Annette O’Toole is a shockingly versatile actress whose career includes appearances on The Partridge Family, The Outer Limits, and Law & Order, as well as the role of Clark Kent’s mom on the WB’s Smallville. She’s married to veteran actor Michael McKean—as famous for his portrayal of Lenny, the endearing chowderhead on the ’70s TV hit Laverne & Shirley, as for his creation of Spinal Tap‘s David St. Hubbins. O’Toole and McKean composed the Oscar-nominated ballad “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” for Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind. They’re currently making their New York cabaret debut—assisted by O’Toole’s daughter Nell Geisslinger—in No Standards at ultraswank Feinstein’s.
1 What’s it like having Superman for a son? He’s not Superman at home—we just have a kid who’s kind of weird. The only bad thing is that Smallville is shot in Vancouver, and Michael and I live in L.A. So sometimes I feel like a Ping-Pong ball.
2 How did it feel seeing your husband in drag as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray? Very exhilarating. He was really a mom. There’s a wonderful mother-daughter moment where he and Tracy hug. I’ve never seen a woman play that so well.
3 How did you start writing songs? When I got together with Michael seven years ago we were always singing. After 9-11 I was stuck in Vancouver—no planes—so I rented a car and drove 20 hours back to L.A. They wanted me the next day, so Michael drove back with me. And I had this tune stuck in my head. . . . Michael suggested we come up with a mnemonic device to help us remember it, and we came up with “Potato’s in the Paddy Wagon” and that just stuck. Michael was working on the music for A Mighty Wind then, and thought it might work for it. When we sang it to Chris [Guest], he loved it—and he asked us to write the signature ballad for the movie. We wrote “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” in an hour and a half. It was the second song we’d ever written together. Now I wake up every day with melodies in my head.
4 Tell me about the musical you’re writing. Michael doesn’t like us to talk about it much, but it has an original book and almost all the music is done—and we’ve cast it all in our heads! We’ve been working on it for about two years, but it’s hard with our being apart so much of the time.
5 How do you like the collaborative process? It’s just wonderful. I mean, Michael’s this person I’ve always admired who I’m sometimes surprised that I know—much less am married to—and we’re crazy about each other. And when the music thing came up, it was just the icing.
Catch No Standards at Feinstein’s at the Regency (540 Park Avenue, 212-339-4095) through June 7.