Carrie Fisher on her “leia-laden life”

When you reach Carrie Fisher’s answering machine, a friendly voice informs you: “You’ve reached Elizabeth Taylor’s stepdaughter.”

It’s just a touch of Fisher’s sense of humour. In 1959, her father, Eddie Fisher, divorced her mother, Debbie Reynolds, to marry Taylor. Fisher changed her voice mail message when Taylor died in March. “For two days, the phone never stopped ringing, as if I was really her stepdaughter,” Fisher says in a telephone interview from Beverly Hills. “OK, I was -50 years ago for four of the most memorable years of my life.”

Fisher and Taylor were quite friendly, actually. “I just found out when I first started coming around there that she told her assistant to hide her painkillers. Isn’t that genius? A junkie knows a junkie,” she says, then pauses. “Junkie is a bad word; she was an enthusiast. She had a terrible back. My back’s fine but I got into them, too.”

Fisher’s candour and wit is well-known. Wishful Drinking, her bestselling memoir and award-winning stage show of the same name, which arrives in Toronto July 12, details her “Leia-laden life,” from her Hollywood upbringing and divorce to her drug and alcohol addictions.

Onstage, not only does Fisher talk about seeking electroshock therapy for bipolar disorder and about waking up next to her dead friend -political operative Greg Stevens was staying at her home in 2005 when he died of a combination of sleep apnea and OxyContin use -she takes audience questions, too. “I was asked what I was wearing when I woke up next to a dead guy,” she recalls. “Why? He was so upset at what I was wearing that he died?”

While reminiscing about her performances in the Star Wars trilogy, she brings out a life-size Princess Leia sex doll. “It sold online for $800. It’s made of cement. I don’t know what kind of sex you’re going to expect to get out of that, but I want to be there while you try,” she says with a laugh over the phone.

The 54-year-old actress and writer doesn’t go out too often these days. She says she mostly stays at home with her 18-year-old daughter, Billie (her mother, Reynolds, lives next door) and writes. She is currently adapting her fourth novel, The Best Awful, into a screenplay and working on the “57,000th draft” of her next novel. Her first novel, Postcards from the Edge, was semi-autobiographical and the acclaimed film adaptation starred Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.

Fisher has a lot of material. “I don’t tell a third of it. That’s how much there is of it.”

She had been giving speeches for about 15 years -either in 12-step groups or while doling out awards, including the AFI Life Achievement Award to George Lucas. (Her own awards have included Bipolar Woman of the Year award from a mental hospital, she says.) So, the basis for a stage show already existed.

However, don’t let the self-deprecating humour fool you. Just because Fisher pokes fun at each and every aspect of her life, doesn’t mean it doesn’t still sting.

“Can I talk about it in an ordinary social situation and still get tormented by it? Absolutely. Do I still have to deal with drug cravings? Absolutely,” she says. “People can be really mean. ‘Whatever happened to Carrie Fisher? She used to be so hot and now she looks like Elton John?’ I put a lot of what I found in the show.”

However, for Fisher, the barbs are all about survival. “If you make use of them, then they don’t slaughter you. I had to own those things, otherwise they owned me,” she says.

“I start the show by saying if my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true. What I can do, which I’m blessed to have as an ability, is turn tragedy into comedy and that is a very delicate operation and you don’t do it overnight, much less take it on the road.”

– Wishful Drinking runs from July 12 to Aug. 21 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. For tickets, call 416-872-1212 or visit mirvish.com.

This article was originally published in the National Post on July 12, 2011

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