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Friday, September 17, 2010

Deeper Dish with Emily Bergl

Photos by Michael Creagh

Emily Bergl is quite busy these days.  The actress will be a "Desperate Housewife" on the ABC series this season in the recurring role of Paul Young's new wife, Beth - and she's also out and about performing her cabaret show, Kidding On The Square, with a return engagement at Davenport's here in Chicago next weekend (September 24 and 25). Along with her musical director and pianist G. Scott Lacy, she will be taking her audiences on a roaring '20s ride with classic Fats Waller and Cole Porter hits as well as vintage takes on modern favorites from Scissor Sisters and Madonna.

Emily is probably best known for her TV roles on the 2006-08 series, Men in Trees, as Annie O'Donnell, the enthusiastic fan of Anne Heche's character - and on the TNT drama, Southland, as Detective Bryant's troubled wife Tammi. I also enjoyed her performance as Francie Jarvis on the second and third seasons of Gilmore Girls. Her feature film credits include The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999), Chasing Sleep (2000), Happy Campers (2001) and the upcoming Grassroots. She also starred last year in the critically-acclaimed off-Broadway production of the play, Becky Shaw.

Having moved to Chicago from England when she was six, it is so nice to welcome Emily back to her hometown.  I'm delighted to have her here on the Dish to discuss her career and answer a few pop culture questions.

Let’s begin with your show, Kidding On The Square. What inspired you to create this cabaret experience?
I always wanted to be a cabaret singer after I sang a song on top of the piano in my high school variety show - and one of the popular football players asked me out. Okay, I'm kidding on the square with that one. Do you like how I worked in the title of my show right away? It means when you're joking about something but you really mean it. As my Irish mother says, "When you're half-joking, it's usually the whole truth."

Since you grew up in Chicago, what are a few of your favorite things about the city?
I can say "pop" and "cash station" without anyone making fun of me, the availability of cheese fries, Millennium Park, Oberweiss, Club Lucky, and the CSO.

So how does it feel to be a “Desperate Housewife”?
It feels fantastic. I've never spent so much time in makeup, and I've never seen so many enormous beauty lights. If I don't look good on Desperate Housewives, I should just quit this business.

What can you tell us about your character and her storyline?
Well, it's a pretty surprising storyline, so they won't let me say much. I am the jailhouse bride of Paul Young, who's been exonerated and has moved back to Wisteria Lane. Let's say she's eccentric - and definitely very complicated. Beth has lived a very sheltered life, and she never thought Paul would get out of jail when she married him, so we're going to see a really interesting dynamic between the two of them - and the rest of the housewives.

If you had to choose one of the four original Housewives to have lunch with, which character would you select?
Bree because everything would be homemade. She already brought me a basket of muffins on the show and they were delicious.

Now let’s discuss some of your other film, television and stage performances. What’s the first thing that pops into your mind about:

Your film debut in The Rage: Carrie 2?
Having several different kinds of fireballs shot at me.

Your 1999 Broadway debut in The Lion in Winter?
Laurence Fishburne alway trying to crack me up right before we went on stage for our first entrance.

Gilmore Girls?
Having to talk really, really fast.

Men in Trees?
Anne Heche and how cheerful and kind she was every single day.

My character's dog, Richter.  I miss him!

What is the most memorable and/or funniest moment you have had while acting?
My dog on Southland, Richter, is actually played by two different dogs, who both probably get paid more than I do. A lovely dog named PJ plays Richter when he's behaving well, and then they bring in this insane dog called Hans to play him when he has to go crazy. We're about to shoot this scene with crazy Hans, who's literally chomping at the bit, and one of our animal trainers is trying to teach the other trainer how to speak Dutch. I'm thinking, "Can't they find a better time for this?" It turns out that Hans is a Belgian Shepherd and only understands Dutch commands. I don't think the guy got a very good grasp of it because Hans promptly bit Shawn Hatosy, who plays my husband.

Since you’re an avid reader, what are three of your favorite books?
The Razor's Edge, Atonement, and all of Jane Austen.

What is the most recent book you’ve read that you would highly recommend?
I just finished The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson. He's an incredibly gifted comic whom I just worked with on the movie, Grassroots. That boy can improv for days.

If you could go back and give your 19-year-old self a wise piece of advice, what would it be?
You have integrity - you don't have to spend so much time trying to prove it. And wash your face at night.

In high school I was:
Many different identities. A nerd in the AP classes, a big flirt, the harpist in the orchestra, the vice president of the German club, the good girl who was friends with the stoners, a member of the show choir, a secret prankster, and a few things that will remain a secret.

My favorite comfort food is:
Afternoon tea. I'm originally from England.

When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:

If I was stranded on a desert island for a year, I would want to listen to:
Jean-Yves Thibaudet's Debussy: Preludes
Dr. Dre's The Chronic 2001
The Beatles' The White Album
Paul Simon's Graceland
Carla Bruni's Comme Si De Rien N'Etait

But, seriously, don't make me actually choose. One of the things I talk about in my show is my collection of 900 LPs, courtesy of Chicago garage sales.

Five of my favorite movies are:
Fanny and Alexander, Menace II Society, Back to the Future, The Lives of Others, and The King of Comedy.

If I could star on Broadway in any role in any musical or play, I would be:
Isabella in Measure for Measure in Central Park.

If I was asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive, it would be:
Barack Obama

If I could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Jimmy Carter, Hubert Keller and Elizabeth I.

What's next for Emily Bergl?
Living one of my life's dreams: touring around the country and the world with my cabaret show! And the movie I have coming out next year, Grassroots, with Jason Biggs and Joel David Moore. It's a really smart political comedy based on an actual city council race in Seattle.  And I'm reprising my role in the play, Becky Shaw, for NPR.

Thank you, Emily, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish. To learn more about Ms. Bergl, check out her groovy website at You can also follow her on Twitter and become a fan of her and her show on Facebook.  And be sure to catch her on the season opener of Desperate Housewives on Sunday, September 26.

For reservations to Kidding On The Square, call Davenport's (1383 N. Milwaukee Ave) at (773) 278-1830 or go online at Emily will be performing on Friday, September 24, and Saturday, September 25, at 8 pm. Tickets are $25 with a two-drink minimum.

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