A conversation between friends and theater legends Patti LuPone and Nathan Lane, star of Dicks: The Musical now playing in theaters.

Topics covered include: Nathan and Patti acting together off-Broadway in the mid-80s, herbal inspiration, learning on the job, sense memory, the brutality of Julliard, putting in the work, the dumbing down of America, witty alcoholics, the Alogonquin Round Table, Nathan falling in love with Dicks: The Musical, becoming A24 repertoire players, feeding ham to puppets, adoring Megan Thee Stallion, Patti’s deep hatred of ABBA, Broadway as a shopping mall, art as an essential human right, getting dual-citizenship ‘just in case,’ and Patti’s bootlegger grandmother.

Episode Transcript

Nathan Lane: Hi everyone, this is Nathan Lane.

Patti LuPone: And I'm Patti LuPone.

Nathan Lane: And we are just going to sit around for an hour and bitch.

Patti LuPone: All for A24.

Nathan Lane: A24.

Patti LuPone: Our new home. Ready, steady, go. Nathan, we met doing that Albert Innaurato play. I can't remember the name of it, in 1984, at the public theater.

Nathan Lane: What was it? Something Coming of Age in Soho?

Patti LuPone: I don't know.

Nathan Lane: That was the name of it. Coming of Age in Soho. And it was about four hours.

Patti LuPone: I do remember that we would go back to my apartment and have parties.

Nathan Lane: Well, we did the reading. We did go back to your... You had a townhouse, right?

Patti LuPone: Duplex on 20th Street.

Nathan Lane: Okay. Well, we went back there, you and I, and there was a younger actor, Matt. I've seen him, but he was attractive, then there was some herbal inspiration, and then I realized maybe it was time for me to go. That's what I recall. The reading seemed to take up most of our adult lives. It was endless. When we got out of there, it was like we had escaped something and I think everyone was ready to let loose a bit.

Patti LuPone: Who directed it? Who directed the reading?

Nathan Lane: That's a good question. Was it Peter Mark Schifter? Remember him? Did he do it, because he worked with Albert often? He directed Gemini, didn't he?

Patti LuPone: I don't think it could have been because he was in my first class with me at Juilliard, Peter Schifter. And Peter, he was not a good actor at all and I don't think he lasted beyond the first year, but he was also bizarre. He was so strange.

Nathan Lane: And when bizarre non-actors have nothing to do, they become directors.

Patti LuPone: I think you're right, but we had a lot of crazy people. John Houseman looked for the 36 of the craziest people he could find. Peter was one of them.

Nathan Lane: What was John Houseman like?

Patti LuPone: He was exactly

Nathan Lane: Like what you saw on television in Salem?

Patti LuPone: In Paper Chase. He was frightening to me. Actually, this is a famous story. I think I've told that a million times. We go down, we're in the new building now, and I get into the elevator and it's an elevator filled with people and Mr. Houseman. I never called him John because he was so intimidating. I said, "Hello, Mr. Houseman." He turned around and said, "Louise Bernikow says you're the most illiterate person she's ever met." It was so humiliating. I couldn't answer. I mean, I think I said, "Probably, yeah." I was so shocked and humiliated in an elevator full of musicians. I was the only actor in that, and Mr. Houseman.

Nathan Lane: Aside from being unpleasant, are those people, do you think they're trying to test you in some way? That way of seeing what you're made of by saying something rude?

Patti LuPone: They totally tested us. Yeah, it was a brutal experience. What about you? Did you go to an acting school?

Nathan Lane: No, I didn't go to an acting school.

Patti LuPone: Did you go to a comedy school?

Nathan Lane: I would not have gotten into an acting school.

Patti LuPone: Did you go to clown school?

Nathan Lane: That seems clear. When I was a kid, I mean very young, I went to the Stella Adler Studios.

Patti LuPone: Oh, right.

Nathan Lane: And I took a crash course. I took acting, movement, and speech. I studied, not with Stella Adler, but with her cousin, Pearl. It was like Pearl Pearlstein or something like that. And she was not quite as theatrical as Stella, but just pretentious enough. And so, we were doing this acting class. This is a story I've told many times. And it was all rather abstract to me. I had already been working as an actor when I decided maybe I better go study this a little. And we were having this class and she wanted... It was, I don't know, sense memory or something. She said, "Everybody go to the windows and look out and take it all in, and then you come back and tell me what you see." And a young lady said, "Oh, I saw in the clouds. I could see my grandmother's face, who I lost when I was very young." And a guy said, "Oh, I saw an old man walking his dog, and it was heartbreaking. And it reminded me of something in my own life and how I should reach out to my grandparents." And then she said, "Mr. Lane, what did you see?" I said, "I see $400 going down the drain."

Patti LuPone: Did you get thrown out of the class or did she say, "Now that's the answer I'm looking for"?

Nathan Lane: I think I got a laugh, but I wasn't quite ready for that.

Patti LuPone: Do you know, the only acting classes I went to was Juilliard, but just recently, Nathan? It's been on my bookshelf forever. I picked it up. It's The Fervent Years by Harold Clurman and Stella Adler. And Stella and Harold were married. Great book. Now, I wish that I had experienced Stella Adler because of the group theater.

Nathan Lane: There's a great American masters documentary about her. You can see her on YouTube now, as you can see everything. Yes, they were married, she and Harold Clurman. There's some story about one night they were in bed and Harold kept tossing and turning and she woke them up and she said, "Harold, stop sleeping like a great man." Anyway, so yes, I wish I had studied with her. Eventually I took some classes with an acting teacher named Joan Bellamo, which were very helpful to me. And then the rest is just from experience, just learning on the job experience and watching other actors that I admired.

Patti LuPone: Nathan, was Joan Bellamo independent of Stella Adler? Was she independent of the actor studio? Independent of the Stanislavski Technique?

Nathan Lane: Yeah. Yes, it was.

Patti LuPone: The reason I ask is because knowing nothing about the Stanislavski Technique, I denigrated it, going, "I'm not a method actor." Turns out I'm a method actor. Turns out what I know about method now is I am completely a method actor. Just sense memory. You know what I mean? And at school, we weren't taught method. We had our acting training, the first year, they had no clue, and they hired actors who would teach us what they knew until they got a job and left. And then the next person would come in and go, "Well, what he said was nonsense. This is the thing." We learned how to act by default, and we learned because we didn't have a solid acting technique that every technique, any technique works.

Nathan Lane: Yeah, you gather a bit from each one. I read all their books. Uta Hagen, Respect For Acting, and Sandy Meisner and Robert Lewis. And have you read the book by Isaac Butler, The Method? Do you know that book?

Patti LuPone: No.

Nathan Lane: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act? Oh, it's fabulous. Would make a great miniseries, because it starts in the Moscow Art Theater and Stanislavski, and the guy who... Now, I can't remember all the names, but the guy who is running the place and bringing in Stanislavski, and how that all started and him wanting to do... After the Seagull had failed, and then wanting to revive it there and all of the work he put into it. And Chekhov was very nervous because he was putting in all these sounds of birds tweeting and getting in the way. And then it was hailed as a masterpiece.

Patti LuPone: What's the name of the book?

Nathan Lane: It's called The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act by Isaac Butler. He co-wrote the oral history of Angels in America.

Patti LuPone: Oh, my.

Nathan Lane: He's a wonderful writer, and this book was just staggering. And then it's all about how a lot of those people, Maria Ouspenskaya, Richard Boleslawski, when they all came over and they started teaching in America. You know how we call sections of a scene, "The beats"? The beats of a scene. It came about because they were all Russian and they used to call them, "Bits," but they talked like the beats, so that's why people call them beats. Then it's about that whole history and then the Group Theatre and how they all started to spread out and everybody had their version of it. And Sterilla went over and met with Stanislavski. And then in the book, in this particular book, they have sections from Stanislavski's diary where he talks about how annoying Stella Adler is. She asked too many questions.

Patti LuPone: Speaking of the Group Theatre, if I'm interpreting this book correctly, they formed the Group Theatre where Harold Clurman wanted to create a different theater as a reaction to what was on Broadway, which was Gaiety. And don't you find we're sort of in the same situation now with what is on Broadway? I see what's on Broadway, and I think it's a circus, it's Disneyland, and it's Las Vegas, and I wonder if we have enough gumption or there are creators out there that are reacting to this theater on Broadway now to create a new theater. I've said, "I don't want to be on Broadway anymore. I want to be in a storefront. I want to create theater. I don't want to be in this particular theater."

Nathan Lane: Right. It's changing.

Patti LuPone: Yeah, it's changed. And I'm just wondering whether there'll be support for it, financial support for it, and there'll be creators that will shift it once again.

Nathan Lane: Yeah. I don't know whether we're raising a generation that would be interested in that.

Patti LuPone: Exactly right.

Nathan Lane: There was a time, when I went into this, I didn't go to a school, but I wanted to read everything there was about the history of the theater, the people who started it, going back to the Greeks, the Elizabethans, all the way through. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to read about the different directors and writers. When I was a kid, I was always fascinated by the Algonquin Round Table, all these witty alcoholics. That's what I wanted. I wanted to go to the Algonquins and hang out with Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley. My whole fantasy world of New York City and what it was like, and these people who were all writers and directors and actors, and the Luntz, of course. Just the history of the Luntz. These people now, you mention these names to kids, they don't know who they are.

Patti LuPone: They don't.

Nathan Lane: Zoe Caldwell died, and people don't remember. That's why, say for example, Jack O'Brien has written now two books, but the first book Jack Be Nimble, which was about the regional theater movement of which he was a part under the tutelage of Ellis Rabb; but Jack's description of a young Rosemary Harris walking on stage in some restoration play, how she made her way down the stairs and picking up some object and whatever piece of business she had to do with it, or a fan or something. And it was so vivid, it was like seeing a video of it. That's how we exist. We exist in people's memories. We see it and it's there, and then it's gone. The notion of wanting to know that, whereas people now, it's about, I'm a social media influencer, I'm on TikTok... People are being discovered that way, getting instant so-called celebrity. Those people haven't put in the work.

Patti LuPone: Yeah, exactly.

Nathan Lane: ... other than recording videos.

Patti LuPone: That's what's so annoying about today's young actors. They do not want to put in the work, and part of the experience of acting is the work, is putting in the work to figure out how you do this, to strengthen the muscle. It's shocking to me. Well, I saw it years ago, I went back to school to talk to the graduating class. Our class, well, we were trained for the stage. We were not trained to go to Hollywood. And our subsequent classes, and of course it's 51 years ago. My first class was 1968, '68 to '72. We were trained for the stage. I never thought about going to Hollywood. I thought about dedicating my life, which I did, to the stage. And now it's all about fame and it's not putting in the work.

I think to your point, the audience will find you. I've been saying forever, whoever dumbed down, whoever's idea it was to dumb down America has done a brilliant job. You see it in the theater, you see it in our politics. We're stupid as shit.

It's crazy, but I also think there are people, and there's a lot of people out there that want to be educated, they want to be moved, they want a transcendent experience in the theater, and it's about finding the place to create that and have the audience find you. That's kind of my desire now. I don't want to negotiate Times Square to get to the theater.

Nathan Lane: The difficulty, also, is no one has any attention span anymore. Everyone is on their phones. When you're doing a movie or a TV show and they yell, "Cut!" And you see 25 people pick up a phone and stare at it. So we're losing the human connection, and that's really what the theater is about, a communal experience.

And the whole, the expense of it all now, a ton of money to see somebody recreate a movie from the eighties. It's just like, well, why don't you just stay home and watch the movie?

Patti LuPone: Which is better.

Nathan Lane: Yeah, which is it once was affordable and it was, with the work of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, it was for everyone. It was somewhere where everyone could go, and it was about the human condition, what we're all going through. And now more often, that's what you're finding on television. That's sort of where the best writing is turning up. There's small independent films, of which we bring it apart at A24.

Patti LuPone: And very proudly.

Nathan Lane: And very proud.

Patti LuPone: And I hope that we become repertory players in the A24 repertoire.

Nathan Lane: Absolutely.

Patti LuPone: Just putting it out there to A24 executives.

Nathan Lane: Exactly. So it's very difficult, not unlike Broadway, which has been turned into a shopping mall. Now, in film, it's all about superheroes. Yeah.

Patti LuPone: Can I stop for a second? I want to ask you, since we're onto A24, what it was like filming a musical? If you can talk about it?

Nathan Lane: Sure. That I can talk about.

Patti LuPone: How you felt.

Nathan Lane: Dicks: The Musical.

Patti LuPone: Yes, Dicks: The Musical. How you sang, how they filmed it. I'm really curious about that.

Nathan Lane: Yes. I came out of retirement to do a movie musical with Larry Charles. The wonderful Larry Charles directed this. It was a script originally titled “Fucking Identical Twins.” That was the name of... When it was a sketch at Upright Citizens Brigade, when these two young guys, Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson did it in the basement of a Gristedes. And it was a huge success for them. And then they did it in LA, and then it was picked up, first by 20th Century Fox. I don't know what they were thinking. And then eventually, Peter Chernin Entertainment and A24 picked it up.

It's a satirical absurdist, R-rated, queer musical about toxic masculinity, and The Parent Trap. It's the plot of The Parent Trap. Josh and Aaron play two corporate business men, two macho guys who talk a lot about their dicks and being successful with women, and they work in a company together. Then they realize that they are identical twins, even though they don't look alike at all. They're both kind of lonely, and they decide to reunite their parents and try to create a family again.

And so I play their father, who has come out of the closet. He's gay, and he lives in an apartment with these two creatures he found in the sewer, which he calls the Sewer Boys. They're sort of like rescue dogs to him, and he feeds them deli meat. He chews it up, spits it into their mouths, and they live in a cage in my living room.

And the mother, played by the great Meghan Mullally, is in a wheelchair and she's a shut-in. She's quite eccentric. And years ago on a trip to Greece, you'll pardon the expression, she says her pussy fell off. It crawled away and her son hit it with a flip-flop. So they kept it, and she keeps it in a bag, in a baggie in her purse so she still feels like a woman.

Anyway, so that's sort of where we are. When I read this, I laughed, but I thought, "Oh, this is... I don't know if I can do this stuff." And then I had a Zoom with Larry Charles, who has directed Borat. And I just loved him, and I thought, he'll know how to do this. And then of course, I had a dinner with these two guys, Josh and Aaron, and that went on for four hours, and I fell in love with them.

And so I said, "Well, why not?" What I admired was their chutzpah, the audacity of it all, because it's incredibly outrageous. And it's a musical. There are musical numbers they wrote with this composer, Karl St. Lucy. Numbers are terrific. They're tuneful and filthy. And we're in this climate right now where books are being banned. Don't say gay, don't do this, you better be careful what you do in your comedy. And, they come from this generation of young queer comedians like Julio Torres and Bowen Yang, who plays God in the film, Billy Eichner. They don't have that. They're not concerned with what you think.

Patti LuPone: Oh, yay.

Nathan Lane: When I've seen it now, I've seen a few screenings and people just laugh their heads off. There's something very freeing about it because of that. Obviously the target audience is the gay audience, but it's deeply silly and outrageous, and I think really works because it's a musical.

So this was a movie, we made it in Burbank, and I think they were studios, or it could have been a trucking company that just made garages. It was a very low budget, $12 million film, so everything has sort of handmade quality to it all, and we made it in sequence then. So it was, for me, going back to singing, and it was nerve-wracking. I mean, it was all prerecorded, but you're singing live in the moment when they're filming. You didn't really have time to think about it too much, because they would spend one day... And you would shoot an entire number ordinarily in a regular movie musical would've taken a week.

But that was part of the kind of style of this piece. It was to make it feel like you were back in the basement of Gristedes, seeing these people put on a show. We laughed ourselves silly. We had a great time. And then there's also, there's a Megan Thee Stallion. I don't know if you're familiar with her. The rapper?

Patti LuPone: I am. Yes, I am.

Nathan Lane: She plays their boss and she's phenomenal. She came in, she had two days. It's incredible. She's fabulous. So it turned out to be a lot of fun.

Patti LuPone: Did Larry understand how to shoot a musical on camera? I don't know what the context of the songs are, but

Nathan Lane: Well, no. Stanley Donen, he's not. But he had a great DP and it was very straightforward. Nothing fancy, no Busby Berkeley...

Nathan Lane: It was very straightforward. Nothing fancy, no Busby Berkeley overhead shot ... maybe one. I think there was maybe one overhead shot, but no, it was all very straightforward because there wasn't any time. I would make a suggestion and say, "Well, what if this happened or that happened?" And he would say, "That's a great idea, but we don't have the money. Don't have the money or the time." And that became a part of, I think, the tone and the style of it all. But from what I've seen with audiences, it's working.

Patti LuPone: Where's it going to be released? Is it going to be released in theaters, Amazon or Netflix?

Nathan Lane: Yes, in theaters. It opens today in select theaters in -

Patti LuPone: Oh, congratulations.

Nathan Lane: - select cities. And then it opens wide on the 20th.

Patti LuPone: Congratulations, Nathan.

Nathan Lane: Thank you. I mean, it was a big hit at the Toronto Film Festival, and these screenings have gone well. Now it enters the real world, where people are sitting at home just waiting to be offended. So that can spell trouble. I have no idea what will happen now, but it's a great deal of fun if you're open-minded.

Patti LuPone: Well, speaking of that, don't you think at some point, and I hope it's today, the pendulum swing is back with a vengeance?

Nathan Lane: Well, yes, the pendulum. Yes, it usually does, but this pendulum is very slow. Yeah.

Patti LuPone: It’s like it’s almost stuck on the other side.

Nathan Lane: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Patti LuPone: But it brings me back to what I said earlier. Whoever decided ... the corporations, the government, whoever decided to dumb down the population of America has done a fucking brilliant job at it. I have PTSD for the last, was it eight years? I have a finite amount of time left. I have no idea how long I have left, but I'm on the other side of it. And I want to go someplace where I wake up in the morning and, "Oh, I see a blue sky. Oh, I see a red rose. Oh, I see green ferns," with nothing interfering with that. And then I thought, Okay, so I find my serenity. Am I going to have PTSD because I don't have PTSD anymore? You know what I mean? We grew up in this country with this stress.

Nathan Lane: Yeah.

Patti LuPone: Right. I have to tell you this. So my friend is Jake Heggie, who just had his Met premiere.

Nathan Lane: Oh yeah, I just saw it.

Patti LuPone: You saw Dead Man Walking?

Nathan Lane: Yeah! What a gorgeous production.

Patti LuPone: Were you there on opening night?

Nathan Lane: Not opening night, but there was a thing, sort of a reception afterwards Tom Kirdahy, Terrence's husband put together. I just loved the production. It was so moving. And Joyce DiDonato and the actors.

Patti LuPone: Susan Graham and Ryan McKinny.

Nathan Lane: Were wonderful. I mean, yeah, it was very moving. Sister Helen Prejean was there as well.

Patti LuPone: So I just read that Joyce DiDonato and Ryan McKinny either have done this or I think they have done it, they went to Sing Sing with this and they incorporated inmates.

Nathan Lane: And the prisoners played the chorus. Yes. Amazing.

Patti LuPone: Oh my God. And one of the prisoners said, "I could cry. I feel alive. When I'm singing, I feel alive." I thought, oh my God. I just have to be reassured that there is humanity left in this world and in this country. I'm so messed up, so emotionally, mentally messed up about what's going on. I can't get a

grasp on anything. Then you read something like that, and I have an explosion of emotion, because it's an anomaly in our country right now. But to read that, to read ... and then I start to think, why can't we do what the Norwegians do and in their prison systems have it be a rehabilitation prison? I just witnessed this, the opera going there and having ... they're lifers. Those guys aren't getting out. They're lifers. So to give them one shred of hope, feeling human again is incredible.

Nathan Lane: Yeah. No, incredibly moving story, especially that particular story. And it was incredibly moving as well, because it was Terrence McNally's debut at the Met.

Patti LuPone: Oh my God. Of course, yeah.

Nathan Lane: It would've meant the world to him, being such an opera lover. That really got me. No one would've been more tickled than Terrence to be seeing that happening on the Met stage.

Patti LuPone: P.S. One more thing about that is I ... it was the gala. So I was sitting at a table and I just said to Neil Patrick Harris, I went, "You cannot convince me that that wasn't a real needle in the execution." I said, "You cannot convince me." He said, "No, no, no. We've all had them, those fake needles." I said, "You can't convince me," because they had a closeup. They had a closeup. So when Jake came over, I said, "So we got two questions. Was the silence in the execution, is that orchestrated? Is that you? Is that composed?" He said, "Yes." And I said, "Is it a real needle?" He said, "Yes. That's a real needle going into Ryan McKinny."

Nathan Lane: Really?

Patti LuPone: Yes.

Nathan Lane: It's not a retractable -

Patti LuPone: And it must be a nurse. It must be a real nurse -

Nathan Lane: It has to be.

Patti LuPone: - that's administering that whole execution part. Yeah.

Nathan Lane: I mean, also I asked, I said to Joyce DiDonato, who's magnificent, and I said, "How often do you have to do this?" And she said, "Oh, seven more times." And I was like, "Wow, I wish I had that schedule."

Patti LuPone: That's right. And plus they only perform once every two days, once every three days.

Nathan Lane: I said, if you were doing eight shows a week, you'd sound like Elaine Stritch.

Patti LuPone: Speaking of a Elaine Stritch, I'm turning into a Elaine Stritch. I want to go see Here We Are and I can't go to the opening. So I told Rick Miramontez, I said, "I need some pump. I'm turning into Elaine.” You know that story about Elaine would go up to the box office and go, "Where's my tickets?"

Nathan Lane: Yes. She told me this. Did I tell you this?

Patti LuPone: No.

Nathan Lane: She said, "I don't ..." I said, "Oh, you went to see ..." I said, "That's a tough ticket," or something. And she said, "Oh, I don't pay for anything." She said, "You don't think I'm going to pay for tickets now after all the years I've been in show business?" I said, "Well, how do you work?" She said, "I go up to the box office around 10 to eight. I say, hi, it's Elaine Stritch. Just give me a single in the back." And I said, "And they always hand over a ticket?" She said, "Absolutely, except for one show." And I said, "Which one?" And she said, "Mamma fucking Mia."

Patti LuPone: I do know I hate Abba. I hate Abba.

Nathan Lane: How did you hate Abba?

Patti LuPone: Because they became famous in the rock and roll era, and I am a devotee of the band. So Abba comes ... it's the Band, it's the Beatles, it's the Rolling Stones. It's Three Dog Night. It's rock and roll era, and it's Abba. And I went, "What? Are you kidding me? You've got to be kidding me. Dancing Queen? Give me a break." So I have protested all of it.

Nathan Lane: Really?

Patti LuPone: I've never seen Mamna Mia. I've never seen any of the movies. Every time their music's on, I turn it off, just because I'm like a Swiftie, only for the Band.

Nathan Lane: Now, apparently there are concerts where there are holograms of Abba.

Patti LuPone: Yes. I have to tell you, I saw the original hologram, and it was Roy Orbison and Maria Callas when they first started this thing. No. And the Roy Orbison, I went ... first of all, they found a woman in Queen. Let's talk about that, Maria Callas. They found a woman in Queens who looked like her. They rehearsed her for Maria's movements. And then they filmed her for the hologram. But the Roy Orbison was real footage of him.

Nathan Lane: And then they just lip-synced? The woman lip-synced to Maria?

Patti LuPone: Yeah. But then for the Roy Orbison ... this was crazy. He came up through the trap in the floor and he went down through the trap in the floor. I'm going, where's he going to, hell? Comes up and -

Nathan Lane: And it was a hologram?

Patti LuPone: Yeah, and went down, but it was the most insane staging, because he was going into a hole. He's dead. So what, is he going to hell? Shouldn't he have flown someplace? Shouldn't he have gone off stage left? It was so nuts.

Nathan Lane: After we're gone, there'll be holograms of you and me doing Anything Goes or some -

Patti LuPone: Or this, or this. They'll do a hologram of it.

Nathan Lane: Exactly.

Patti LuPone: I have to tell you about my son's podcast. So during lockdown, we were all together in Connecticut, and he was so frustrated because he's a white boy in his thirties, anathema in our business right now. And I said, "Josh, you have to create your own work," trying to help him out. And what he did to create his own work was he took American short stories, dramatized them, and then asked American actors to read them as if they were plays. And it's called Radio Play Revival. And it's as if it's an old radio play, before TV, before -

Nathan Lane: Yeah.

Patti LuPone: You can pick it up from any podcast. And it's American literature that's in the public domain or that we've gotten permission from playwrights that are living. And we got these actors that ... we started in a pandemic and we're ending it in the strike. So everybody was available and everybody said yes. And it was quite a journey for him.

Nathan Lane: It's like the old Luxe Radio Theatre. Clifton Webb in Present Laughter.

Patti LuPone: Yes. And you know what? We should do more of that, just to reintroduce Americans to our art. I keep saying, I'm so saddened by the fact that when was the last time you heard the word art and culture in daily discourse in our country, in our politicians? I mean, perhaps you were involved, but when Colleen Dewhurst was alive and they were doing the first National Endowment for the Arts cut, she asked a bunch of us to go down to Washington DC. And the thing for the subcommittee, should we cut the National Endowment for the Arts? And I kept hearing from these politicians, low priority, low priority, low priority. When, for me, art is the soul of a nation. And when have we ever been celebrated? When have we ever been acknowledged, let alone celebrated? I just looked at the MacArthur grant. Who either knows about the MacArthur grant?

Nathan Lane: Yeah.

Patti LuPone: I looked at the recipients of the MacArthur grant. It's so out of the realm of discourse in this country and it shouldn't be.

Nathan Lane: Well, it's always the first thing to go, the arts.

Patti LuPone: And it's a human right.

Nathan Lane: Yes, totally.

Patti LuPone: It's a human right.

Nathan Lane: It's proven how the arts are important to the young folks. People growing up, creating healthy, well-rounded human beings. Music, and art, and dance, and opera, and plays, and musicals. It's all incredibly important. Next month, they're doing a concert version of The Frogs.

Patti LuPone: Right, yeah.

Nathan Lane: Which I had done a revision of the libretto, and we did at Lincoln Center back in 2004. And so I've been condensing it for the concert. And we had done a recording of this concert version of The Frogs we had done for Steve's 70th birthday at the Library of Congress. And it was, I just found it so moving, especially after 9/11. The notion of this, the God Dionysus feeling like the arts can affect change in society, that he has to go to Hades to bring back a great writer, to speak to our nation, and inspire it again. It's a very romantic, idealized notion, but it's incredibly important.

Patti LuPone: Incredibly important. That's why I love Ireland. Their heroes are poets and novels and they sing. And who are

Nathan Lane: I'm looking into getting my Irish citizenship now. Both my grandparents were from Ireland, and because just in case.

Patti LuPone: Me too; I have my Italian citizenship. I did it because of the first Iraq war. My kid was draft age, and I went, he's not fighting in this war. There's no war he is going to fight in. So I hired a genealogist to find out if one of my grandparents had done the right thing. And we went to my grandpa Patty first because he was murdered in Jamestown. We figured, well, he didn't have time to naturalize. They can't find him in Sicily. They just can't find him in Sicily. My grandpa was murdered, yeah. Well, as I understand it, and it's written up in the Dunkirk paper, there was a knock on the door at five o'clock in the morning, which my grandmother answered, and there were a couple of guys out there and said, we want to speak to whatever his name was. I don't even know what my grandfather's name was. Shot him in the back of the head. And my grandmother, and my mother, and my uncle, George. And so fucking cliche, a Calabrese, were taken to the Jamestown police station for interrogation. People think, members of my family think that my grandmother was involved. My grandmother was a bootlegger.

Nathan Lane: Oh, the plot thickens.

Patti LuPone: My grandmother was a bootlegger in her house in Jamestown. We all vied for this sewing room off of the kitchen because it was like being back in a womb. It was so dark, and it was a window seat and a sewing machine, whatever. Well, apparently the floorboards lifted up, and that's where she hid the whiskey. So it was never solved. They found the gun. He was murdered. He's buried in Jamestown. So we went to my grandpa, Luke Powell, who did the right thing, and he did not naturalize. Apparently, he didn't naturalize, so he was still considered an Italian citizen. So it was easy for me to get my passport, and then my blood got it, Joshua. So I have an EU passport, which I am so grateful for, just in case.

Nathan Lane: Yeah, I know. Let's get off of politics. What are you doing now?

Patti LuPone: I was just going to say that there is an advantage to being in our profession, I think, and having the desire to broaden our visions. If I didn't act, I would be a hobo. I'd just be a traveler.

Nathan Lane: A hobo?

Patti LuPone: A hobo, yeah. Why not? I would be a hobo. Just, I would rather see the world than do anything else. I enjoy going into other countries and assimilating into their culture to understand it. And I think that has a lot to do with the fact that, as an actor, it is our job to open our eyes and see and accept. So basically

Nathan Lane: Many Americans, they don't want to leave the country. They're not interested in what's going on in the rest of the world. It's terrible.

Patti LuPone: It is terrible because you see how fortunate this country is, how fortunate the citizens of this country is, are rather, and if they only traveled, they would have more gratitude to what we do have, what seems to be a right. Washing machines and dryers, dishwashers, two cars in the driveway, a house, if you have that.

Nathan Lane: Yeah, a lot of people can't afford that.

Patti LuPone: Well, not anymore, but it's just so, I mean, I'm grateful that I was born into this. I mean, I do believe that I was chosen for this. I started at four years old, and fell in love with the audience, and never looked back. So I always said it chose me. I've always said it chose me. Right now, with the strike on, I finished something in Atlanta that I'm very proud of, and just waiting to see what happens. I'm singing. I did the concert work, and there's interest in plays, but I want to stay off the stage for a while because I don't want to do eight shows a week anymore. I gave it 50 years. It's enough.

Nathan Lane: I understand. Yeah. I think I have a few more left in me. But yeah, it gets harder and harder and

Patti LuPone: There's no life. I mean, I'm built for it. You're built for it. We have the muscle to do it. That's not the problem. The problem, it's a one-day off.

Nathan Lane: Yeah, yeah.

Patti LuPone: We have no life. The life is on the stage. And like I said, I haven't got that much life left, so I want to be able to have, I'd rather do film where you still get two days off and maybe a whole week off.

Nathan Lane: Exactly. Yeah, I know. Oh, yeah. And then you do these things like this play I did, Pictures From Home, last season, and it's Bartlett Sher, it's Danny Burstein, Zoë Wanamaker. I thought it was a beautiful play. Very funny, very moving story about this son and his parents, and this photographer, Larry Sultan, photographed them over a period of a decade and then wrote this, what became his master work, and he interviewed them. And it was a way of also, I think, him trying to figure out his father and the effect that's had on him and how it's affecting his family, it just seemed very, I hate to use the word relatable, but it's about parents and mortality. It seemed like something we all have to go through or are going through. And then it was totally dismissed by the critics. When you work two years or something, you do a few readings and you work on this thing, and then it's over.

It really hurt business. It was so, across the board, dismissive. And yet, the audience, it was a crowd pleaser. The audience seemed to love it, and you could hear people sniffling, and I would say to Danny Burstein, “Well, they can't just be pretending to be nice for our sake. They obviously like this play, and it seemed to be a very effective piece.” And so it was very puzzling and disappointing when it was just, I mean, really kind of beaten up, and what can you do? That's what they all decided, and so it shortened its life. And so after that

Patti LuPone: It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking.

Nathan Lane: You go, well, I don't know if I want to go through that again.

Patti LuPone: Exactly. You put all that work in, and David Mamet said he didn't care what the critic said as long as he knew the critics loved it at the theater, and I don't know whether that's the case, but let's think of something positive. I look forward to seeing you this summer at your homestead estate. Your ancestral estate in the Hamptons.

Nathan Lane: Anytime. Yes. It's always fun out there with Scotty and the gang.

Patti LuPone: Yeah.

Nathan Lane: Absolutely.

Patti LuPone: PS, we're here, so we should have dinner. We could walk to each other.

Nathan Lane: Oh, yeah, that's right. That would be lovely. I would love that. Yeah, I'm around now, so.

Patti LuPone: Me too.

Nathan Lane: Yeah, we should talk other than on a podcast and have a dinner.

Patti LuPone: Exactly, yes. Well, thank you A24 for putting Nathan and me together.

Nathan Lane: Yes, thank you.

Patti LuPone: It was great. It was really great, Nathan. Don't you think we covered a lot of topics?

Nathan Lane: We sure did.

Patti LuPone: Love you, doll.

Nathan Lane: Nice to talk. Love you too.

Patti LuPone: Bye.

Nathan Lane: Thank you very much. All right, take care.