Wednesday, March 26, 2008

She's Already Thinking Ahead!

Tracey Ullman targets celebrities like Dina Lohan, David Beckham in new show

TORONTO — British-born comic Tracey Ullman takes on big-name celebrities and everyday citizens alike in her ribald new show about America, "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union," but it's her scathing portrayal of stage-mother-from-hell Dina Lohan that is easily the most shockingly hilarious.

Ullman plays the Lohan matriarch as a hard-core party fiend profanely regaling other stage mothers with tales of her daughter Lindsay's drug overdoses when she gets word that the "Mean Girls" star is getting married and she's not invited.

"I should never have restarted her (expletive) heart," says a slurring Lohan as portrayed by Ullman, cocktail in hand in a Las Vegas nightclub. "I hope she (expletive) ODs again."

Ullman, 48, giggles on the line from Los Angeles when asked if she's worried Dina Lohan might take serious offence when the five-part comedy series premieres this Sunday night on Showtime in the U.S. and on the Movie Network/Movie Central in Canada.

She points out that her version of Lohan was drunk and emotional in the scene.

"She didn't know her own mind at that point," pooh-poohs Ullman. "These kids, they break your heart. I don't think she knew what she was saying."

Lohan is just one of many celebrities who receive the Ullman treatment during the show's five half-hour episodes, each of which chronicles a single day in the United States.

Among many other stars, Ullman takes on a squinting Renee Zellweger and a pipsqueak-voiced David Beckham - Posh is simply heard shrieking from the next room about getting her boys out to play with "Piloh Shitt." But she also plays everyday creations that include an Indian-born pharmacist who frequently breaks out into Bollywood numbers, a world-weary Jamaican nurse and a white trash loser with the hots for death-row prisoners.

All of them were inspired by people and characters Ullman has noticed after more than 20 years living in the U.S.

Although her two teenaged children were born in America, Ullman only became a citizen two years ago, and says she still feels like something of an outsider observing from a distance an endlessly fascinating culture.

"I am still British and I have my European vantage point and my British sensibility," she says.

"I've had a terrific career here and there are so many elements of America that I just love, but being from Britain did give me a psychological freedom to say a bit more, and political satire and satire generally is in a much healthier state than when I first came here, so the time for this show seemed right."

She remembers Americans finding the satirical puppet show "Spitting Image" shocking 20 years ago for taking potshots at politicians and the U.S. president, "but now Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are doing it every night. Americans seem much better able to make fun of themselves now."

Ullman was a comedian from an early age - after her father's sudden death of a heart attack when she was six years old as he read her a bedtime story, she routinely performed for her grief-stricken mother to cheer her up.

"She always knew I'd do it; it seemed inevitable when I was standing on the window sill in her bedroom entertaining her," Ullman says with a laugh about her mother, who still lives in Britain. "I mean what else could I do?"

By the 1980s, Ullman was well-known in Britain as a comedian and a pop star - she had a hit song in 1983 with a cover of a sweet Kirsty MacColl pop song, "They Don't Know." She still loves the song.

"That's one of the real highlights of my career. I adore that song, I never get tired of hearing it, and she wrote such beautiful melodies, with bridges - you just don't hear that anymore," she says of MacColl, who died in a boating accident in 2000.

Ullman burst onto the American scene in 1987 with the award-winning series, "The Tracey Ullman Show," on the Fox network when it was still struggling to find its feet. "The Simpsons" was a spinoff from the show.

She later starred in various HBO specials, and the acclaimed sketch-comedy series "Tracey Takes On." She returned to HBO with the 2003 special "Tracey Ullman in the Trailer Tales."

"I've really enjoyed doing it all again," Ullman says of "State of The Union." "I enjoyed impersonating real people, and I find that gave the show a bit of an edge. It was so much fun."

And she's already thinking up a new slate of targets if the show returns, Ullman adds, mulling over everyone from despised celebutantes to big-voiced pop stars.

"I have to think ahead. Paris Hilton is pretty 10 minutes ago, I think, but Josh Groban - I just want to dress up as Josh Groban, I don't know why. I guess I like the hair. And the possibilities are endless since I've got a big box of wigs."
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