An accomplished star of multiple media, Bronx-born Kerry Washington is making her Broadway debut as a lawyer in David Mamet‘s buzzy play Race, about the legal dance that takes place around an effing white man accused of raping an African-American woman.
Hoping it’s the amazing Race, I talked to Kerry in between rehearsals to allow her to argue her case. She couldn’t divulge much (except that the play has “uncomfortable moments that are funny, and uncomfortable moments that aren’t funny”), but she was still worth a grilling.
Me: Hi, Kerry. Why Broadway now?
Kerry: I had been missing theater for a long time, so I’ve been looking for the right play. To make a Broadway debut doing David Mamet and to originate a David Mamet role—this is the kind of shit you tell your kids about.
Me: In just that language, too. But can you tell the folks about something this potentially scandalous?
Kerry: My family is pretty used to “scandalous” at this point. I haven’t exactly shied away from provocative work.
Me: Brava! Speaking of close relations, you were in two biopics—Ray and The Last King of Scotland—where the guy playing your husband won Best Actor.
Kerry: [Race co-star] David Alan Grier keeps joking that he’s writing a movie for me to play his wife so he can win the Oscar. He’s not sure what it’s about yet, but he knows he wants me to be the wife!
Me: You obviously give great spousal support.
Kerry: I’m prepared to take full credit for Forest Whitaker and Jamie Foxx‘s talent. [Laughs.] No way! They’re such incredible . . . I’ve gotten really lucky.
Me: I guess Grier, James Spader, and Richard Thomas will all tie for the Tony for Race.
Kerry: But none of them play my husband. [Laughs.]
Me: You give great presidential support, too; you were an official surrogate in the Obama campaign. Now that his ratings are lower than a hooker’s panties, any regrets?
Kerry: Oh, God, no. Are you kidding? I think he’s doing an incredible job. I do not envy his position, walking into the presidency with the state of the country.
Me: On a way lighter note, you’re also a spokesmodel for L’Oréal. Does that mean you can’t leave the house looking only merely fabulous?
Kerry: I wish that was true. I’ve never been that girl. I try to look presentable, and I pay special attention to the red carpet, but I’m a sweatpants-and-sneakers kind of girl.
Me: Me, too! Whatever you wear, have the tabloids ever been mean to you?
Kerry: Not really. They know my dog by name. They’re nice to my dog! It’s all good!
Debi Does Dancing
I’m nice to celebrities’ pets, too, but this week, I decided to be kind to the celebs themselves. First, I lent spunky Debi Mazar a lobe as she told me how her recent Dancing With the Stars appearance was completely sneaker-less. “I basically was a drag queen!” she said, tickled. “I let them put the spray tan and the four pairs of lashes on me—though I toned it down and made it more me. I loved getting to be a showgirl!” Debi will next be high-kicking over to a new home in Florence, Italy, but she said she’ll swing back if the talk show she’s developing takes off. (And she can always stay at Madonna‘s house.)
I made Fosse moves over to Diane von Fürstenberg‘s store for Let It Bee, an all-star spelling bee benefiting the interestingly spelled [clmp]. My word was “sweatpants”—I mean, “dirndl”—and I f-u-c-k-e-d it up, but there was way more interesting fashion-related talk going on there. Controversial author James Frey told the crowd that his daughter’s godfather is author Josh Kilmer-Purcell and, as a result, “I’m the only one I know whose daughter’s godfather dresses like a woman.” That usually spells trouble.
And suddenly it was all about hair height when Rock of Ages hosted the Golden Mullet Awards after a performance, honoring the very finest in full-frontal follicle achievement. A high point had the show’s full-tressed star, Constantine Maroulis, presenting a “What Just Happened?” Lifetime award to Bret Michaels, who naturally wasn’t there to accept. “I think he’s fucking my assistant backstage,” cracked Maroulis. The singer quickly got serious and said he’s glad Michaels healed after banging his head on the Tonys in that notorious Rock of Ages number—and, more importantly, “He got us a lot of publicity!”
As if on cue, PR events started coming at us faster than Oscars for Kerry Washington’s screen husbands. The DVD of the mega-successful Fellini-esque documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor came out, so director Matt Tyrnauer hawked it at VBH Luxury Inc. in nosebleed territory on Madison Avenue. “We had a huge catastrophe after they saw the movie for the first time,” Tyrnauer told me, referring to Valentino and his partner, Giuseppe Giammetti. “They tried their darnedest to make me change it to Valentino by Himself.” Meaning without the boyfriend? “No, I mean into Valentino as Seen by Valentino. Like Lauren Bacall: By Myself. You have such a twisted mind!” Duh. Anyway, the flick got a standing ovation in Venice, “so they immediately fell in love with the movie.” It even got a great reception in Abu Dhabi! I guess gays are shot on sight there unless they’re fabulous designers with a documentary deal.
At a book party at artist Peter Max‘s studio, charismatic HLN host Jane Velez-Mitchell told me how she came out as a midlife lesbian, as detailed in her 12-step memoir, I Want: My Journey From Addiction and Overconsumption to a Simpler, Honest Life. “I was a blackout drinker,” she admitted, “and a garden-variety lush. My boyfriend told me he was not going to tolerate my behavior anymore. I made a fool of myself at a party in West Hollywood.” Which is not easy to do in that neighborhood. “You really have to try hard,” she agreed, laughing. “So I had a miracle. It was a spiritual convergence. The obsession was lifted.”
And since she could no longer hide behind a bottle of Chardonnay, Velez-Mitchell was able to face her sexuality, “and I’m still in the process.” Funny, most people have to get tanked to come out, but Jane—a different-drum marcher—had to stop doing so. She even became vegan, “so no matter what happens to me every day, I won’t have killed anyone. Nobody had to die for this party!” “Unless I choke on a cucumber canapé,” I quipped.
No one croaked at the celebration for the coffee-table book about the long-running downtown restaurant Indochine at Bergdorf Goodman last week. In fact, there were more living beings there than had been in any store for ages. High on life, I asked Indochine’s owner, Jean-Marc Houmard, for his magical secret to success. “If I had one, I’d be rich,” he said. “Wait! You own Indochine, not to mention Kittichai, and you’re not rich?” I screeched. “You must be a terrible businessman!” “Thank you for pointing that out,” he replied, winsomely.
Wild Irish jigs were being performed over at the Finian’s Rainbow bash at Bryant Park Café, especially when the raves started pouring in like Lucky Charms. Co-star Cheyenne Jackson told me he’ll be on 30 Rock next week and his character is supposed to recur throughout the season. His leading lady, Kate Baldwin, is another trouper; she told me that, though Finian’s Rainbow is about a pot of gold that grants three wishes, “I’m not superstitious. I believe in hard work and elbow grease.” Well, I believe in mischief (and lip gloss), so I wondered if anyone’s bought tickets expecting to see Finnegan’s Wake. “People keep calling it Finnegan’s Rainbow,” she admitted. “They haven’t gotten to the Wake part.”