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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Deeper Dish with Rondi Reed

In September 1987 I saw my very first play in Chicago - Little Egypt, a comedy by Lynn Siefert that was produced by Steppenwolf Theatre Company. It was about six quirky characters living in a small Midwestern town, and one of them was played by actress Rondi Reed, who has been a member of Steppenwolf's talented ensemble since 1979. She was wonderful in the show, and since then I've had the great pleasure of seeing her in many other plays, including The Grapes of Wrath (1988), Stepping Out (1988), The Secret Rapture (1990), The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (1993), Pot Mom (1998) and August: Osage County (2007), for which she deservedly won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play.

Rondi also originated the role of Madame Morrible in the Chicago production of the musical, Wicked, in 2005 - a part she later played on Broadway as well - and her television and film credits include Roseanne (1992), Born Yesterday (1993), Wild Palms (1993), the 100th episode of Seinfeld (1995's "The Kiss Hello"), A Streetcar Named Desire (1995), Fargo (a 2003 TV pilot based on the movie) and You Don't Know Jack (2010). Her most recent role is on the hit CBS sitcom, Mike & Molly, as Mike's mother Peggy. I am so delighted to have the fabulous Ms. Reed here on the Dish to discuss her career and answer a few pop culture questions.

Let’s begin with Mike & Molly. How did you get cast as Mike’s mother?
I had been scheduled to audition in NYC (doing Wicked at the time) for the role of Molly's mom. Then Swoosie [Kurtz] walked in, blew them away and got the job - yeah for her. I then left NYC to come home to Chicago in July 2010. Flash ahead to me getting ready to go to Australia with August: Osage County (at Cate Blanchett's Sydney Theatre Company) at the beginning of August (the month). I get a call that there is now interest in me for the character of Mike's mom, which is being written into the script as a Guest Star for two episodes. Then within 24 hours it escalates to a bona fide offer, but I have to leave Australia a week early and fly right to L.A. I say yes, the earth shook a bit, things got dealt with and I ended up shooting two more after that, and then they asked me to become a series regular. I honestly still can hardly believe it happened so fast. I am a lucky girl.

You recently wrote on Facebook that “you know you are living the dream when your parking spot on the lot at Warner Brothers is next to Swoosie Kurtz.” What else have you enjoyed about your Mike & Molly experience so far?
I am slightly obsessed/worshipful of Miss Kurtz, a Stage Goddess of the Highest Order. To share anytime working with her is a dream, plus I force her to tell me New York stories about everything she has ever done.

Oh gosh, the gifts of Mike & Molly just keep on coming. To work with the incredible cast of actors is amazing - each one so gifted and unique and truly generous people as well. The entire organization is just a dream - the creative team and writers, CBS, Writer/Executive Producer Mark Roberts - who watched me in Steppenwolf shows when he was a college student - Don Foster, another friend and Writer/EP that I have known forever, Jim Burrows, the TV Director/Zen Master of the Medium, and Chuck Lorre, the Midas Touch King of Sitcoms. And the incredible crew that works behind the scenes, building sets, zooming cameras, working hair and's a HUGE ensemble of people all working together. I love it - it harkens back to my work within a collaborative effort, my roots. And I am continually learning from the experience and from everyone around me. Also, shooting in L.A. in much better January...THAT'S A GIFT!

Did you always want to be an actor?
Yes, pretty much since I was a little kid. We would read out loud in school and I nearly broke my arm off, waving it in the air to be the one to read all the time. Because I knew I was good at it, and I knew I could make it interesting for the other kids to listen to. The seeds were sown early on, but no one in my family had ever done stuff like that before. I could blame it on being raised Catholic, but they have many crosses to bear these days.

If you could go back and relive a performance of three different Steppenwolf shows that you appeared in, which ones would you choose?
Interesting question. I tend not to want to relive stuff. I want to so thoroughly LIVE within what I am doing that I can release it when I am done. Part of the nature and transiency of the theatre I think, and part of why I love it so. Inexplicable and gone in a moment, kept only in the memory of the mind or the heart.

What is the most memorable moment you have had while performing onstage in a show?
There are lots of them, but in Wicked I completely went up in my song section and made up lyrics on the spot - did not miss a beat and did it in tempo with the conductor. All of the chorus kids about had a stroke, and I felt as if I might faint onstage in front of 2,500 people. Never happened again.

Is there a role in any play or musical that you would love to do someday?
Yes, if I could sing it - Mama Rose and Mrs. Lovett - but it would take much work and a true vocal miracle for either one. And perhaps a play that has not been written yet.

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

First job in Hollywood. When my agent called to tell me I booked it, I asked her what that meant because it had never happened to me before.

Wild Palms?
I sat next to this nice gal at the table read and told her she looked SO familiar to me...Bebe Neuwirth. Then I looked up as this older lady entered the room and thought to myself, "Jeez, who does she think she IS? Angie Dickinson?" She extended her hand and in a smoky voice said, "Hi, I'm Angie."

Got sent late in a pouring rainstorm to the audition - drenched. Handed me the script in the hall and four minutes later they called my name. I grumpily entered the room and went around the circle with my obligatory "Hi, hi, hi, hi", landed on Jerry's beaming face...'OH HI!!!!!!'"

A Streetcar Named Desire?
The day before we started shooting, I was sitting with Jessica Lange, talking about the precision one has to have with Tennessee William's words and me saying, "I know, it's like that damn Sam Shepard, words like music!"

Kathy Bates directed this pilot for CBS that never went anywhere, but after I did one take of a scene and asked her if I could do anything better, she turned and said, "Honey, I'm of the mind, if it ain't broke, I don't need to fix it."


The director, Joe Mantello, said one day, "Invite them into OZ and when in doubt, play it straight and true, believe in the world and they will all follow."

What are a few of your favorite things about Chicago?
Sweet Home Chicago. The lake, the pizza, Garrett Popcorn, the Cubs, the Bears, the Bulls, the Hawks, THEATRE, ART, MUSIC, DANCE, the neighborhoods, the people, the politics, the restaurants, the energy, the heart, the verve, the Midwest of it, the Skyline, Lake Shore Drive on a summer night, The EL, the river dyed green, architecture cruise, Wrigley Field, Ann Sather's cinnamon rolls - ohhhhhh, the list is endless.

If you could go back and give your 19-year-old self a wise piece of advice, what would it be?
It will all be alright, stop worrying about your weight, have more fun, stop worrying, stop worrying, stop worrying about sooooo many things!

My favorite comfort food is:
Oh, some sort of cookie or chocolate. With wine sometimes. Or a really good cheese with yummy crackers. And wine. Or a steak on the grill. And wine. You get the idea.

When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:
This is potentially humiliating, but here goes...

Dark Shadows (daytime vampire soap)
The Monkees
The Dick Van Dyke Show
The Wonderful World of Disney
The Ed Sullivan Show
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Mission: Impossible
Get Smart
Rocky and Bullwinkle
The Three Stooges

Oh too many...

Today I never miss a television episode of:
Mad Men

If I was stranded on a desert island for a year, I would want to listen to:
I would have to say classical I think. I keep the radio tuned to a classical station 99% of the time in my life.

Three of my favorite movies are:
Blade Runner, Cabaret, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Alternates - Bonnie and Clyde and It's a Wonderful Life.

If I was asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive, it would be:
Jon Hamm

If I could have anyone in the world – living or dead – be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following people:
In a slight homage to Steve Martin's play [Picasso at the Lapin Agile], but also because I think it would be an amazing combo - Einstein, Picasso and Elvis Presley.

What's next for Rondi Reed?
Rondi Reed will continue in her blossoming film and television career, return to Chicago and NYC to work onstage, and be heralded as the Narrator of the New Century for the Discovery Channel and selected National Geographic programming. Her grade-school classmates will look up from their crosswords and groan, thinking about that annoying girl who always had her hand in the air to read out loud and is now getting paid a LOT of money to do it. She has bought herself a lovely home in the Michiana area where she will spend her leisure time and write a book about her life as a lucky girl. THE END.

Thank you, Rondi, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish - and I look forward to reading your book someday. Click here to become a fan of Ms. Reed on Facebook - and be sure to watch her on CBS's Mike & Molly every Monday at 8:30 pm (CST).


becca said...

what a great interview thanks for posting it

Marc said...

Thanks, Becca, I'm glad you enjoyed reading it!

Ian said...

I love Mike and Molly and Rondi is great as Peggy. The episode where her boyfriend dies was superb! How great for her that the show is set in Chicago (even if filmed in LA) I had no idea she had such a rich career...thanks for the interview Marc. Sorry I missed it when it was posted last year!

Marc said...

Glad you enjoyed the interview, Ian!