INTERVIEW: Julia Duffy Takes Comedy Seriously

April 18, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Posted in Interviews | 1 Comment
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DISCLAIMER: I did not write this article, I do not own this article, and it appears here on this blog purely for educational purposes.

Title: Julia Duffy Takes Comedy Seriously
Publication: The Globe and Mail (Canada)
Date: March 10, 1984
By: Laurie Deans

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“I like to go the extreme to see how funny something can be,” says Julia Duffy, the new co-star of Newhart. “To take a character to its limits, to do comedy in its purest form.” Her career fantasy, she says, would be to work with the Monty Python troupe. But, as she notes, Newhart isn’t the place for that kind of comedy: “It’s too reality-based.” On the show Duffy plays Stephanie, the poor little rich girl cut off from her allowance and hired out of pity as a maid at Newhart’s inn.

“She’s not dumb, but she’s never had to think or make a decision in her life. As one of the writers says, her brain is an underused muscle.” Duffy adds, “She’s spoiled, she just assumes the world revolves around her, and she’s flattered the way a 4-year-old is when her mother is constantly telling her she’s perfect.” The almost in-spite-of-herself funniness Duffy gives to Stephanie fits very well with Newhart’s famous deadpan brand. “There’s something so familiar about his comedy, but the thing that never ceases to amaze me is that he still surprises you, he still manages to catch an audience off- guard,” Duffy says admiringly. “He’s just so foolproof.” Even in rehearsal he manages to catch his co-stars off-guard, she says, usually by playing a scene more broadly than he’ll do it in the final show. “You feed him a line from your script then raise your head . . . I always put the script back up between us, because he breaks me up.”

Duffy, who in her 12-year acting career has appeared Off-Broadway, on Broadway, in regional theatre, on soaps (The Doctors), in mini-series (The Blue and the Grey) and series (Wizards and Warriors), seems to have found a welcome niche in situational comedy. “It’s where I always wanted to do comedy – with people writing for me and a little repertory company of people working together,” she said in her dressing room during a break from shooting. “There certainly isn’t that much good humor written for women,” she says. “Television does it better than any other medium, and sit-coms are the best places to find it.” Mentioning Lucille Ball, Carole Lombard and Judy Holliday, the actress says “things were better in the past. There were female comedians then who were accepted as being funny and were very central to the stories.” She notes that it isn’t as simple as there not being many women comedy writers. Comic film roles for women today are usually written only as star vehicles for tried-and-true performers like Goldie Hawn, she says. “I don’t know what the answer is.” One possible explanation she’s been forced to consider is that men and women alike are “turned off” by watching a woman, especially an attractive woman, being funny. But Duffy doesn’t hold with that explanation. “I think it’s possible to be funny and broad and still have sex appeal,” she says.

“I won’t accept the idea that it can’t be done. I think the best way to do it is to go in the direction of Carole Lombard, but I’d like to go further than the madcap heiress who’s in love with the guy she can’t get – much further.”

One way, she suggests, is to stay away from comedy’s current penchant for satire and topical humor, which she feels “gets away from the purity of comedy. I like Newhart because we rarely rely on topical humor. You could watch the same show 50 years from now and have no trouble understanding the jokes.”

While Duffy wouldn’t want to be doing the show decades from now, another five years wouldn’t bother her at all. After more than 10 years of being the versatile actor, she’s ready to risk the typecasting she’s avoided all her career for the control that comes from being in demand for your perceived specialty. “It was a great freedom,” she says of her early career – the things I went through in my car, changing for auditions – a nun in the morning, a mermaid in the afternoon. But when you’re that kind of actor, even though you may work constantly until the day you die, you don’t know that you’re going to.”

Now she’s happy to establish herself as a comedienne. “I wouldn’t want to do drama. I don’t have as much control over it as I do over comedy. A dramatic role is not as much mine; it could be played by anyone. When it’s a comic role, I feel it’s really my creation.”

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  1. […] INTERVIEW: Julia Duffy Takes Comedy Seriously « The "Newhart" Archive […]


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