Living on 'borrowed shine': Talking with Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher was born into a showbiz family in 1956 — she is the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and started performing in Las Vegas shows at age 12.

And then, George Lucas showed up with an offer to play Princess Leia in the 1977 film "Star Wars," thus immortalizing Fisher's 21-year-old self. Things proceeded from there with Fisher battling drugs and other addictions, but also writing and performing voraciously.

Her one-woman show, "Wishful Drinking," which opens Wednesday in Chicago, shares a title with her autobiography. The show played Broadway in 2009; it's now on a national tour. 


Q: So your show, "Wishful Drinking," can also be seen on HBO. Why should people pay good money to come and experience you in person?

A: Well, I've finished my new book now. My show is basically anecdotal memory. Now I have other anecdotes, other lives. I always change it up. Once you film it for HBO, you are redundant. Obviously, I am working against redundancy. But once you get to a certain age, you are working against a lot of things.

Q: Like Princess Leia and "Star Wars."

A: I kept the Princess Leia shampoo and the soap and a few other things. I like the things where something is a little bit wrong. I also have one of the original "Star Wars" posters. The slogan is "How many times have you looked up and wondered what was going on?" They were trying different things out. That one just says so much about life.

Q: Among Hollywood celebrities with famously complex childhoods, you are an uncommonly good writer.

A: I fell in love with words early on. Books were my first drugs, they were a perfect escape. They're structured, organized and they have happy endings. There is an internal life, whereas showbiz is so external. The books I liked most were novels. They make you an observer. I always was an observer.

Q: If I were you, I would worry about whether people would care about my life story.

A: Am I insecure? Yes. Are there people who don't care? Yes. They have their own lives. As you get older and older, people care less and less. Unless you are circling the drain. We are a nation of rubber-neckers. I tell stories that are drain-circling stories, but I don't tell them in a drain-circling way. I have remove. I look at my life as an outsider.

Q: A little fame always strikes me as a nice thing. The kind of fame you were born into, not so much.

A: Yes, it's nice to be able to get restaurant tables and access to doctors and such. But when you are in the middle of the other kind, you don't know it's the middle. I was accustomed to this chaos. I came into show business understanding that it was finite, that it would come to get you at some point. It would have been a neater trick for me to stay out of show business. I watched my parents' fame fade. I saw what that did to them. I always say my mother and I should have done a "Grey Gardens."

Q: So you always knew nothing lasts …

A: I call fame the "shine" and I was always living on "borrowed shine." Princess Leia is famous; I'm not. I was Paul (Simon)'s wife. Show business isn't friendly to older people. We like to watch good-looking people. If you can stop aging, more power to you. Some people take growth hormones. They look like beef jerky. I got really fat and I was so humiliated. Literally, my getting thinner has tragically given me this power of being better looking.

Q: Fame begets power. One must want to hang on to it.

A: Fame is like a magnifier. It makes good people great and bad people awful. Entitlement is a very unattractive characteristic — people who try so desperately to cling to something that's literally shrieking and running out of the room. At a certain point, it's desperation coupled with a kind of delayed self-importance. The trick is to balance all of that. You do not want to complain as a celebrity — you've got high-class problems. When I was at school, people would say, "You think you're so great because you're Debbie Reynolds' daughter." And I'd say, "Really, I must have missed that."

Q: So presumably you don't make personal appearances as …

A: I call the autograph-signing thing "celebrity lap dancing." But I do it. Why? Cash. People think a celebrity is endlessly wealthy. But it does run out at a certain point. Especially if, like me, you live the lifestyle of the rich and famous. … These days you get to be famous for being famous. Like that Kim Kardashian. She's such a wonderful (pause) … She's so good at (pause).

Q: You have a remarkable ability to remove yourself.

A: I always had this distance. I always felt misplaced. I was always trying to figure out where I was, how I got there and did I want to stay. And once you decide to stay, you have to know you're on the clock. But I can't stop working. I need to make a living. And what would I do? Watch a reality TV show when I've tried so assiduously to avoid it?

"Wishful Drinking" previews Tuesday and opens Wednesday at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St. Tickets are $25-$65. Call 800-775-2000 or visit

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