Creatively Speaking: Laraine Newman
Laraine Newman may be best known for her funtabulous roles on Saturday Night Live (Connie Conehead, the Valley Girl, etc.), but she's been plenty busy in recent years doing pantloads of voiceovers for every animated feature under the cartoon sun, as well as working on a memoir and writing for the exciting new food zine, One for the Table.
I've been contributing some personal essays to One for the Table, and was introduced to Laraine by the zine's founding editor, author and screenwriter Amy Ephron.
So click on through to find out all about the origins of the Coneheads, who Laraine's favorite cartoon character was when she was growing up, what her writing process is like, as well as some links to her own essays on One for the Table.
On Saturday Night Live:
DI: What's your favorite character that you played on SNL?
LN: Well my favorite character that I brought from The Groundlings [Theater Company], was the Valley Girl. And my favorite character that I created at Saturday Night Live, which, I think, only pleased me and no one else, was Lena Wertmuller.
DI: What's the origin of the Coneheads?
LN: That came out of an improv that we did at Lorne's [Michaels] loft about an alien family. We assumed the roles: Jane [Curtain] was the mother, Danny [Akroyd] was the father, and I was the daughter. And then Tom Davis and Danny went off and created the Coneheads.
DI: Do you still watch SNL today?
LI: Now that there's TiVo, yeah! I have a season pass and I think the cast is better than it has ever been. I just love the show.
On voiceover work in animation:
DI: Did you have a favorite cartoon character when you were a kid growing up?
LI: I love Olive Oyl on Popeye. But I forget the name of the woman who voiced her. She also did Betty Boop. Your readers are smart, surely someone will know and let us know in the comments.
DI: How did you get into voiceover work for cartoons?
LN: About the time I had my first child, I was trying to figure out something I could do where I didn't have to be on a set. For actors, the minimum day is 12 hours. I knew I could do dialects and a lot of things with my voice. So I got a voiceover agent and auditioned for two years before I got any work. Then I took a class with Charlie Adler, who directs a ton of cartoons and he was a great teacher. After that, I started to get a lot of work and haven't stopped working since then. It's perfect because you go in for two hours, laugh your ass off, act stupid and get paid. It's really fun creating characters right on the spot. So with my improv background, it's a perfect fit.
DI: Of all the characters that you've voiced, is there one that you're particularly proud of?
LI: Yes, there's a show called "As Told By Ginger" which is one of the only cartoons out there for tweens. I played the mother for about three years and it was just great. I'm also proud of my association with Metalocalypse. It's completely wrong and subversive and it gives me street cred.
DI: What advice would you give to someone looking to break into animation voice over?
LN: Well they should start out with the ability to do dialects, characters, and play different ages. If you have those three things, I'd recommend taking a class to learn how to act with your voice, which is an entirely different skill.
On the memoir:
DI: How long have you been working at your memoir?
LN: About five years. I have a first draft and about five attempts at a second draft. But I'm having trouble recalling some of the details about the middle years of SNL. And I get sidetracked by wonderful other projects, like One for the Table, where I'm writing short form essays. What will probably happen is that I'll cobble together these essays, which all have SNL stuff in them, and that will be better way to approach this -- less of a tyranny.
DI: What are some of the challenges of writing a memoir?
LN: When I was working on the second draft, I went through a really bad depression because I had to revisit some very unhappy moments in my life. In order to offer a more vivid tone I would inhabit those moments in order to represent them. And it's also easy to get bored with long-form writing. That is, and this is the French translation of boredom: I bore myself. It's hard for me to remain enthusiastic about telling my story at times.
DI: Is there a memoir or autobiography that you've read for inspiration?
LN: Sidney Poitier's. It was interesting in the sense that he gave his philosophy of life along the way.
DI: What's your writing process like?
LN: To tell the truth, I don't really have a process. Sometimes I write in the morning for 10 minutes, other times I write in the evening for an hour and a half. That's a really long time for me. My younger daughter is a cheerleader and her gym is in Pasadena. We have to be there from 3:00-9:00, so I take my laptop and get a lot of work done there.
On One For the Table:
DI: How did you get involved with One for the Table?
LN: My high school friend Amy Ephron—my roommate at the college of Saturday Night Live—asked if I would contribute and I said, "˜Would I?!' It's an incredibly unique idea to have a food magazine with pieces written by people who are not food writers, who are known for other things. It's a compelling approach. It's been really fun for me to read other people's stuff and fun for me to write.
DI: Why is it so rewarding for you?
LN: I'm trying to build something by writing for One for the Table. I'm trying to build a literary presence in the essay form and also I think this circuitous route will ultimately help me with the memoir.
DI: What's your hope for One for the Table in the future?
LN: I'd love for it to have the same presence as The Huffington Post. I think it's a wonderful form of expression. There's also an entertainment value built in because you'd never imagine someone like Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List, Gangs of New York) writing about food. Or Arianna Huffington submitting a cookie recipe. That's the fun of it.
Check out some of Laraine's One for the Table essays:
Browse through past Creatively Speaking posts here >>