Elaine Stritch Is In the Market for a Good New Play

The stage legend talks retiring, diabetes and getting brutally honest in the new documentary about her life

  • Share
  • Read Later

Legendary performer Elaine Stritch — whose career has included everything from acclaimed stage appearances to the role of Jack’s mom on 30 Rock — decamped from New York and public life, for Michigan, last year. Now, she’s back in town — and back in the spotlight.

With the documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me nearing its limited theatrical release date (Feb. 21), the 89-year-old actress, who recently suffered some bad injuries but says she’s doing better, returned to her erstwhile home to promote the film. She’s not staying at her old stomping grounds at the Carlyle — “I left with a good reputation; I don’t think I want to spoil it,” she says — but she still managed to make headlines in typical fashion.

For example: she dropped an unbleeped live f-bomb during an appearance on Today. “I’m afraid they went too far with me, but, you know, you shake ‘em up a little bit,” she tells TIME, of Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford. “I like those two girls.”

She also took a few minutes to answer some questions:

TIME: What was it like to watch the documentary for the first time?

Elaine Stritch: I said a line to my director, and I thought I got it pretty well, in the documentary. Someone asked me, how did I like the show and my performance in it. I said I thought it was great, I just didn’t want to be in it. It sort of maybe kind of wraps the whole thing up for me. I loved it, but I’d rather not be in it.

What did you learn about yourself from this process?

A great deal. They’re hard lessons to learn. You have to stand up, throw your shoulders back and say, ‘Go ahead, hit me.’ I think I’m better at it than I used to be. Especially when the reaction to the show was good. I think that helps a lot, when they’re entertained. Because I wouldn’t do a documentary unless I made it entertaining, and that does not necessarily mean lies. If you make a lot of lies up that make you look fun and up and attractive and all those good things, what good does it do anybody else? But if you really tell the honest-to-God truth, I think it’s a pretty revealing experiment. I think it makes a documentary honest, and your honesty spreads, and I think people are affected by it and tell the truth as well. You get a lot of people sitting around telling the truth, and you get a pretty interesting documentary.

Were there any parts that were particularly hard to watch?

I had a lot of diabetes upsets that were not attractive to watch. But if it’s not entertaining, you try to make it informative. It’s a talent that you learn, that you can apply to making the truth come out.

Is there anything you wish people would ask you about, as you’re talking about the documentary, that you don’t usually get to talk about?

I’d like to do some work about diabetes. In my profession, what I’d turn to would be to see if I could think up a really good, sharp, hopefully funny commercial about diabetes. I think that would be great. I just thought of that.

So it’s not accurate to describe you as retired?

Oh no. That is not accurate at all. I’d be thrilled to death to find a good new play.

(MOREElaine Stritch’s last concert at the Carlyle)