An Interview With Actress Carrie Fisher
(see details on our ticket give-away to Carrie Fisher’s show “Wishful Drinking” below the article)
It seems apropos that the daughter of Hollywood’s Royalty would eventually take up her predestined mantle as a Princess. Yet, for whatever charms that galaxy far, far away might hold, Carrie Fisher’s real life is more of an epic tale than anything Lucas could ever deem to dream. From awakening to Republican Party media adviser R. Gregory Stevens’ lifeless body lying next to her (a victim of an OxyContin/cocaine overdose), to having the father of her daughter leave her for another man, Carrie Fisher’s life make the cantina scene in Star Wars look about as interesting as a seminar on new accounting techniques.
Carrie was born on October 21st, 1956 in Beverly Hills,California to America’s Sweethearts, singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds. When Carrie was only two, Eddie Fisher left the house to console Elizabeth Taylor after the death of her husband Mike Todd (who was also Eddie’s best friend and whom he named his son after) and he never came back. The next year, Carrie’s mother Debbie married shoe magnate Harry Karl, whose penchant for roaming about without pajama bottoms and an acute case of chronic flatulence added yet another odd character in Carrie’s galactic menagerie.
Sometimes, there are those born into celebrity who, through no fault of their own, do not realize that their lives are much different than that of the average person. During a recent telephone interview, I asked Carrie when she became aware that her life was vastly unlike the lives of others and what her perception of her early years were.
“Obviously it’s nice to live comfortably and I really didn’t know that there was another way to live until I was like ten. People would say, ‘You think you’re so great because you’re Debbie Reynolds’ daughter!’ I was embarrassed of that.” Carrie paused, rolling over in bed as she had just returned from a celebrity meet and greet in Japan. She went on to say that, “I did know that other people didn’t live like this and I didn’t like it because that separated me from being like everyone and I couldn’t fit in. I wanted to fit in, and none of this stuff makes you fit in. I wanted to have the option to join up. Anything that made me different…I don’t know…I lived mostly in my head, so I don’t know that I was very aware of my surroundings. I was extremely introverted.”
At seventeen, Carrie landed a role in Shampoo with Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn. In 1973, as Carrie puts it, “George Lucas ruined my life” by casting her in the iconic role of Princess Leia Organa in his upcoming sci-fi movie, Star Wars – released in 1977. In reflecting on the deal that was made at the time, Carrie has been quoted as saying that, “We signed away our likeness, so when I look in the mirror, I have to pay George a couple of bucks.” Following Empire Strikes Back (1981) was Return of the Jedi (1983) in which Carrie once again reprised her role as Princess Leia, becoming the gold plated bikini babe – slave to and amorphous arm candy of the gelatinous villain Jabba the Hutt. It was this revealing representation that launched Carrie into the stratosphere as a sex symbol, a position that she was uncomfortable with and an image that she unwittingly didn’t realize at the time would follow her throughout her whole career.
Having been inundated and interrogated throughout the years pertaining to her experiences with George Lucas and the Star Wars empire, I wanted to only briefly touch on that topic. I asked if she felt that there was a weight from living under the legacy of such an iconic movie so early in her career, to which she replied:
“I mean, I never really wanted…I was never much of an actress. It was never really what I wanted to do. If I had wanted to be an actress, it would have been bad.”
Carrie has been oft quoted as saying she never really wanted to become a celebrity as she had seen firsthand what fame such as that had wrought. The ensuing years after Star Wars were fraught with drug addiction and psychological problems, becoming overly apparent both on and off the screen, as evidenced in her appearance on the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978. Her erratic behavior and rampant drug use even led to her almost getting fired from the set of The Blues Brothers, where she was unable to turn in a decent performance due to her intoxication.
After entering rehab and cleaning herself up (with a few admitted slips here and there) it seemed that Carrie eventually returned to the refuge that she had found in her teenage years: writing. I asked Carrie if she found that writing became a part of her self-therapy.
“Well, I never did it for that reason, but when I was young, I guess I did.” After a slight pause, she went on to say that, “My thoughts would get all kind of crowded, so it kind of became a way of kind of organizing the crowd.”
I was curious as to whether Carrie felt more comfortable writing about her life veiled behind the safety net of fiction or if it was easier to just write it all down without having to think up scenarios and plots to introduce one event or another.
“Fictionalized!” Carrie said, without hesitation. “Well, it’s a different kind of writing. Your tone with first person prose is much more conversational, so it’s hard to get more descriptive. There’s a certain kind of way that I like to write that doesn’t suit itself to a first person narrative.”
Was it easier to tell the whole truth about something that happened to herself and the people involved in a situation when it was couched behind the shroud of fiction?
“I don’t know about myself, but I would never say anything that would make anyone uncomfortable that was obvious, no. I don’t want to do anything like that.” Carrie said. “I have probably made people uncomfortable with certain things, but I do my best not to do that. It’s easier in fiction because you make up stuff and you use stuff and you disguise stuff.”
While still appearing in acting roles (When Harry Met Sally, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, Scream 3), a large portion of her creative energy seemed to go into her writing, whether it be fictional (Postcards From The Edge, Surrender The Pink, Delusions Of Grandma), screenwriting (These Old Broads, The Young Indian Jones Chronicles) or non-fiction (Wishful Drinking, Shockaholic). In 2006, Carrie debuted her screenplay of Wishful Drinking as a one woman show, replete with videos, photos and more anecdotes that you could shake a light saber at.
In a world saturated with reality entertainment, it seems as if celebrities’ bad behavior is sometimes an intentional ploy for attention or a casting call for the next Lifetime Network show, yet in Carrie’s case this is not so. Most of her life was not lived out in front of the camera lens, like most other celebrities bent on revealing their day to day lives. When you read or watch Wishful Drinking, you are left with the impression of a woman coming to the realization of what the events in her life meant and accepting the repercussions that her decisions and actions have produced. It is also not a ‘woe is me’ pity fest, yearning for the audience’s sympathy in a desperate maneuver to gain forgiveness and acceptance. I did wonder if performing her own life out night after night desensitized and somewhat separated her from the integral epochs of her past.
“God I wish! What it does is, it makes me own it and I’m not ashamed of it. It makes you feel brave. It certainly makes you feel not ashamed and sometimes it can make you feel like, ‘Look at me motherfucker! I used to not even be able to talk about this!’” Carrie went on to define what she meant by saying, “Well, I mean, if I’ve gotten through the stuff I’ve gotten through, you can get through anything. I look for the ordinary in the extraordinary, whether it being bi-polar or a celebrity or the child of a celebrity or any of that.”
At the age of forty, Carrie had a full blown breakdown which required her to be admitted into a psychiatric hospital. Over the course of time, medications were tried and therapies instituted, but the real breakthrough came when electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was applied. In Carrie’s words, it was as if there was cement obstructing her mind and the ECT treatment seemed to break all of that away. There has been some short term memory loss, indicated by her answering machine, which asks callers to leave their name, number and how they know Carrie. She has some problems with remembering names or some events, but she highly recommends ECT, stating that it is not how it is depicted in movies like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
“I would recommend it to other people if they were in a massive depression, but the way it’s depicted” She paused before going on, “…I saw it on a preview of that show Homeland, and it’s not like that! I mean, maybe they do it like that in some places, but from my experience, they put you out and…it’s just weird. Anyway, I would recommend it or any measure you needed to take to deal with a massive depression, but of course, I tried everything else first.”
For a taste of what it’s like living life on the edge, collecting the postcard and coming back, check out Carrie Fisher’s one woman show, Wishful Drinking. Also, read her short follow up book, Shockoholic, which details some of the funnier anecdotes from her life. AS we wrapped up our interview, I asked Carrie what I should tell Daytonians about the show and what to expect. She stated that there was a lot of audience interaction, making each show a unique experience. Carrie signed off by simply saying…
“I do involve the audience, so come and see me and tell me some stories!”
We have a pair of tickets to see Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking on Tuesday April 10, courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association! Simply this article, On Stage Dayton and then in the comment section below, tell us your favorite Carrie Fisher role and why (make sure it posts to your FB page as well). We will randomly draw one winner on Monday 4/9 at 3pm. GOOD LUCK!