Berkeley Rep Director Tony Taccone Reminisces about Carrie Fisher

Hollywood actress Carrie Fisher performs her solo show, 'Wishful Drinking,' at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2008.  (Photo: Photographer: Kevin Berne/Berkeley Rep)

To most people, Carrie Fisher was 1970s and '80s Hollywood royalty -- an A-list actress with credits like Star Wars, Hannah and her Sisters and Blues Brothers to her name, and celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher in her family.

But Fisher, who died Tuesday morning at the age of 60 in Los Angeles, had much broader creative interests. She published a bunch of bestselling books, including the novel Postcards from the Edge, hosted her own television show on the Oxygen network, and, towards the end of her career, wrote and performed in a solo theater production, which played at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2008, was reprised there in 2009, and eventually went on to Broadway.

Fisher premiered her one woman show, Wishful Drinking, in Los Angeles. But it needed some work. So producer Jonathan Reinis approached Berkeley Repertory Theatre artistic director Tony Taccone about collaborating with Fisher on a revamped version.

Carrie Fisher speaks onstage during Wizard World Comic Con Chicago 2016
Carrie Fisher speaks onstage during Wizard World Comic Con Chicago 2016 (Photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Wizard World)

"I had read some of her books and was wildly entertained," Taccone said in a phone interview. The director watched a DVD recording of the stage show and then flew to Los Angeles to meet with Fisher to talk about a potential collaboration.

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Taccone was immediately struck by the eccentric appearance of Fisher's home. "It was full of the most wild stuff -- what, in the 1950s, you would have called 'a bohemian home'," Taccone said. "Every room had details and items from various parts of her journey. There was a swing in one room. Another room had sayings on the wall. It was like going into a haunted house."

Growing up in a family of entertainers, Fisher took easily to the stage. "I was essentially raised in my mother’s nightclub act, so it's very natural for me to do what most people find unnatural – which in this case would be getting on stage and telling stories," Fisher stated in a press release announcing the Berkeley Rep run of Wishful Drinking in 2008.

This background made working with the actress on Wishful Drinking a pleasure, according to Taccone. "Probably more than any other artist, she knew how to craft a comic line," said Taccone, whose solo show credits at the time he and Fisher met included the world premiere of Danny Hoch’s Taking Over and Sarah Jones’ Tony Award-winning Bridge & Tunnel.

Hollywood actress Carrie Fisher performs her solo show, 'Wishful Drinking,' at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2008.
Hollywood actress Carrie Fisher performs her solo show, 'Wishful Drinking,' at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2008. (Photo: Kevin Berne/Berkeley Rep)

The two worked on restructuring Wishful Drinking, in which Fisher took a comical but heart-wrenchingly honest look at her own life. In the show, Fisher told candid tales about such things as what it was like to have Taylor as a stepmother, her relationship with Paul Simon, and dealing with illness and addiction.

"Somebody once asked me if I was happy," Fisher said in an interview with KQED during the show's run, "and I just said among other things, happy is one of the many things I am likely to be throughout the course of a day."  

Fisher struggled with bipolar disorder and alcoholism. Taccone said Fisher took medication for her problems, which sometimes made the process of rehearsing Wishful Drinking a challenge. "The medication would dull her sensibilities, but she was open about that," Taccone said. "She said to me once, 'when I'm firing on all cylinders, there's no one better,' and I have to say she was right!"

Taccone said Fisher was very professional throughout the process, despite her challenges. "She was a total trooper," Taccone said. "She had bouts of illness, but she never missed a show."

And he still admires Fisher for facing her demons head on. "She was one of the first people to champion her own bipolar disorder," Taccone said. "She became a symbol of courage and freedom from illness for a lot of folks because she was so transparent about it."

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In honor of Fisher's career, The Roxie movie theater in San Francisco is offering a special screening her hit film Postcards from the Edge on Sunday, Jan. 1. Information here.

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