Christine Ebersole has had long and substantial careers in theater (she won a Tony for playing Big Edie and Little Edie in “Grey Gardens”) and movies (“Amadeus,” “Tootsie”), and as a singer, interpreting the music of Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, and Noel Coward. (Her performance in Coward’s comic play “Blithe Spirit” is also celebrated.) Not to mention television: She has appeared on programs including "Ugly Betty" and "Will & Grace," and was a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.”
An Illinois native, she escaped the Midwest for the world of New York theater after what she describes as an “extremely supportive” upbringing.
Ebersole will be at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Saturday with Stephen Sondheim and Brian Stokes Mitchell as part of "Stephen Sondheim: In Conversation." She discussed the story of her development.
Gene Laurent: At MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., I had a professor who told me to leave school and go to New York. It’s rather shocking, isn’t it? He said, "Don’t stay here." I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, graduated … and got a job as a waitress.
Carole Lombard: My biggest influence was Carole Lombard. I loved her childlike mischievousness — that, I identified with. She had a complete honesty about her performance. I was drawn to “Twentieth Century.” I identify her with the sophistication and the acting of that era. I felt like I had lived then.
Joni Mitchell: Joni really spoke to the human struggle — she was very deep. She just transcended the now. There was something about her lyrics — she’s a poet. I love all the early albums, particularly “Court and Spark” and “Blue.”
Colleen Dewhurst (in “A Moon for the Misbegotten”) and Vanessa Redgrave (in “Orpheus Descending”): There’s a theatricality to their acting and yet it never veers from honesty: It’s like they don’t put on airs. I love that directness about the acting. It’s not just a bag of tricks.
Gerald Gutierrez: I did "Dinner at Eight" at Lincoln Center with him [directing] — one of the great acting experiences of my life. He was always likening acting to baseball — it wasn’t always about the individual. You’re always onstage to get the team to second base, to get the player home. He saw it as a team sport.
— Scott Timberg
"Stephen Sondheim: In Conversation," Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, ( 714) 556-2746. 8 p.m. Saturday. SCFTA.org.
Photo: Christine Ebersole. Credit: Kit Kittle / Segerstrom Center for the Arts.