EXCLUSIVE: Patti LuPone Can't Be Bothered

Photo: Getty Images

Patti LuPone, the two-time Tony Award-winning actress, is back on Broadway opposite Christine Ebersole in the original musical War Paint, about two cosmetics entrepreneurs, Helena Rubinstein (LuPone) and Elizabeth Arden (Ebersole). Following a sold-out run in Chicago, the show is making its Broadway debut at the Nederlander Theatre, with previews beginning March 7 and opening on April 6.

Inspired by the book of the same name written by Lindy Woodhead and the documentary The Powder & the Glory, War Paint tells the story of these two masterful women who, on their way to the top, found themselves locked in a fierce 50-year tug-of-war over the cosmetics industry and beyond. “It’s poignant, it’s funny, it’s dramatic. It’s the lives of these women, which were complicated,” LuPone tells ET by phone.

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While Arden and Rubinstein came from different backgrounds, their paths were similar and their aspirations could have united them. Instead, they ended up ruthless rivals. “That’s their Greek tragedy,” LuPone laments. “That’s their epic flaw: Had they joined forces -- which would have never happened -- they would have continued to rule the world.”

When not onstage, LuPone can be seen on-screen, where she’s had memorable parts as Libby Thatcher on Life Goes On and Dr. Seward on the final season of Penny Dreadful. Most recently, she appeared as Rabbi Shari on The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and can be seen ripping into Leslie Mann in The Comedian, now in theaters.

On a break from War Paint rehearsals, LuPone shares her thoughts with ET about the new musical, rivalries offstage and how Crazy Ex-Girlfriendcreator Rachel Bloom gets it right. 

Photo: Joan Marcus

Why She Wanted to Do ‘War Paint’:

“Well, it was offered to me and I rarely turn down an offer. [Laughs] I just thought it sounded like a great idea -- an original, American musical. I got on board.”

While There Is a War Onstage, Why Audiences Won’t Be Reading Any About Backstage Drama:

“You know what? You would have heard about it already. If there were any conflict, there would have been a change of cast or there would have been a gossip mill. Like, ‘Ooh, we can't wait to see them bring it onstage.’ But that isn't the case. You know what I mean? We've rehearsed this and we played this and we're back in rehearsals. There's great respect onstage. And I say that of all the actors onstage … Those things always crop up when someone's unprepared. I said to the producers, ‘We have to walk in that stage door with love abounding. There cannot be any rancor because there's rancor onstage.’ And there isn't -- that's such a blessing. And it's something to be careful of. You have to make sure it stays that way.” 

Why She Was Nervous About Letting Loose on Leslie Mann in ‘The Comedians’:

“Well, that was interesting because I don't really know Leslie. I felt as though I should hug her after every take to let her know it wasn't personal. But we had a great director and she's a fearless actress, so it was a lot of fun. But I was worried she might think, from my end, that it was coming out of a real place. Film is so different from theater … There's no rehearsal period. There's no introduction to your fellow actors. But I did, I would hug her after every take. And you know, we both knew this was what was required.”

Why Rachel Bloom Is a Master of On-screen Musical Comedies:

“I’m crazy for Rachel Bloom. I’m crazy for her. I think that is one smart show. Of all the musical comedies on television or on the big screen, Rachel knows how to do it. And see, that’s the thing: I don't think they know how to film musicals anymore. When you look at the old ones, you can see the dancers' legs. That's what it's all about. When you have a dance number, you want to see their legs, not their chest and their neck. But [Crazy Ex-Girlfriend] knows how to do it.”

Why New York Shows Like ‘Law & Order’ and ‘The Good Wife’ Matter for Theater Actors:

“I’ve been in the business a very long time, and at the beginning of my career, there was no reciprocity between stage and film actors. According to casting directors, if you were a stage actor, you could not do television. And the intrepid creators that come to New York to film television shows and hire stage actors, they have my heart. It’s hard enough to get work when you're a stage actor, but then to see your work taken away by a film actor who wants to come to Broadway just to get -- I don't know, credibility or something -- and comes for three months and then leaves… It's just that I'm really grateful to those networks, studios and creators that shoot in New York.”