New Interview: Tracey Ullman takes on L.A.

April 08, 2009

LA Times


Tracey Ullman takes on L.A.
The comic-actress weighs in on the recession, Showtime and the bicontinental life.

By Choire Sicha
April 12, 2009

We were 30 minutes late to talk to Tracey Ullman, who was back in England for a spell. She didn't mind the tardiness a bit. The second season of "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union" returns to Showtime on Sunday.

What's big in England now?

The recession is pretty big. There's an abandoned house next door -- we were evicting squatters this morning. I live opposite a house: the Indian steel magnate [Lakshmi] Mittal. His house cost like 50 million pounds at the time and opposite there's a house he's supposed to be taking for his staff or, I don't know, it's a rundown house. And they stopped flipping it or anything. Oh, it's boring. Who'd have thought -- Mayfair! I've got hookers 'round the back. Mayfair's notorious for hookers. One hundred feet from my house there's a fully equipped dominatrix chamber. That's handy to know, isn't it? My neighbor, I told him, "God, blimey, I should tell my MP about it." He said go on in, he's probably in there. Mayfair. Spies and hookers! It's always been the same here. Yeah, you can sense everyone's in a bit of a panic. Suddenly everyone's embarrassed of this consumerism. The EU are hunkering down, and Eastern Europe's going broke. And the same old stuff in America. "The Apprentice" looks a bit tragic now. "Who will get the top job?" Driving limos with Champagne. It's stupid!

And now that you're an American, does London look foreign to you?

It's lovely to be a part of both countries. I just notice the differences lessen over the years. When I first lived in L.A., my God, I was miles away from London, another planet. Silver boots and Farrah Fawcett hair! The food was like Hilton Hotel room service. Iceburg lettuce! You know, you'd get the Observer newspaper from London once a week at a stand in Sherman Oaks. And, "You're so cute, your accent!" Now it's a cosmopolitan place. I just feel I have a country home 10 hours out of LAX -- just keep getting all the air miles. I love Virgin, I like those girls. You know, those girls, they go to L.A. and go to the pool for three days and they'll all have skin cancer by the time they're 42 and they say, "Champagne, orange juice, combination of both?" . . . I'm on a bit of a ramble, I'm jet-lagged. But there's a guy you see in the market behind my house and he takes photographs of the hookers. He takes all their pictures. He should do a book, all these girls over the years.

Hookers are big now. He'd make a killing.

Oh, they've always been big. Modeling and hooking, the only professions where women make more than men.

Even on Showtime?

Oh, gosh. Showtime. I like Showtime, it's great. They let me do what I want to do. I appreciate it. I had to give them an award recently. More people murdering monarchs, what else -- drug dealers, serial killers -- my kind of people. All these Showtime shows -- schizophrenics. Everyone has these severe problems.

It's nice to be treated right.

Well, you gotta do what you wanna do and not make too many compromises. Hopefully the audience will maintain. The recession -- we're just hunkered down at home and buying premium cable!

I can't imagine that you worry -- you've been on TV for some time now.


Heh, or maybe you always worry.

Eh, you get to do what you want to do when you want to do it. I really have a nice life, and my kids are really -- my daughter's here working. And my husband, we're always up to something or developing something or writing something. My audience has gotten older with me. I don't care about getting old and all that stuff. Especially women -- oy yoy yoy. At least over here you can age with dignity more. In America, women, it's just horrible.

Men too, uh, I hear.

I always listen to NPR all the time, and cosmetic surgery is down by a third. But hair transplants? Business is up. All these guys trying to get new jobs, one thing they will do is go and have their hair sewn in. So business is booming in that world. NPR is fantastic, it covers everything.

It must be phenomenal having grown up in the U.K.

The '80s, looking back, the music was great. The pubs were great. I'm glad I grew up here. And now I like L.A.: I like hiking in the mountains and tennis and there's things I appreciate. I love the KCRW radio station and music scene and art scene and food. People bitch about L.A., and it's like, oh, shut your Jacuzzi lid and go home. They're people from Chicago.

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