BY Lesley Goldberg
September 24 2009 4:20 PM ET
Perhaps best known for her two-time Emmy-winning role as stern Dr. Lilith Sternin from sitcoms Cheers and Frasier, Bebe Neuwirth is a busy lady. From playing the iconic Dorothy Parker in 1999's TV movie Dash and Lilly to claiming a pair of Tony awards for Sweet Charity and Chicago, the multihyphenate always seems to be jumping from film to TV to the stage -- singing, dancing, and acting along the way. The recent newlywed, enjoying a rare break in the New Jersey countryside with her husband, paused to discuss her roles as the tough dance teacher in the Fame big-screen remake (opening September 25) and Morticia in the Broadway-bound musical The Addams Family (world-premiering in Chicago in November) as well as who Lilith would rather get down and dirty with: Diane Chambers or Rebecca Howe.
Advocate.com: You're playing the beloved -- and hated -- dance instructor, Lynn, in Fame. What can you tell me about how you play her?
Bebe Neuwirth: In the original production Debbie Allen played the dance instructor, and this is a different person. I'm not re-creating Debbie's part. Debbie actually plays the principal of the school. This character that I play, she's from the ballet world but she's well-versed in theater and theater dancing and other forms, but she made a living as a ballet dancer, and I think because of the training and the discipline that goes into being a ballet dancer, she carries that over and tries to instill that focus and that discipline into all of her dancers, which I don't think is a bad thing at all, speaking as a theater dancer with ballet training. I think that is actually a very good way to approach any kind of dance; I think she's demanding, but I think that she's quite compassionate.
You spent a year at Juilliard and have been involved with ballet since the age of 5. Would it be safe to say that playing Lynn is a collection of all the people who have influenced you over the years?
I wouldn't say that. I'd say it's more like what I would be like if I was that person, if that makes any sense. If I was Lynn, if I had been a professional ballet dancer and I had gone into teaching at a public high school in New York City. I find her very sympathetic; I understand that. I believe in the same things she believes in: discipline, hard work in class, focus, and I have compassion for people who love it and are not going to be able to do it professionally. That's heartbreaking to me and it probably breaks her heart, but she's probably so used to it that that's where she and I are different.
Is this the first time you've been able to use your extensive dance background in a film or TV production?
Funny thing about that -- you'd think they'd have asked me to dance, but no, they did not ask me to dance in this picture. I was very disappointed that I didn't get to dance on film, but on the other hand, what you get is somebody who is a professional dancer, and I think you see that in the person. I think you can see that I'm a dancer, and I think it's in my carriage and in my bearing and in my physicality and in my body, so it's different from having an actress play the part to have a dancer play the part. I appreciate that they cast me, a real dancer, in the part of a real dancer. I think I also am very grateful to the producer and director that they came to me and checked on authenticity. They had a script and they said, "Now what really would a ballet teacher say here? What really would a jazz teacher say?" because they really wanted to make it authentic, not somebody's idea of what a dance audition is like, but really what a dance audition is like.
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