Call Redialed: NEW interview with Marilu Henner: Madwomen of the West

actress author broadway cabaret dancer documentary film movies musical musical theatre off-broadway play regional theatre singer television theatre tv writer Nov 14, 2023
Call Me Adam Interview Title Page. Call Me Adam's logo is on the left side. Marilu Henner's headshot is on the right side. At the top center of the page there is an orange circle with jagged edges that say Featured Interview. In the middle of our headshots are the words Madwomen of the West

I am so excited to catch up with Marilu Henner, whom I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing in 2021 when her one woman show, The Marilu Henner Show, was playing at Bucks County Playhouse.

Ever since then, I have been wanting to speak with Marilu again. When I heard she was returning to the New York stage, in Sandra Tsing Loh's Madwomen of the West, I wasted no time in trying to get a new interview. I am so grateful she agreed to talk with me a second time.

Marilu is known for starring in the classic TV sitcoms TaxiEvening Shade as well as over 76 films (including 28 Hallmark movies), 7 Broadway shows, 5 Golden Globe nominations, and being the author of 10 New York Times Best Selling Books.

This time around, Marilu answered my call to reveal:
  • How she got involved with Madwomen of the West
  • A time when her opinion was deemed outrageous
  • The craziest thing she's done for at audition
  • What she still wants to accomplish
  • Putting her superhero memory to the test
  • So much more

Connect with Marilu: Instagram

Madwomen of the West plays at The Actor's Temple in NYC through December 31, 2023. 

According to press notes, Madwomen of the West takes place at Jules' stunning Brentwood mansion, where hangry (she's sugar-cleansing). Marilyn is throwing a surprise birthday brunch for Claudia, who hates birthdays. Champagne corks pop — and tempers flare — when their long-estranged celebrity friend Zoey crashes the party, fresh from her TED Talks. Expect hilarity, outrageous opinions, and unexpected wisdom about what it means to be a woman (no matter what pronouns you use) in the 21st century.

1. This fall you are starring in the new Off-Broadway comedy, Madwomen of the West, by Sandra Tsing Loh. How did this show find its way to you? Well, Caroline Aaron has been a really good friend of mine for a long time. 

We played sisters on Broadway in Social Security, directed by Mike Nichols, I might add. We became great friends after that and never lost contact with one another. Our kids grew up together, doing Easter egg hunts and Christmas things. Her daughter, Sidney and my son, Joey, graduated from high school together. We always stayed in touch.

She did Sandra's play, Madwoman in the Volvo. I saw it and it was fantastic. So, she called me right before the pandemic started or at the beginning of the pandemic and said, "Sandra's written a new play. She wants to cast four women. I told her she has to cast you because you're so perfect for this part. So she's going to call you."

That's how it all came about. We started doing Zooms over the pandemic, so I kept thinking, "Oh, are we doing a Zoom play?" which is always kind of hard to get the rhythms proper, especially in comedy.

We were so happy when we got to do it a few months ago at the Odyssey in California, here in Los Angeles. Then we got extended because people loved it so much. People screamed, cheered, and stood up. We were sold out. Then they extended us and all of a sudden, people wanted us to do it in New York.

I think it's really just the beginning because it's a fabulous piece of theatre and it features four fabulous characters played by four fabulous actresses. We're very excited.

And here's the other thing. The show is about four people who went to college together and were besties and three of them have stayed in contact all those years. One of them went off to seek fame and fortune and became this internationally famous person, wellness guru, actress and everything else. She comes back in their lives at Claudia's birthday brunch. As Zoey, I come in and I'm like the Cat In The Hat.

Things get crazy, and secrets are revealed, and I'm kind of, the swizzle stick that stirs the drink, [Adam Laughs], so, I'm just bringing in a new dynamic, but with a past. 

I've known Caroline forever. I've known Melanie [Mayron] even longer because we were in Grease and Godspell at the same time. She was in Godspell, I was in Grease, so those two companies were very familiar with each other and close and I helped to find her apartment in New York. Brooke [Adams] I've known forever, as well, when I moved to Los Angeles. And Caroline's been close to everybody, so it's like a love fest up there.

Adam Rothenberg: Oh my God. It's almost like art imitating life in that you all have this history together and you have the friendship and hopefully not the drama that comes out in the show [Adam & Marilu Laugh].

Left to right: Melanie Mayron, Caroline Aaron, Marilu Henner
Brooke Adams in Madwomen of the West, Photo Credit: Jeff Lorch

2. What do you relate to most about Zoey? Well, she was kind of written for me [Adam Laughs]. I really like her energy, career as an actress, author and wellness person who tours the country and does TED Talks and things like that. I also relate to her memory because they threw my memory in there too, so there's a lot that I relate to.

3. What is it like to have a role written for you, specifically for you? Sometimes it's harder to play yourself, but Sandra is so brilliant in her writing that it just kind of flows, and it's fun. Also, my character has been living in England for many, many years. So you remember when Madonna lived in England and had a British accent?

Adam Rothenberg: Yes.

Marilu Henner: There's a little of that, too. It's just fun. It's a ride, We talk to the audience and the audience talks back sometimes, and that's really fun, because we break the fourth wall. It's very meta at times, and everybody just loves this piece. It's hilarious. We're all, everybody has comedy chops, which is great. And, the whole piece is just so much fun to do, and I think that reads to the audience, so they have a great time. We had so many people come back, we felt like we had our little Madwomen groupies, both men and women because I think the characters are so well written that you will recognize yourself or your friends in each of the characters. You'll say, "Oh, I was Zoey. Oh, I'm Claudia. I'm Marilyn. I'm Jules."

Adam Rothenberg: Oh my God, I love that. It sounds like The Golden Girls or Sex In The City, where everybody says, "Oh, I'm, I'm the Rose or I'm the..." so, Oh my God, that's so exciting to hear.

Marilu Henner: Yes. Yes. One of the shows that I did forever and ever was Grease (in and out, in and out). I played Marty, in the original company in Chicago. I keep saying this, I think one of the reasons Grease is so successful is that people recognize themselves. Everybody's gone to high school, so you recognize yourself in one of those characters. I think when there's that recognition factor, God is in the details, so the specificity of each character makes people really latch on. It's not just generic. You go, "Oh my gosh, my friend did this, or that's how I talk to my girlfriend [Adam Laughs], or this is how I feel about my husband or partner or whatever."

I want to tell everybody, get your tickets because, in Los Angeles, we sold out. We had to turn people away almost all the time. I want people to be able to really feel the experience. So I hope that they get their tickets soon because it might be harder later on.

It'll be really fun for us because we've been doing it in Los Angeles for eight weeks and it'll be so interesting to see what a New York audience grabs onto. The play takes place in Los Angeles, but we sometimes explain things to an audience as we go along. For example, at one point, somebody says something about Bristol Farms. Do you know what that means to a Los Angeles crowd?

Adam Rothenberg: I think it's a famous farm that has a lot of baked goods and food?

Marilu Henner: It's a kind of a high end grocery store, but one of the characters says to the audience, think Citarella [Adam Laughs]. So things like that happen throughout the piece. It's really crazy. There are so many surprises that start to happen in the show that people are always like, "Oh my gosh, I didn't see that coming." Then when they see it a second time, they go, "How did I miss that that was gonna happen the first time?"

Adam Rothenberg: Oh my gosh. I love when you have to go back to something and then you're like, "Yes! How could I have not seen that? What was I doing?"

Left to right: Melanie Mayron, Caroline Aaron, Marilu Henner
Brooke Adams in Madwomen of the West, Photo Credit: Jeff Lorch

4. What is one characteristic of Zoey's that you are glad you yourself don't possess? Well, maybe the English accent, the phony Madonna English accent. That's a good question. Hmm... I don't want to give anything away, but what I will tell you is I never lose friends. I never would have spent 22 years, 3 months and 11 days away from people that I love like Zoey does.

But, you know what's interesting? When somebody has this kind of memory, you pick up where you left off, and sometimes other people don't. They feel, "Well, I haven't seen you for a long time." and I say "No, I know, you're right..." and you have to kind of explain or whatever, so there's that in the character too, but I pride myself on friend maintenance. I'm a real people keeper. So, I don't think I would have gotten caught up in the swirl.

5. According to press notes, "Audiences should expect hilarity, outrageous opinions, and unexpected wisdom about what it means to be a woman." What is an opinion you have shared publicly that got deemed as outrageous? Well, I had my baby on national television and people are always shocked by that, but I'll go back to that in a second.

In my very first health book, people were outraged that I talked about being anti- dairy products and now people say, "Oh, she was the first person that I ever talked to that wrote about or talked about dairy."

Oh, I'll tell you something else. I was on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, after my first book came out because I devoted an entire chapter called, "What's the Poop?" and I talked about people's digestive tracts. I said on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, "Floaters not sinkers, right?" I saw the show after and they cut it out. I said, "Why'd you take that out?" and Rosie said, "You can't talk about poop on television." I said, "Yes, you can." Then sure enough, years later, Dr. Oz has whole shows about it.

I'll take that one and the fact that I did have my baby on national television, which you can see on YouTube. It's called We're Having a Baby. So, I don't have a lot of secrets. After I had my son Nick (Nick Lieberman, director of Theater Camp), Dick Clark called me, (I had my talk show at the time), and he said, "Would you interview other celebrities having babies, since you just had your child and you also have hosting skills, blah, blah, blah?"

And then a month into it, I said, "I didn't do this on purpose, but I'm pregnant again." So they followed me through my amnio, everything, all my jobs and I interviewed different celebrities: Kim Alexis, Mary Lou Retton, Annie Potts, Roger Clinton and his wife, and Anita Baker.

So, what happened was, I'll just tell you the highlights... I was on stage at Comic Relief, made jokes, came home, fell asleep and woke up when my water broke. I barely made it to the hospital. The documentary filmmaker put a camera in the car, and I went from a dead sleep to having a baby in my arms in an hour and 12 minutes.

Adam Rothenberg: Oh my gosh.

Marilu Henner: I know. You see it in real time. It's hilarious. I think that's pretty outrageous and different.

Adam Rothenberg: Yes. Definitely. Definitely [Marilu & Adam Laugh].

Marilu Henner: There are no births on stage during Madwomen, but yeah, I think that's pretty out there.

Left to right: Melanie Mayron, Caroline Aaron, Marilu Henner
Brooke Adams in Madwomen of the West, Photo Credit: Jeff Lorch

6. When have you received unexpected wisdom in your life? Well, every day there's something that you learn. I'm a real student. I'm always trying to learn from people. I feel like everybody's a work in progress and you're in the laboratory of your life, so there's really no bad data. It's just data. You can't beat yourself up for, "Oh, I did this or I did that." It's like, no, it's just maybe that experiment didn't work, but that's okay. So, if I always think I'm in the laboratory of my life and every day is a different experiment [Marilu Laughs], that keeps me on the track to pull in more wisdom.

Adam Rothenberg: Oh, I love that analogy.

Marilu Henner: Thank you. When writing health books, I often hear people say, "I cheated last night. I cheated last night." I go, "You didn't cheat last night. There's no cheating. That's what you did and now you know whether the data worked or it didn't. It's just, it's all experience." Nothing is wasted. I think you learn that early in your life. Everything gets used somewhere.

I had such an advantage when I was eight years old and I sat in a classroom, and there was a question on the test that asked, "How many pencils are in a score?" I thought, "What? Pencils in a score? What's a score?" And then I thought, "Oh! I heard that before, four score and seven years ago, that was Abraham Lincoln, and he was talking about the founding fathers," and all of a sudden I went, "Oh my gosh! There are twenty pencils in a score," and I remember putting down my pencil and thought, "Everything is connected to everything. Math is connected to history, is connected to science, is connected to religion, is connected to English." I thought, "Nothing is ever wasted, it's all just connected."

I knew because I wanted to be an actress and an author, even as a tiny little girl, I thought every experience is going to be used somehow because everything is connected to everything.

I go all over the country speaking and it's like one of my favorite things to tell people. That's why I say, "I could walk around this room right now and look at your purse, or your wallet, or your gym bag, or anything, and I can tell you how you're taking care of your health because how you take care of the small things, is usually how you take care of the bigger things."

Adam Rothenberg: Oh my gosh. Don't come to my apartment [Adam & Marilu Laugh]. That is a cool skill. Between your memory and that, what can't you do?

Marilu Henner: You don't want me on your team in Pictionary. I can do hair and makeup for anyone. My niece and nephew laugh at me because they're 8 and 10 and they just cannot believe how much I can't draw. It sounds like a joke, but they say, "Auntie Lu can do a lot of things, but she can't draw." [Adam & Marilu Laugh]

7. At this point in your career, do you still have to audition for parts or do you get offer only? Well, it depends. Sometimes you want to audition to see if you're compatible with people, and if you can do the material. I haven't had to audition in a while for things, but I did two auditions on self-tapes, and those are horrible. I don't know how anybody gets a job from self-tape, because you can't really see, and then it's up to the casting director to pick the best take and stuff. So, that's not my flavor at all. It depends on the project.

Marilu Henner

8. What's something you still want to accomplish that you have not done yet? I would still love to create a role on Broadway. I mean, I loved doing, Getting The Band Back Together five years ago, and I did have a wonderful song that I loved, but I want to do something on Broadway where I really get to sing because, I do my club act now all over the country, and I've done it 40 times since the pandemic started, and I did a three week sit down at Bucks County and I loved doing that. My voice has gotten stronger. So it's like, "Put me in coach." I want to do another musical and dance and sing and that kind of thing. I want to originate a Broadway musical. Or do, one of the classics, really sink my teeth into something great in a Broadway musical.

Adam Rothenberg: That would be fantastic. And if any casting director or producers are reading this, just cast Marilu, how about that?

Marilu Henner: You know what part I think I'd really be good in, because she's gotta have my kind of energy to pull it off. But then also, because I'm older, is Kimberly Akimbo. I think that would be such a fun part to do.

Adam Rothenberg: Well they definitely need to get in touch with you and, and talk about that.

Marilu Henner: Well, maybe they'll come to see the show [Madwomen of the West]

9. Since the play is called Madwomen of the West, what do you feel is the craziest thing you've ever done to prepare for a role or at an audition, when you did audition? I ran into somebody that I knew and he was with Steve Martin at a restaurant and they both walked away, but then came back and Steve said, "What are you doing right now?" And I said, "Oh, I was in a project and it just fell apart."

They said, "We're gonna send you a script." So they sent me a script, and I read it, and thought, "Oh, I'd love to play this part," because she was vegan and she was earthy and everything else. And I went there [to the audition] dressed really earthy and vegan-ish, and they went, "No, no, no. Would you come back and read Trudy, the other character, who is his girlfriend."

I came back the next day, dressed to the nines, and they loved what I did, and they said, "Okay, we're going to test you with Steve." He wasn't there that day, it was just for casting and the director. I thought, "Oh, Steve's so fabulous, blah, blah, blah." And I worked with my acting teacher and he said, "Okay, Marilu, the way you are is you want to take care of everybody. You have all this energy, you sort of see what needs to be done and you do it." He said, "That's not this character. This character is a total bitch and she makes everybody wait for her. So when you do the reading with Steve, dump your purse out and take your time putting everything back." I thought, "Really? Oh, are you kidding? I don't know what..." And he said, "No, do it, just do it."

I thought, "Okay, I'm listening to you." So, I did it during the audition with Steve. This was for the movie L. A. Story, and I just took my time and Steve's a great improviser, and I love to improvise. So we improvised all this dialogue about how much time I was taking and how he always had to wait for me and blah, blah, blah, and I'm just like blowing it off, like I could care less, I'm so fabulous, you're just going to have to wait.

Anyway, not only did I get the part and get a comedy award for it, but the improv we did at the audition, they put in the movie. So, that's probably the most outrageous thing I ever did, and it paid off. That's one of my favorite stories to just take that chance and be that character in the moment and stuff.

Marilu Henner, Photo Credit: Jeff Katz

10. Well, I want to end the interview similar to our previous interview together, where we play with your superhero memory in which you can recall every single day of your life. So I'm gonna list some dates and I want you to tell me what you were doing on that day.

  • April 6th, 1962: It was my 10th birthday. It was a Friday. And that day, you could always pick what you wanted for your birthday dinner with the family. So I remember we got these little lobster tails 'cause I wanted lobster tails, but I got a perm that day, and I was so excited about my little permanent. I was also in rehearsal for South Pacific. My sister was choreographing it for Notre Dame Boys High School. I went to rehearsal for that. Got a perm after school. Had, our little lobster tail dinner and then went to rehearsal that night to do South Pacific. It was fun. I love birthdays.
  • December 25th, 1967 (My parent's wedding anniversary): They got married on a Monday, that Christmas was a Monday that year. Alright, so, I remember what I got for Christmas. I was obsessed with Gone with the Wind at the time, and got a Scarlett O'Hara doll, which I loved, and helped my mother with the food. It was one of the last Christmases with my father, because he passed away two years later. I remember I was wearing this blue, velvety dress.
  • September 12th, 1978 (The day that Taxi premiered on TV): That was a Tuesday. I was dating John Travolta at the time, and so we were actually in London, for the London premiere of Grease, so I was not in the United States, but then we flew to New Orleans that Friday morning, September 15th. All the Taxi guys were there for the Ali vs Spinks fight. The show had just premiered, and we walked down the street, and people were honking, going, Louie, Nardo, blah, blah, and I thought, "Our lives have just changed. We're on TV, and people are loving our show."
  •  May 23, 1994 (The series finale of Evening Shade aired on TV): I just had my son Nick (Nick Lieberman, director of Theater Camp), he was like, just 10 days old, 11 days old. I hadn't taken him out yet. I was just in the throes of motherhood, but working on my new Marilu Show.

Adam Rothenberg: Wow. So exciting. All right. Well, I thank you so much for your time again, Marilu. I really appreciate it.

Marilu Henner: These are good questions.

Adam Rothenberg: Thank You.

Marilu Henner: Nice to talk to you again.

Adam Rothenberg: Yes, you too Marilu.

Marilu Henner, Photo Credit: Jeff Katz

More on Marilu Henner:

Marilu Henner has the energy of a teenager, the wisdom of a sage, and the memory of a superhero. She has done it all: 76 films (including 28 Hallmark), 7 Broadway shows, 2 classic sitcoms
(Taxi and Evening Shade), 5 Golden Globe nominations, and the New York Times Best Selling
author of ten books on health, parenting, memory, and lifestyle improvement.

Marilu hosted and executive produced two talk shows (Marilu and Shape Up Your Life) and the nationally syndicated radio show, The Marilu Henner Show. She competed on Celebrity Apprentice (2008), Celebrity Apprentice All-Stars (2013), and Dancing with the Stars (2016).

Marilu is one of twelve people documented with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and was the subject of a five-part special on 60 Minutes and on 60 Minutes Australia and served as the consultant on the CBS series Unforgettable. Marilu has spoken before Congress eleven times (Alzheimer’s, dietary supplements, women’s cardiovascular disease, The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, deadbeat parents), and she contributed to the 2005 and 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Marilu is a keynote speaker for professional organizations, universities, government agencies, interest groups, and corporations on topics including memory, diet and fitness, women’s health issues, cardiovascular disease, cancer survival, child rearing, lifestyle, entertainment, and business organization strategies.

Marilu can be seen in Disney’s Haunted Mansion, indy film Rock & Doris Try to Write a Movie, the Aurora Teagarden prequel, and she can be heard as the English dub in 16 Netflix International projects. She tours the country in Music & Memories with Marilu Henner!

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