Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch (July 17, 2014)

Editor's note: Broadway actress and singer Elaine Stritch, 89, died on Thursday, July 17, at her home in Birmingham, Mich. (Story and photos here.) Following is an interview by Hartford Courant theater critic Frank Rizzo from 2008.

Elaine Stritch is still trying to figure it all out.
    The tough-talking Broadway star shared her vulnerable side and some tasty and telling backstage stories in her 2002 solo bio-show, "Elaine Stritch At Liberty." You would think winning a Tony for that performance would allow the veteran actress to feel secure.
    Guess again.
    While Stritch had a personal and professional triumph with the show and its subsequent presentations (including a one-week run starting Tuesday at Hartford Stage), there still remains nagging doubts, fears and insecurities.
    "People don't get to the truth soon enough in their lives," she says. "But I still want to know - and I don't care what I find."
    Stritch, 83, was talking in the tea room at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan, a place she has literally called home for the past 10 years. (She also resided at the Savoy Hotel in London in the '70s.
    "I'll tell you something about myself," she says, leaning forward, boring in with her blue eyes and speaking in a voice a little too loud for the room.
    "I demand attention wherever I go. I wish I had the guts to reveal it a long time ago, but I didn't know it was true a long time ago." While Stritch's self-spotlight is not breaking news to the people who know her either personally or professionally, her narcissistic candor and compelling storytelling can be stimulating, true and, above all, funny.
    Her humor, she says, gets her through a lot in life.
    "It can never leave me because otherwise I'm a bore," she says. "It's true. 'You might have been a headache/but you were never a bore.' That's one of my favorite lyrics."
    Stritch knows she is no walk in the park to work with, but she has her own acting process, and for those who help her get there, the performance is worth the effort.
    Because of her solo show, she says, she has a new self-deprecating line about herself.
    "I finally know what it's like to work with Elaine Stritch on stage. Thanks, but no thanks. Now I know how George Grizzard felt," she says, referring to her co-star in the celebrated Lincoln Center '90s revival of Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance."
    Stritch won an Emmy Award last year for her work playing Alec Baldwin's mother in TV's "30 Rock" comedy series.
    "I loved playing with Alec Baldwin, but I don't think I'm going to be called again for that show," she says. "I don't think Tina Fey likes me. It's just a feeling I have, and I don't care if you print that. She's a very talented woman, but I approach everything like an actress, and I have to understand the comedy I'm playing, or I can't make it funny. Maybe I asked too many questions. I don't know."
    Receiving the Emmy was all well and good, but mention the Tony Awards, and Stritch stiffens.
    She is still smarting from her Tony experience when she was cut off during her acceptance speech.
    "It left a very bad taste in my mouth," she says. "I shouldn't be cut off from making a speech after being nominated so many times and then finally winning at the age of 70 - whatever it was. I want nothing to do with the Tonys. I've lost my Tony. I don't even know where the hell it is. No idea,and I don't give a [expletive] either. I really don't. And what the [expletive] are the Tonys doing in Radio City Music Hall anyway? This is the American Theater, not the Rockettes."