For Grammy Award winner Cyndi Lauper, there’s not such a huge difference between singing and acting. In her first serious role co-starring with Chris Walken in The Opportunists, Lauper described how she goes about mixing and matching musical energy with drama. Lauper gives a standout performance rich in local color as a temperamental Queens barmaid. She also hinted about what’s up with her music lately, and a new direction we’ll be hearing soon from the girl who still just wants to have fun.
PRARIE MILLER: I hear you went on a pub crawl to prepare for this movie.
CL: Oh yeah! I had to research. I knew what barmaids kinda look like. And I know that like when you’re a barmaid, it’s the crowd you bring in. You have like your own crowd, if you’re a draw. So being a musician in a band, and having different nights of the week in different clubs, you gotta draw, you know what I mean? So everybody has their thing.
PM: Now were you in these bars undercover, or did you mingle?
CL: You know, I guess it’s been so many years since I’ve been famous, that I don’t bother looking not to be seen anymore. And at the height of my fame, it was very hard for me. Because my method of writing lyrics would be walking around endlessly, and watching. Now how can you do that, if everybody knows who the hell you are? You don’t get a second. One time a car pulled up, and all the people jumped out and came rushing towards me. It was just an autograph thing, but after that I was like, I can’t deal with this. And I got kinda worried.
But now I figure, you know what? It’s not my issue, it’s not my problem. And if they recognize me, don’t lie because that’s nasty. So I just say yeah, I’m her. But in the bars, they kinda didn’t do that. My hair was kinda fading from pinkish orange maybe, and I had to wash it out. You know how that is, the stuff washes out. So it was different every time. And now basically I just put my jeans on, and we went out and had a beer. And it was great. Because these bars are different than the others bars. This was an old Irish neighborhood. And as a musician I like Celtic stuff. I like the whole mix, You know, this is America, so we’re rich and full with everything. I feel lucky I was born here. So when I went into these bars, you go and there’s bagpipes playing in the next room.
But I got to see a lot. And there’d be the drinkers at the bar with the ruddy complexions. They’d tell you, hey go home and visit your family! Because they never go home. They’re always there.
PM: What about getting the local female look just right?
CL: Well, I’m there looking at a lady, and her hair of course was the blonde with the roots. And the eye makeup that closes up your eyes. But I couldn’t do that in the film, because they always have like a heart attack. Like. ‘It can’t be that real! They’ll never see inside your eyes!’ So I just watched.
PM: Where do you see your musical side fitting in with acting in The Opportunists?
CL: Well, you know, I’m a musician. I’m a lifer. I’ve always been. And I loved doing this movie, I learned so much. When you’re a musician, everything’s based on rhythm. Being creatures of rhythm, we always respond to that. It’s all rhythm, including the rhythm of our speech and action. And you snap into a different reality. You can be so in it, that it’s lyrical. So it was a wonderful experience, it was magical. So that’s more of what I do. I have a wonderful imagination that I’m very grateful for, and you can use it in a lot of different mediums. If I couldn’t sing though, I don’t think I could feel as alive as I do. There’s something about music that keeps me very much alive and vibrating.
PM: What were you doing before you made it as a musician?
CL: I worked in a department store. Because when you’re in a band, where are you gonna get a job? My hair was funny, my clothes were weird, I worked until dawn. And then you know, you show up cross eyed, at eleven or twelve o’clock. Who’s gonna hire you? So I worked at a concession stand. And one of my first fans was the assistant manager. And he got me a gig with Doris, the lady there who engraved jewelry. But what that taught me was how to write an autograph. You know, it was always like, ‘Dear Grandma, Merry Christmas.’ So I got a lot of practice on a pie plate. But hey, everything comes in handy.
PM: Your look is still pretty…unusual. What does your son think about that?
CL: He’s still too young to say Ma, why can’t you look like everyone else? He’s only two.
PM: Were you a little intimidated working with Christopher Walken on The Opportunists?
CL: Wouldn’t you be? You know, I took the gig because I met him already. I knew he was nice. Then this opportunity came up, and I said, why not. At first I told myself, you’re out of your mind. But I read for it anyway. He’s great, he’s very artistic. He’s kooky too, okay? Lemme tell you, working with these artistic people, they’re all a little nutty. I know, and I’m sitting here with this purple hair talking like that! But I get there, and it very surreal. The reason I’m saying this is I want you to understand the look of the place, it looked like a painting. Then Chris walks in, and he’s completely in black.
The walls are white, and there was no roof, it was all sky. So I’m sitting in a painting, as far as I’m concerned, okay? Like I went to art school, but not for nothing. This is performance art, this is a painting acting! So they all start doing the reading. And I just went right along with it. Why make waves, right? I may have look different, but I’m a blender, really. And I started reading, but before I knew it, I called him a rat. But it was all within the contents of the scripts, you know?
Then I thought, after it came out of my mouth, I’m done for. That’s it, I called Christopher Walken a rat. But you know, it was in the script. But then the director told me, hey Chris was really impressed that you called him a rat. And I said you know, it was in the script! I mean, I was reading it, and it just slipped out.
PM: How do you think that happened?
CL: Well, I am from Queens. And it’s not like with my husband. He comes from an educated family, so they have discussions. In my neighborhood, it was the loud neighborhood. We didn’t have discussions, we had arguments. And they would…yell. It wasn’t like, I disagree with your point of view. It was, shut up, you’re stupid, what do you know anyway? And that was the end of that. So of course it heightened to, you rat. What can I say? But that was my first actual…artistic thing with him. Now hey, that wasn’t the Readers Digest version, I’m sorry.
PM: No problem. How do you feel about the changing images of young female pop singers like Britney Spears now?
CL: Well, how do you say this in a positive way? I think what’s happening is a little sad. This is a seventeen year old girl whose mom helped her get a boob job, because she felt that’s how she’d become more popular. And what’s sad is, that did help her. Yeah, I used to have fantasies. Yeah, I used to chase after the Monkees. But Chrtina Aguilera, who is all of nineteen, an old lady now compared to the standard. You don’t have to be some little tart. And you know what? It’s great coming to the power of your sexuality. No one wants to take that away. But why the adults have to stick their hands in and muck about, I find very sad.
Now with the heavy saturation of syrupy sweet pop comes the dance trance, the unraveling of the song. And also the cynical lyrical content. The problem is not that you want to discover and make new music. The problem is the negativity. And it’s being perpetuated by people who are in business who don’t live it, who are feeding off of the anger that you feel when you’re coming through puberty.
PM: Where do you see yourself as fitting into all of that?
CL: You’ll hear it very soon. I’m comin’, don’t worry. I’m not gonna not make a statement. I’m comin’. I see the void, there’s a perfect spot for me. And I think somebody’s gotta stand up and do it. I’d like to be the one. We’ll see. But I’m not talking yet! But I got a list, and I’m going down to mess with some things tomorrow. I’m very excited. I want to take some very vibrant energy and life force, and bring it into the forefront. Something with a more positive view or story about humanity. Not unlike this movie. But to me more of a real humanity than, you know, watching a car blow up. Awright, that’s it. Was it too heavy for you? I’m sorry! Awright, I’ll see ya later.