March 28th, 2008
Tracey Ullman Examines State of the Union
English native Tracey Ullman has a unique perspective on the United States — actually, she has dozens. In her zany sketch-comedy series, Tracey Ullman's State of the Union (Fridays at 10 pm/ET, Showtime), the multitalented mimic will each week deliver a series of rapid-fire vignettes that capture a day in the life of America. We caught up with her for some insight into the method behind her madness.
TVGuide.com: You sing, dance, act…. Is there anything you can't do?Tracey Ullman: I can't draw. Stick people come out! [Laughs] But, in general, I don't like to be pigeonholed. I'm lucky — I get to have a chance at anything. I'm a happy schizophrenic!
TVGuide.com: Explain the concept of State of the Union.
Ullman: We spend a day in America — from dawn to dusk— dropping in on as many people as possible for no more than 90 seconds. I try to do a whole range of characters with the people. I want to do things very quickly and focus in on a thought or a joke very quickly, as opposed to setting it up with tons of other shots.
TVGuide.com: How did you develop your gift for mimicry?
Ullman: I've done it since I was a child. Some children play piano or are good at soccer, but I could just imitate everybody in my class and everybody in my family. They'd put me up on the windowsill in my living room and make me do a show.
TVGuide.com: Do you have a favorite character from the series?
Ullman: I like being Gretchen, the woman whose husband is on death row. Her little top with the chain-link strap just kills me. And I love being famous people. It felt daring and naughty to be real people like Arianna [Huffington], Laurie David and Rita Cosby.
TVGuide.com: Have you ever impersonated anyone to their face?
Ullman: It's awful when people make you do it. They never get it. Whenever I meet Arianna, I do her, and she looks at me with such puzzlement. I say, "You sound like Eva Gabor in Green Acres." People don't hear themselves that way.
TVGuide.com: What is your impression of Americans?
Ullman: It's hilarious. They're so excessive and there are so many extremes in this country because it's so vast. There's always something new happening. No matter how fed up the rest of the world is with us, we are still the fascination, the entertainment. Being from England, I think I have an observer's point of view. I think America's grown up and become more cynical. The political satire here is much more acute than when I first came. This program is a reflection of my [recent] American citizenship. I feel like I can say more.
TVGuide.com: Who are your greatest influences?
Ullman: Peter Sellers. I'm not a stand-up comedian — I don't tell jokes. But I really like incredible character actors like Sellers, who would just get into characters and see the endearing, sad side of people. He wasn't just trying to do funny, on-the-surface impersonations, but also to get into a character. I also used to watch The Carol Burnett Show, and she's an extraordinary actress. She was always real. Even though that show is wacky and zany, she is just so true. People who can really become someone else I find very exciting.
TVGuide.com: Has there ever been an impression you couldn't master?
Ullman: Sometimes. What's really tough is that Cajun New Orleans accent. It's such a mixture of things — a really bizarre French-Caribbean sort of thing. But there's nobody I wouldn't try.