Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tracey Ullman Creates a More Humorous 'Union'

Tracey Ullman's State of the Union" reflects a basic tenet of the star's adopted land: Keep it moving.

Tracey Ullman in Tracey Ullman's State of the Union
(Art Streiber/Showtime)The England native, a longtime U.S. resident and recently minted citizen, knows something about American attention spans. She portrays 15 characters in just the first half-hour of her new Showtime sketch comedy series (Sunday, 10 p.m. ET/PT).

"It's like a YouTube-mentality show. I don't think anyone's got the focus at the moment for 14-minute sketches, so I decided to make it fast and furious," says Ullman, who has displayed her impersonation skills on Fox's "Tracey Ullman Show" and HBO's "Tracey Takes On …." "It's never boring. If you don't like this bit, you'll like the next bit."

With each of Union's five episodes set up as a day in the life of the country, Ullman appears as dozens of people, both real -- "Sopranos" star Tony Sirico, Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington, Suzanne Somers — and her own creations. The latter reflect the nation's diversity, from an unexcitable Nebraska woman to a Jamaican caregiver in New York to an Indian pharmacist who breaks out into Bollywood musical numbers.

Ullman had 10 shooting days for the series, so makeup time for the dozens of characters had to be kept to a minimum.

"I know sometimes I'm not 100% convincing, but it's an energy, a confidence to playing" each character, she says. "There's one little thing we'll find that will imbue me with a sense of being that person. Renee Zellweger: I just put these eyelashes on and tried to think of Lamb Chop from Shari Lewis."

She particularly likes her unglamorous characters, such as a crass woman who has a thing for marrying death row killers. "I love being her. I got to have bad hair, cheap clothes, bad teeth, smoke cigarettes. I got to cry," she says.

Ullman, who has lived in the USA for 25 years, earned her citizenship in 2006. "I've had a wonderful experience in America. I've had a lovely career here. And after the last election, I wanted to vote. I wanted to join in."

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