s wig to humiliate her in the middle of a fight. After I was paraded in front of the producers and Greg with about eight different wigs, I got a phone call from Greg the next morning saying that he decided they were going to shoot it differently. They wouldn’t show my wig getting thrown off entirely and getting thrown into the swimming pool. Instead, they’d just have Kristen’s character just sort of yank on it so it looked all out of whack on my head.
Something was just screwed up at the last minute and they just came up with a solution that wouldn’t halt the bloody production. That’s Kind of the Beauty of Film.
3. You got a pretty incredible gig in 2006: Opening up for Martin Short’s “Fame Becomes Me” on Broadway. How did that come about?
MB: Well, I wasn’t opening up for Martin Short. I was in a show with him (which is even cooler) and it was an amazing experience. It came about in a very traditional way — my theater agent set up an audition for me, and I went in to do some characters, and perform some scenes they gave me to learn, and sing a couple of songs. It was almost like having to do a mini-one woman show while a bunch of people behind a card table stare at you. Luckily one of those people happened to be Martin Short, and brilliant composer/lyricist team Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. The funny part is when I was choosing which characters I should bring in to the audition (they wanted us to do our own original characters in addition to the scenes THEY gave us) I immediately thought of Judy Garland, because she is a character I do a LOT, and I love doing her. But then I thought, “Nahh…. too gay.” Well it turns out that Marty (though he is as straight as they come) is a total Judy NUT! And once I was in the room in front of them and had done all my material, Marty said “Marc and Scotty tell me you do a great Garland. Would you do a little Garland for us?” So I happily complied. I asked them if they wanted me to do young Judy or old Judy. They said “Both.” So I sang one of her famous songs from her film “Meet Me In St. Louis”- starting it as young Judy and getting older and older with each bar- so by the end it was old Judy singing. But the thing I didn’t realize until much later was that Marc and Scott had seen me perform Judy in a one-night-only Christmas variety show downtown in the East Village in NYC two years ago! It was a show created by Jackie Hoffman (an amazing performer and writer and one of the funniest women I know). And they remembered me doing Judy Garland in that show that one night and made a point of requesting me when they started auditioning women. It just goes to show that sometimes you show up and do something and you might think you did it for nothing (except maybe the fun of it). And then BAM! Two years later, or 5 or 10 years later, it has this amazing impact on the direction in which your life is heading.
3b. What’s a more awkward role: Portia in Julius Caesar or a pornographic film actress?
MB: Definitely Portia– because it’s much harder to stab yourself in the leg on stage with a knife and look believable while reciting words written in iambic pentameter by a dead British guy than it is to walk around in a garter belt and thigh-high stockings reciting words written by a comedic goddess like Elaine May, who is very much alive.
4. Obviously if you’re the only one on stage you tend to have more control over everything. What’s the one mistake you absolutely can’t make in that situation?
MB: Well, if you mean “What’s the one mistake that’s impossible to make?”, I guess I’d have to say “you can’t upstage anyway, or hog a scene” But if you mean what’s the one mistake you shouldn’t make, I’d say, “try to have control over everything.” You will totally screw yourself if you think you have control
over what will happen on a stage in front of a live audience. You really will. And the more relaxed and accepting you are about the fact that YOU HAVE NO CONTROL, the better off you will be. You’ll be more spontaneous, more present, more focused, etc. And after all…. the audience is like a scene partner, and you don’t know WHAT they’re going to throw at you. So make peace with that and everyone will have more fun.
4b. Could you tell us a little bit about 99 Cent Whore?
99 Cent Whore is many things– an off-Broadway musical, a film, an album, a band… and the list goes on and on. She is mainly my alter-ego.
She grew out of my love for awkward southern women in bad local commercials, trying to be good on camera and failing miserably. She’s also my feminine response to Tenacious D’s stuff (LOVE the D- they were a big inspiration). And she really took shape when two things happened at the same time–I’d just gotten dumped by a guy I thought I was going to marry, and the Writer’s Strike happened. So I started making little videos late at night so I wouldn’t spend those lonely hours doing anything pathetic or destructive. And VOILA! The 99 Cent Whore was born! At the time, I was trying very hard to learn how to play the electric guitar, too. So it was a PERFECT way to get myself to play– by making little you tube videos. And it was wonderful because her character is NOT a good guitarist at all- so if I played really badly it wasn’t sad. it was funny! And the writer’s strike meant a lot of us actors in L.A. and NY suddenly had a LOT of time on our hands. so a lot of us took to the laptops and the and generated our OWN comedy so we wouldn’t go crazy waiting for the strike to end.
5. What’s up next for Mary B in 2011?
MB: Well, I’m super psyched about my new solo show (3 DAYS IN THE TUB: A MAMA DRAMA) which I performed already in L.A. at Comedy Central Stage, and at the Fake Gallery. And I just got back from doing it in New York City at Joe’s Pub. My collaborator/director on that is Eric Gilliland, who was head writer/exec producer on a little TV show you might have heard of called Roseanne. Yeah. So that’s awesome. And I’ll also be heading to San Francisco this April to do an amazing rock musical called “Tales of the City”, which is based on the amazing series of books written by Armistead Maupin. The music is by two guys (Jake Shears and John Garden) from THE SCISSOR SISTERS, and every song is fucking brilliant. I play Mona Ramsey — the drug addict bisexual party girl (of course!). Oh! And I almost forgot! In 2011 the film I did with George Clooney comes out. It’s directed by Academy Award-winning director Alexander Payne (who also is exec producer on the HBO series “Hung”). I think it’s going to be a GREAT movie. And George Clooney is the coolest man in showbiz. Could NOT have been a nicer, more generous, laid back guy. And SO FUNNY! Between every take he’d be cracking the cast and the crew up with jokes and impressions. He was like a really sexy portable Vaudeville show. For real. Too bad he’s sooooo fugly and socially awkward. It’s just a damn shame. 🙂
Make sure to hit up Mary’s personal website at http://marybirdsong.com/
Mary on Twitter: http://twitter.com/marybirdsong
Mary on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/people/Mary-Birdsong/580886083#!/profile.php?id=580886083
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