PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we ask interesting people about things they're not interested in. It's called Not My Job. Laurie Metcalf and her friends Gary Sinise and John Malkovich founded the world-famous Steppenwolf Theatre here in Chicago, with whom she won multiple Tony Awards. Then she went out to LA to see if she can get a job and was immediately cast in the hit sitcom "Roseanne," for which she won Emmys. And her first movie in a decade, "Lady Bird," got her an Academy Award nomination. We don't know how she does it, but maybe by the end of this segment she'll have a Nobel. Laurie Metcalf...
LAURIE METCALF: (Laughter).
SAGAL: ...Welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
METCALF: Thank you. Thank you.
SAGAL: So I wanted to delve into your origin story. You were a nice young girl from Carbondale, Ill. And you were working as, like, a secretary for, like, some small amount of money when you helped found Steppenwolf.
METCALF: Yes, we all had to have day jobs, and so I could type like a wiz. And so I was always a secretary, and it was a big change for us when we became - oh, I don't know - popular enough that we could all, like, drop our day jobs and join Equity and make our living that way.
SAGAL: Now Steppenwolf has - people who may not know - is still going strong here in Chicago...
SAGAL: ...Producing shows that go around the world. But what was it like then? You guys were doing shows in, like, a church basement. Is that the story?
METCALF: Well, we were a little band of actors. There were only about seven of us. We sold tickets in the basement for $3. And if you were not in the show, you had to clean the bathroom for the patrons.
METCALF: So it was all - and plus, nobody ever wanted to direct the show. That was the worst job ever because that meant you couldn't be onstage.
SAGAL: Oh, really? So nobody wanted - everybody wanted to be onstage emoting.
FAITH SALIE: Wait, you had to clean the bath - are you sure this wasn't Scientology?
SAGAL: And then you went to New York, and you got some attention there. And finally, I'm told you went out to LA, and, like, "Roseanne" was the first audition you did.
METCALF: Yeah. It was the one and - first and only audition I had. I had given myself two weeks to go to LA to see if I could maybe get a movie. So I went in, and they didn't even have the sides for my character - for Jackie. They hadn't written the pilot yet, so I read some Roseanne sides. And then I got to meet her. And then I got offered the job. So it all fell together just - I was in the right place at the right time.
SAGAL: Yeah. Turns out this acting thing is really kind of easy.
SAGAL: Who knew? So - and, of course, "Roseanne" is in the news because you're back. You have revived this - how long has it been since the original show went off the air? Twenty years?
METCALF: It's been 20 years since it went off the air, and I'm horrified to say that it's been 30 years since we did the original pilot.
SAGAL: Oh, my gosh. So I'm sure given the huge success of the premiere, Donald Trump called you to congratulate you, too, right?
METCALF: I did not get a phone call.
SAGAL: You did not get a phone call. No.
METCALF: Or maybe I had my phone turned off.
SAGAL: Who knows?
SAGAL: So the other thing that's been in the news is Roseanne, the titular star there, has made some news. I'm just going to be blunt. She seems a little nuts. Is she, in fact, a little nuts?
METCALF: She does not seem nuts on the set.
METCALF: And I don't know how much of it is to stir the pot, but I will say that on the set, it's - everything's really professional.
ADAM BURKE: Peter, are you trying to have her counteract her luck by having her talk herself out of a job?
SAGAL: Exactly. Everything was going so great, and then she dished about Roseanne on public radio, and that was the end of it.
SAGAL: You were just in this movie, "Lady Bird," which I believe you got nominated for an Oscar, which is pretty awesome.
SAGAL: Yeah. Everybody loves "Lady Bird." This is Greta Gerwig's movie. We understand this is the first time you got to go to the Oscars.
METCALF: Oh, hell yes.
SAGAL: I have been told that if you get nominated for an Oscar, especially for a prominent one like you did, like, you are deluged with people who want to give you things to wear, like dresses and jewelry or whatever it may be.
METCALF: It was a blur. Look, I was in New York doing a play, so I had to get up really early on Monday, which was the day it was held, which is our day off...
METCALF: ...And fly, you know, to the ceremony, get ready really fast, go to the ceremony, hit the sack and then turn around and come back the next day to do the play again.
SAGAL: "Lady Bird" was the first movie you did in a good long time, like, eight or nine years, right?
METCALF: Yeah, at least a decade. And before that, I hadn't done one in another decade, I don't think. I've only done a handful.
SAGAL: So now that you've done a movie and gotten an Oscar nomination, are you, like, going to do more?
METCALF: I haven't heard of any.
SAGAL: (Laughter) Really?
SALIE: Laurie, have you ever failed at anything?
METCALF: (Laughter) Well, you know...
SAGAL: Say, yes, 'cause we're all vaguely annoyed with you right now.
METCALF: Look, I have to say, honestly, I have had a hell of a last couple of years.
SAGAL: Well, Laurie Metcalf, it is a pleasure to talk to you. We've invited you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Three short men.
METCALF: Oh, that's funny.
SAGAL: Well, that was the intent.
SAGAL: Because, of course, you are starring in "Three Tall Women" on Broadway, so naturally, we thought we'd ask you about the polar opposite. Answer three questions about three short men, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of anyone they like on their voicemail. Bill, who is Laurie Metcalf playing for?
KURTIS: Story Garvie of Medford, N.J.
SAGAL: Story Garvie. All right. First question. At 5'7", Tom Cruise is somewhat short for a Hollywood leading man, which probably worked to his advantage when he did what? A, invited his celebrity friends to his mansion for a giant game of hide-and-seek; B, avoided paparazzi when he goes out by hiding in a suitcase carried by his bodyguard; or C, once ordered a $17,000 antique chest of drawers to sleep in.
METCALF: Oh, dear God.
METCALF: What the hell could it possibly be?
METCALF: What? I can't even imagine. One of them is really real?
SAGAL: One of them is real, yes. He invited...
SAGAL: You're going to go for A?
SAGAL: Yeah, that's right. That's what he did.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: He invited...
KURTIS: Good going.
SAGAL: ...All his celebrity friends - this is according to - Leah Remini says that he invited all these famous people over to play hide-and-seek and she wouldn't do it.
Next question. Charlie Chaplin - known as the Little Tramp, he was quite short at 5'5", and that might have saved his life once when what happened? A, he survived a car crash because he was strapped into a reverse-facing car seat...
SAGAL: ...B, he hid from some angry Nazis who were mad about the movie "The Great Dictator" by hiding behind a potted plant; or C, William Randolph Hearst, angry about Chaplin's affair with his mistress, tried to shoot him, missed and hit somebody else.
METCALF: Well, I'll go with C.
SAGAL: Yes, you're right. It was C.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: The incident...
SAGAL: ...Was one of the great mysteries of Hollywood. Why would Hearst kill a man he didn't know? One theory - he was shooting at Chaplin and missed high.
BURKE: I feel like they can't prosecute you if you tried to kill Chaplin and it ends up in hilarious slapstick murder.
SAGAL: It's true.
SAGAL: Last question. A short man named Pete Conrad made his mark on history. What was he known for? A, as a seventh-grader, he stole classmate Randy Newman's girlfriend and inspired the song "Short People"; B, after Conrad had an accident on a roller coaster, theme parks were forced to put up signs saying, you must be this tall to ride, which, of course, he wasn't; or C, he was the third man to walk on the moon, and when he did, he said, whoopee, that may have been a small step for Neil, but it was a long one for me.
METCALF: Well, I guess I'm going to say B.
SAGAL: You're going to say B - that he's the guy who we have to, like, be as tall as this to ride a roller coaster?
METCALF: (Laughter) Yeah. Yeah.
SAGAL: There has to be somebody, but it wasn't him. He was the guy who went on the moon.
SAGAL: Yes. He was the third man to walk on the moon - a very short guy. And that was his line. Can you imagine? He must've practiced it for months.
METCALF: No way.
TOM BODETT: And now, finally, infamy.
SAGAL: Small step for Neil. Big step for me. Small step for Neil. Big step for me.
SAGAL: Bill, how did Laurie Metcalf do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Laurie, you still got 2 out of 3, and that's a win.
SAGAL: Congratulations, Laurie.
METCALF: Thank you.
SAGAL: Add this to your shelf. Laurie Metcalf is one of the stars of "Roseanne" on ABC, and she's one of the three tall women in Edward Albee's "Three Tall Women," running now on Broadway. Laurie Metcalf, thank you so much for joining us today. What a delight to talk to you.
METCALF: Thank you. Thanks, Bill.
SAGAL: Thank you, Laurie.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHORT PEOPLE")
RANDY NEWMAN: (Singing) They got little hands, little eyes. They walk around telling great big lies. They got little noses, tiny little teeth.
SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill shows off his new dining room Diplodocus in the Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAITWAIT to join us on the air. We'll get back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.