ARTICLE DENIS FERRARA
PHOTOGRAPHY TERRY ONEILL
THE IRREPRESSIBLE ENTERTAINER AND HOLLYWOOD ROYAL RUMINATES ON HER LOVE OF ACTING, LEARNING, AND LADY GAGA
The Emmy, the Grammy, the Oscar, the Tony, and the legions of (still) clamoring fans at her concerts, all over the world, are a testament not only to her enduring talent but also to her sense of humor and zest for life. But don’t take our word for it. Liza Minnelli’s recent reprise of Lucille Two, on Arrested Development (for Netflix), shows exactly how the living legend can hit the mark.
After 50-plus years in the business, along with what she’s experienced, Liza knows who she is. And we know—or we should!—that trying to dig into the nitty-gritty of her colorful personal life is pointless. Like her late, great friend Elizabeth Taylor, Liza tells only so much, keeping truly intimate matters close to the vest. Her parents, the director Vincente Minnelli and MGM’s musical goddess Judy Garland, evidently trained her well. Here she shares a lifetime’s worth of showbiz wisdom.
LIZA MINNELLI Honey, how are you?!
How are you? I saw you in New Brunswick and you were incredible. I kept thinking, She’s indestructible!
LM Yeah, that’s me, Wonder Woman!
Is it tiresome when people comment on your energy and longevity and how you just keep on keeping on?
LM No, it’s not tiresome. It’s just…well, I don’t think about myself. Look, when I go to the theater, I want to come out feeling good. So that’s what I think about—am I going to make my audience feel good? They’re all scrunched in their seats and have paid good money, and I try to do what I can to entertain them. We’re locked in a building for two hours, after all! When it’s over, I’m just tired. I don’t feel very indestructible.
When they said Arrested Development was coming back and would you revisit your character, did you…
LM Say yes immediately? Of course. They are the most talented group of people in the world. And the creator of the show is just brilliant.
And you get to have vertigo again.
LM That was my idea, actually. It was sort of during talks we had about the character. They let me explore. Well, it was my idea to fall down, and it just went on from there! [laughs]
Do you want to act more? Are you or your people looking for things?
LM If my people are looking for things, they’re not doing a very good job! I’d love to act more. But I think people assume I’m not interested. But I am! I do! Listen, I act when I sing, I act when I dance. But it all comes from acting. I don’t have to sing and dance to act.
You tell a real story when you sing.
LM I always think of myself as a storyteller. Songs are stories, and that’s acting too. And I love to learn. That’s my favorite thing. I’ll see something and I’ll say, “Oh, I want to learn how to do that.” And I’ve had such great teachers over the years. They’ve made me. Marvin Hamlisch and Fred Ebb and John Kander and Bob Fosse and Charles Aznavour. My biggest talent, I think, was knowing who was best, who I could learn the most from. So how can I not give them credit? I guess I have good taste. And that’s a talent too.
You still take singing and dancing lessons. That’s kind of incredible, but I have to say, there are aspects of your voice that are stronger than ever.
LM Oh, honey, thank you. But you know, things have calmed down. At some point my body just said, “Slow down! Sit down!” So now I sit down a bit. But then you have to project more in some ways—like a laser beam.
Is there anybody, in any aspect of entertainment, you haven’t worked with whom you’d like to?
LM Oh, God, so many. But right off the top, Tom Hanks. He has great taste, and every time I see him on-screen I trust him. I think I’ve done that onstage—giving trust. My concert audiences trust me. But I’d like to extend that.
Is it incredible to you that over 40 years have passed since Cabaret opened?
LM It seems like yesterday to me too. I remember everything. I kept thinking, Is this really happening to me? And what a film! Nobody should ever brush it off as just a musical. You know, it was my father who took the musical off the stage and put it on the street, he really made it believable to simply burst into song outside the confines of a stage. Cabaret did the opposite. It put musical numbers back on the stage.
What is a day in the life of Liza Minnelli? Do you go out and buy groceries and such?
LM Uh, sure. If I have to. Something for the dog or whatever. My day: I get up and go to dance class, have lunch, I do business, then the day is mine if I want to see friends or go to the theater or whatever. Again—it’s calm.
Do you ever go on vacation? I think you’re like Madonna sometimes—work, work, work.
LM Of course I go on vacation. And isn’t Madonna great? I’ve always liked her. She’s fun to have dinner with. She’s not wacko. She knows things. She wants to learn too. And Lady Gaga too. She can do anything, and has a great sense of humor too.
Do you ever forget where you are when you’re touring?
LM Honey, how could you ever forget being in, like, Poughkeepsie? I love the new audiences and the new places and sights and sounds. And especially how every audience is different, how each reacts to this or that. And when you get into their groove, you lean that way. I’m there to tell them stories. It’s like having a conversation. A conversation that never bores me.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
LM Oh, jeez! So much. Well, one of the best things anybody ever said to me was “keep moving.” But here’s the best advice I can give: stay curious.
That’s great. And you have stayed curious.
LM I have. But please don’t ask me to do anything more with a computer than turn it on! There’s curiosity and then there’s technology.