Interview: Laraine NewmanSeptember 16, 2019
Recently we had the chance to talk with Laraine Newman during a media roundtable at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto, where she discussed her acting career, including her work on Saturday Night Live and voice acting.
Media: One of my favorite SNL sketches of all time is the group therapy session with Vito Corleone and Sherry, and I know Sherry was your audition piece for SNL as well. How did you go about picking that character for an audition with such a huge group ensemble?
Laraine: I didn’t know I was auditioning. Lorne came to see me at The Groundlings and hired me for a Lily Tomlin special. Then he came back, I didn’t know the first time, I didn’t know the second time, he came back and I was doing new material and new characters and he hired me for SNL. That tape was just a formality, I didn’t exactly audition.
Media: Was there a reason why you didn’t do a lot with Sherry on the show?
Laraine: Well, I had this really dopey idea that I didn’t want to repeat characters, I just wanted to dazzle everybody with my versatility, which made me unmemorable. But still, I did her more than I remember having done her because I had to watch the first five seasons for some research and there are sketches that I absolutely don’t remember with her in it.
Media: What was it like being a part of those early days with SNL, Lorne’s vision, because there had been sketch comedy before, but not with such a large ensemble? Did you come together as a big family right away?
Laraine: We did become very close, kind of like a lifeboat, but we all had the pretty much the same background. We all came from sketch companies, where you did a character monologue or sketch, you ran off stage in the dark, you came back on, hit your mark, lights up. That’s what the show was, that for me was The Groundlings, Second City, The Proposition, that’s what we were all trained to do. The only difference and I’m glad that you mentioned Lorne’s vision, was that it represented us and our culture from that age group. You had sketch shows like Laugh-In and Carol Burnett, which were great shows, but they didn’t really reflect the mentality and culture that we were coming from, so I think that might have been the reason it was different.
Media: You mentioned yesterday in your Q&A about some the relationships you developed, especially the one with Gilda Radner. Can you recall any memories of your time working with Gilda?
Laraine: Well, I’m writing a memoir for Audible, so I feel like I don’t want to tell stories over and over again. Suffice to say she was the kind of person, like years after the show, on my birthday somebody would be walking up my driveway with sushi and it would be her. I might not have spoken to her for a year or two but she always remembered my birthday, that’s the kind of person she was.
The GCE: How did you get into voice acting and did you find it to be an easy transition from what you did earlier in your career?
Laraine: I love that question. It was really kind of a natural progression of doing characters because I could sound like children, a teenager, an old person, I could do dialects. I had kids, so I wanted a job that was like four hours of acting stupid, getting paid, laughing your ass off, going home and making dinner, and that was animation. It took me a long time to get a job, like two years, but I took a class with Charlie Adler, and I never stopped working after that.
Media: How is it from not only doing sketch comedy and family cartoons but doing DC animation as well? Is there any difference for you or was it the same?
Laraine: It is very different because when you go through a company like The Groundlings you’ve spent years creating characters. Even on SNL, they would write a character and that would be part of your repertoire, they help you create characters, but when you audition for a cartoon you get a picture and a verbal description so it’s really up to you to come up with it on the spot. Also, it’s a different sensibility from sketch, sometimes it’s for children, sometimes it’s for Adult Swim, so in that sense it is different.
Media: When you see an image of a character, is there a certain way you think in order to come up with the voice?
Laraine: It’s fun, you know sometimes you’ll see a hippopotamus and you’ll give it a nice light voice instead of sounding really heavy, sometimes going against type can be really fun. Even though they might say ‘we want this’ I think ok, let me just think about what I’m going to do here and you sometimes get rewarded for that.
Media: In terms of the voice acting, when you’re in there and have such room to play, do you feel like you can improvise more, do some things you maybe couldn’t do in an on-screen performance?
Laraine: Yeah, absolutely. The kind of things you can get away with in animation are very different from sketch and film acting. You can’t really do that much improvising because they have to animate to it unless you’re Robin Williams where they animated to him, it’s kind of hard.
I want to thank Laraine for taking the time to talk with us