From Maggie Smith To Angela Merkel, Comic Tracey Ullman Leaves An Impression
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
It's almost unfair to talk to comedian Tracey Ullman on the radio. She's best known for her spot-on impersonations in which she doesn't just sound like - she also looks like - German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Dame Judi Dench or Dame Maggie Smith.
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TRACEY ULLMAN: Hello. I'm Dame Maggie Smith and now Judi Dench - love her to bits - has left James Bond. I would like to audition for the part of James Bond.
ULLMAN: So here's a little tape I'm making to show you what I can do. My name is Bond, dear, James Bond. I have a license to kill. It's provisional at present. I have the killer test on Wednesday. There, the part is mine.
SIEGEL: Tracey Ullman has a new comedy sketch show on HBO, and that's from it. Hi, and welcome to the program.
ULLMAN: Hi. Lovely to speak to you.
SIEGEL: As we've heard, you do several characters, and one of them is Maggie Smith. They are such good impressions I mean in terms of how they sound, how you look, your mannerisms. How long does it take you to master one of these?
ULLMAN: Well, it's funny. I didn't used to do impersonations of famous folk. I always thought that was sort of "Saturday Night Live's" area. But I decided to throw a few into the mix a few years ago to see if I could do it because I like being real people and - but observing society around me. And there's so much celebrity.
And then it - of course it attracts attention, and it's - the makeup artist I use is an amazing guy on this BBC series. He's called Flores Shula (ph), and he's very Dutch. And he made me look like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Maggie Smith is hard to look like, actually. I sound more like her.
But I have this theory that she's tired of doing Downton Abbey. She doesn't want to wear the corset or use a chemical toilet on location, dear because I heard a rumor that she was miserable on the show. And they said Maggie, what can we do, you know? What can we do to make you more comfortable? And she went, write me a death scene.
ULLMAN: So I now have this theory that Maggie just wants to do everything from her living room. She's vlogging, and you know, she's sponsored by the walk-in bath people.
SIEGEL: Now we should explain that although you - you've lived in the States for many years, you're an American citizen as well as a British subject nowadays. This program - you went back to Britain to make this on the BBC. Now it premieres here. So the characters are for the most part Brits, and...
ULLMAN: Yes, yes.
SIEGEL: You do something with Dame Judi Dench, national treasure, who is constantly abusing her treasur-ous (ph) status and doing terrible things.
ULLMAN: Yes. We imagine Judi had shoplifted, and she got caught. It wouldn't matter because I'm a national treasure. And I really - the makeup for her is quite astonishing, actually. When we were filming in Richmond in England, people were walking by going, oh, they're doing another Bond.
And she was charming about it. And she accepted an award for - theater award and said, hello, I'm Tracey Ullman. So these impersonations - I'm like - they're like Trojan horses. It's naughty to hijack these amazing actresses and people, but - you know, for the sake of my show. But I'm doing it.
SIEGEL: You're doing it. You do Angela Merkel. You do an impression of the German chancellor.
ULLMAN: I like Angela Merkel. I think that she's thinks she's very sexy. And I decided that all the men in the room find her very sex bomb, sex bomb. I don't know if she's aware of my impersonation. I know they put some of the clips that I do of her on the German news, and so I suppose she might be. But she's just really impressed me.
I mean I think every seven years or so, I look around me, and I want to look at the society. And I want to try and be everyone I'm seeing in the world right now and what's going on and who's famous and who's - you know, what's going on in real life. And I've done this all my life.
I realized I used to do this in my mother's bedroom when I was six. I used to be everyone in my village and everyone at school and everyone in the news, and I'm still doing that same show. I'm now 56.
SIEGEL: That's a long-running show.
ULLMAN: Yeah, and I...
SIEGEL: That's a very successful show.
ULLMAN: I'm going to do it - (laughter) I know. I think I can do it in my 80s. I'll just, you know, impersonate everyone around me then in the nursing home, you know?
SIEGEL: (Laughter) Tracey Ullman, thank you very much. The program starts Friday night on HBO. Thanks for talking with us about it.
ULLMAN: Thank you.
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SIEGEL: There actually is a scene in this in which you are - it is Tracey Ullman playing Angela Merkel, doing what sounds to me like Annie Ross.
ULLMAN: (Vocalizing) - when she scats.
SIEGEL: She is scat singing I guess - Angela Merkel scat singing.
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