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unnamed-1Fun Home is the critically acclaimed, amazingly unique, hit Broadway musical that swiffered the Tony awards this season with twelve nominations and five wins including Best direction of a play, Best original score, Best leading actor in a musical for Michael Cerveris, and the big one Best musical of the year. The show tells the incredible and true life story of openly gay, cult cartoonist, Alison Bechdel, based on her 2006 graphic memoir about growing up in her family owned funeral home (which her and her brothers lovingly, and ironically, nicknamed the “Fun Home”), the realization that she is a lesbian and what that entails, and mainly her relationship with her father (played by Cerveris) Bruce Bechdel, who in real life was also closeted gay. And after several years of secret affairs with many under-aged boys ultimately killed himself. Alison is portrayed on stage by three incredibly talented actresses intermittently at different moments in her life. As a small child in the 1970’s by Sydney Lucas, as a young college student discovering her sexuality by Emily Skeggs (also Tony nominated) and as a fully grown adult by Beth Malone who plays her at 42, the same age as her father Bruce Bechdel was when he took his own life. This performance earned Malone a coveted nomination in what will surely be remembered in history as a extremely rare ensemble of iconic Broadway leading ladies. So of course it was a distinguished honor to have a telephone conversation with Beth Malone about her role, the parallels to her character (specifically her complicated relationship with her father) her upcoming sold out concert at Joe’s Pub and her personal life as a openly Lesbian working actress on Broadway.

I began the interview by thanking her for waking up at this un-godly hour, by which she believes I mean 11 am and agrees with me. Then I explain that I am actually on the coast and the current time for me is 8am.

Malone-“GO BACK TO SLEEP! Oh my god. Eight AM. I had no idea you were calling from the coast! Go BACK TO SLEEP!”

This immediately makes me laugh and I know it’s going to be a great conversation, “No-no! It’s such an honor to talk to you. First of all thank you for doing this interview.”

Malone-“Oh, Absolutely.”

“And thank you for playing this character. Thank you for being Alison.”

Malone– “It’s funny how people thank me for it. Cause a lot of people thank me, and I mean it’s lovely but I feel like a villain a bit, taking those complements. I don’t know, I mean I don’t feel heroic or anything. Well I feel heroic but just accidently. Like it just so happens that I’m the one that got cast in this part in this amazing show, written by these amazing people…Like I do except the responsibility of telling this story…probably a little too seriously sometimes. Like last night I heard somebody in the audience like crinkling paper, not really paying attention, and being a douche bag, you know. Like when people check their texts in the middle of the show and their face aluminates, I’m like, Good, now we all know what an asshole looks like. But because the show is so intense and because I take it so seriously sometimes, it almost makes me feel, like, good, like someone’s not even paying attention right this second. I feel safe.”

“You’re going to have to get use to the praise and people wanting to thank you, because I think you’re headed for so much more after this.”

Malone– “I‘ve had some crazy auditions lately. Places where I could never even get into the room before and now they’re calling me. It’s like, what? You, know, like a 10 episode arc on Homeland. Like, I can’t book it because I’m in Fun Home. But ya, just going on so many auditions lately, it’s like my career’s just beginning again. You know, your career begins so many times when you an actress, over and over again.”

“Well you have worked very well before playing straight characters. When you got this part were you excited to finally play a gay character or were you just excited because it was a great part period?”

Malone– “I actually felt very proprietorial over it. Like this is my part and no one else is going to play it, I’m sorry. Like I do not want you to cast a straight person to portray this role, and in that sense I just felt so protective of it. Like in the early days I think they were thinking Sutton Foster was going to play my part. Like I feel like they were writing it for her. And I was like, No. I love Sutton Foster and she’s totally amazing but there are so many things about being a lesbian that a straight actress is never going to get. Like, that whole humiliation of coming out, like that middle-Alison arc and her coming out story. It actually parallels mine. So I just said if it isn’t me and I have to be in the audience watching the show and some straight actress comes out to play Alison Bechdel. I’m going to lose it.”

“There are actually a lot of parallels to Alison’s story and your own. I know you’ve talked about your relationship with your father and how you weren’t talking for several years. How did that happen? And how are things between you now?”

Malone-“Umm…Yah when I came out…see my dad is this Fox news watching, Obama hating, Rush Limbaugh listening….Umm…Mother-Fucker! That’s what he is.”

“Can I quote you on that… ‘Mother-Fucker’?”

Melone-“Yah. You can.”

“Great.”

Melone– “But I love him very much. Which…It’s just a ridiculous set of circumstances that he is just this awful human being and guess what the joke is; He’s mine. And I’m his. Like, I can’t get away from him. Like, even if I wanted to write him off I never could. Like I love him and he loves me and he’s proud of me, which is really weird, but anyway when I came out he didn’t talk to me for seven years. Then he just missed me so much, and finally he just had to put his politics aside because I’m he couldn’t outlast my gayness and he couldn’t live without talking to me, because I’m his favorite person. He had to say uncle, and when he did. Oh my god, things got so much better. Like, he loves Shelly, my wife. He loves her. And she’s been so amazingly forging. Even though we weren’t really angry at him…You know, it’s only recently that I have been able to drum up anger towards him and say, ‘You know what? I know that we’re giving you a pass because you’re a giant redneck, but listen, the hater-ness of it all is getting harder and harder to leave in the past’. But he’s 82, you know, I can’t really bust his balls all that much because he’s a fucking old man. Like the things that come out of his mouth are fucking crazy. Like he actually thinks Trump could win the election.”

“Does he think Trump should be elected?”

Malone-“I don’t know if he thinks he should, but he definitely thinks Hillary is not going to be elected, and he thought there was no way Obama was going to get a second term either s that’s amazing to me.”

“Has he seen Fun Home?”

Malone– “You know it’s funny, he just saw it last night. Like last night, last night. He was just here”

“No way.”

Malone– “Yah. That’s why I’m so angry about it. Like, I just put him on a plane this morning. Ha-Ha-ha”, she adds a mockingly-wicked laugh.

“Wow. So what was his reaction to the show? What was the story there?”

Malone-“You know, it was really hard for me to get through the show and it was really challenging, and I felt like such a badass taking that bow last night. I’ve never done anything so hard. To do that show in front of him was just so hard. It was hard. You know, because it’s something I really care about and I didn’t want him to belittle it or trash it. But I also didn’t want him to be destroyed by it. You know because I still feel protective of him and it’s a very intense story and I didn’t want him to feel like he couldn’t handle it or feel like I hated him in public. Plus he comes from a real rural place, and to come to New York, to come to a room full of people cheering at the top of their lounges when this little girl singing to this butch. I was just like, I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now. I can’t imagine what his experience of the show is right this second. And I kept trying not to think about it but I couldn’t help it. But I’ve been protective of him long enough that I was like, Yes! Yes! Hear this! See this. I’m not protecting you from this content anymore. This is me. This is your daughter. And it’s not just me, it’s a lot of people.”

“It’s a lot of people. And a lot of people love it. I wish I had been there last night. It sounds like it was such a powerful night.”

Malone– “Oh my god…The only grace in it is that he can barely fucking hear. Like he’s very def. So my cousin who went with him, the great Gabby Malone, my cousin Gabby, thank you Gabby for taking one for the team. She said he got there and tried to be open hearted about it but he only heard about thirty percent of it. And I was like ‘perfect’. But really it was so hard to get through the lyrics last night. So hard. You have no idea. Because your relationship with your father is not just one thing and it’s definitely not a political relationship either, until it becomes one later. But ultimately there are a million times in your childhood where you weren’t gay, and he wasn’t a redneck. He was just your dad and you were just a little kid and you guys had that and…yah.”

“Were you just on stage going through each line coming up, in your head, thinking what is he going to think of this? and What is he going to say about that?

Malone– “Yes! As each new moment revealed itself on stage I couldn’t help but think, well this scene will be ok and that one will be ok, and now the dorm room scene is done, YAY! Thank god tha’s done and he doesn’t have to hear singing about sex with a girl and how awesome it is to have sex with a girl. You know that’s al he’s hearing. And you know, that’s rally the way it is when you first have sex with a girl you think, Oh my god, any minute not spent having sex is a waste of time. You know when you first get laid you’re like, god I gotta do this more often! That’s just the human truth. Also there’s got to be a place in his mind that says, Yah, that’s the way it is when you first have sex with a girl. You just want to have more and more sex with a girl. And…I don’t know. I guess I was, in my mind, I was just trying to appeal to his humanity in every level last night.”

“And if you couldn’t appeal to his humanity you certainly must have appealed to his common sense, sitting in a room full of people cheering for you, people who paid money to come see you.”

Malone– “That’s right! And he got that. Because that really feeds him and his purpose. His purpose is to get attention like he tells everyone ‘My daughters on Broadway’ (mimicking him in a southern redneck accent) anyone who crosses his path at the grocery store, he’ll just tell them. He’ll tell anyone who sit’s long enough and there’s a big disconnect there because he doesn’t tell them anything else. You know he’s riding on the tail of this amazing season that I’m having, wearing the Tony’s t-shirt I got him and telling anyone who will listen, but anyone can easily go look-up Beth Malone and see she’s this androgynous dyke, standing there with this sketch pad and be like ‘Oh look at him being so liberal’. Hahaha.”

“Yah. Especially that they’ll see you on stage in a t-shirt and pants and short hair…You cut your hair for this show right? Was it ever like that before?”

Malone-“I did cut my hair for this. I had it short before. For a little bit in the 90’s I think, but never this short. Like sometimes there’s almost nothing to clip the mic to. And I’m actually getting a haircut today. It’s been a journey to live as more of an androgynous butch then I had before. It’s funny, my wife just sent a bunch of home movie clips from her childhood, and my wife is like this blonde girly-girl and when you look at these pictures she was this little, husk, tom-boy, that she beat out of herself. But i was like ‘Oh my god look at that little baby dyke. Look at her. You are the most obvious ay child I’ve ever seen. Look at your sister and then look at you and everybody in the family who pretended to be shocked when you came out, can just go fuck themselves! You look at these pictures and she’s like trying to make muscles. It’s so funny. But we are who we are from birth, I think and then we are trained to live in these gender conformists ways. Like I always just thought I was a late bloomer. That was my thing, I thought I was a late bloomer, cause everybody wanted to carry a purse in 5th grade and I just thought maybe next year and that year came and I was like, maybe next year. Like, I kept waiting for the desire to wear a purse to come in. And I was just really aware that I didn’t have it. I just wanted a backpack cause it was easier and more comfortable. And i didn’t know why a purse didn’t feel comfortable. I just didn’t know why.”

“How old were you when you first started liking girls?”

Malone– “Well there were so many times. Like I remember being in diapers in my front yard watching my babysitter riding around on her 10-speed. Her name was Valarie, and I just remember my heart swelling at the site of her on her 10-speed bike in these tiny little shorts. Like I remember looking at her beautiful teenage girl body, ride by on her bike and be just smitten with her. In a way like, you’ve seen kids look at their babysitters and teachers and be smitten, Like, I was smitten and I was totally unaware that that wasn’t normal. You know and this is such a big reason why gay teenagers…you, know, Love is such a wonderful feeling, I think it makes you want to be alive and I think that’s why so many gay teens are killing themselves. I honestly do. Because they grow up and are taught that there’s so much shame in it. And there shouldn’t be. Love is a wonderful feeling.”

Beth recalls another moment in her youth when she faced a realization of her sexuality, “There was a time when I was standing in front of a vending machine at school, and I kicked it because I was mad, and I was like, ‘Just admit that you’re gay.’ Like to myself. I almost said it out loud, I can’t be sure. But it scared me so much that I just put it away. I put it way, way, way in my back pocket and I didn’t pull it out again ‘till five years later and I was actually in a relationship with this poor, sweet, sweet man in the meantime, you know. It’s like we could of been best friends instead of me ruining his life for a time which I really regret. I think it was mean of me to string him along and let him believe we were going to end up together that was cruel of me. And it was avoidable.”

known for playing characters in musical theater such as Molly Brown in The unsinkable Molly Brown and Annie Oakley in Annie, get your gun, and now Alison Bechdel, Malone seems to have a great lot in life for playing strong pioneer women, who all happen to have been real people.

Malone– “People think Molly brown and Alison Bechdel are so different but they’re not, they are both going to be the smartest people in the room. I think they were both pioneers. I think Alison just lives by this amazing code of honesty which is why the truths in her book is so unapologetic like there are so many embarrassing truths, like she draws herself on the tolite, she draws herself getting her period for the first time, she draws herself masturbating on the edge of a chair, she draws herself going down on a girl, sixty-nining a girl because it’s real. That’s the way of life, you often find yourself in unsavory situations and you feel alone and Alison lives that truth and she draws it. She has it in her mind that if it’s the truth she has to draw it. She is really the most honest human being I’ve very met in my life and I think it’s because Bruce Bechdel was such a liar. Like his whole identity was based on lies and I think because of that she has a genuine fear of lying. I feel like it’s almost pathological, like a fear of lying. And Alison’s family isn’t so happy about her going around going ‘truth-truth-truth’, they’re, like okay, you need to stop. And so many people came out and said ‘I knew Bruce Bechdel personally and he was not gay, he was a good man, and he did not kill himself’, Ya he didn’t sure.”

“What’s a character choice that you use to become Alison that no one really knows about?”

Malone– “I choose to really draw. I feel like the act of drawing is so much a part of who Alison is and I could easily just be faking it but I find that if I really draw it plays quit better. And I went to beach-creek that’s another thing I did. I went to her house and I went to the place where Bruce stepped in front of the truck and that has proven to be incredibly helpful. You know Alison did that and she sat in the road drawing trucks coming at her. I can’t even imagine…I have a new found respect for Alison especially with what I went through last night. Bruce, for all that he was, was her father and I feel like, just the things we don’t say to people…ugh…my Father…like the most he said about the play was ‘Oh my god, those kids. Those kids were so good’. You know, and that was his way of saying ‘I understand that there was a lot of crazy shit I just witnessed, and that we are never going to be able to talk about it, but I was there.’ Ya know?”

“It’s almost like the song telephone wire.”

Malone-“It is…It is…It is.”

“Like you guys are really just trying to avoid having a conversation. It’s so insane how parrell the show is to you.”

Malone– “Ugh. It was so brutal last night. Oh my God it was so fucking brutal. It was like going through the whole show for the first time last night. And now I really feel like having him here is going to change my perspective for the show permanently. You know, It is not just a play, sometimes. It becomes this thing that has such life reverence that it almost puts you in danger, That’s why I think you should see this show with this original cast before anybody moves on. Because we have done the homework, and the hard work, and we’ve put ourselves in harm’s way to get this thing made. You know it coast Michael Cerveris something to do what he does every day. You, know he’s an actor and he has tricks to make it palatable for him to do that to himself every night, but it’s not fun for him. And I know it’s not.”

Take into consideration that Michael Cerveris, as a performer, is taking himself to a mental state of wanting to commit suicide 8 times a week.

Malone– “This is what I wanted to say when we were talking about teenage suicide! This is a really important thing! When you’re a teenager and you feel a crush on somebody it’s a really good feeling and then when it’s accompanied with shame. It makes you want to die, especially when you’re young. I feel like to understand why so many gay teenagers are committing suicide we have to understand how they feel, their feelings…I was onstage last night thinking, had I come out as a teenager, had my parents rejected me, if I was in love with somebody in high school that I had profess my love to. or even if it was a secret love, which thank god I didn’t let myself go there in high school, I mean if I had, I don’t know if I would have survived my teen years. Because the kind of pain that is was in last night even as an adult I was like, I don’t know how a teenager would just shoulder all this and feel like continuing to live would be a good idea.”

“This is why I was thanking you. I thank you because the show is entertaining and wonderful, but also it’s so important that you are telling this story that so many kids who are just coming out or haven’t come out yet have not heard before. And they are thanking you because you’re playing (Adult) Alison, not anyone else. I think you have to realize how important that is.”

Malone– “It is. It’s just a beacon for so many people to have hope….You Know, Gloria Steinem came to the show last year and she said, ‘This show is going to save lives’ and we were like come on, get out of here, let’s not go there, but upon thinking about it, we had to say, yah maybe it will save a few. A few people will see it and it will give them enough reason to stay alive and find their people. Because that’s all kids have to do. They just have to stay alive long enough to find their people and it’s like ‘Yes! We are here!’ come find us.”

“And now kids are even auditioning with songs like I’m changing my major to Joan and Ring of keys. Those are audition songs now.” 

Malone– “Amazing! I can’t take it! I love it!…I just…uh, I can’t take it!”

“We have to talk about the Tony awards and been nominated with Chita Rivera, and Kelly O’Hara, and Kristen Chenoweth. Did you just think ‘Oh, this is amazing’ or did you think, “Oh this is amazing, but I’m never going to win‘?”

Malone– “You know first of all, even as you’re saying it right now I’m thinking, ‘That didn’t happen. What are you talking about? That NEVER happened.’ I mean it’s so completely farfetched. It feels so fantastical now that it’s in the past, it’s so crazy. I mean I was on stage even last night thinking that this is worthy. The Tony’s got it right. This is a magical hour and fifty minutes. This is an amazing show. It’s so much more than a show. And that’s why I got nominated because I’m in it and it’s an amazing show. It never feels quit right that one person gets singled out for this show. It’s so much bigger than one individual…and If anybody in our cast was going to win I thought it should of been Michael. But me particularly to be in a Broadway season in which I am nominated with Kristen Chenoweth, Leanne Cope, Kelly O’Hara, Chita Rivera-“

“Chita River especially”, I interrupt, “What a ridiculous concept to be nominated with Chita Rivera.”

Malone– “I KNOW! CRAZY!”

“Not that you don’t deserve it. You very much deserved it. I’m just saying it’s so fantastical that was.”

Malone– “IT’S INSANE! And then I would be at these press junkets with them and I would be totally Fan-Girling out, geeking out, and then finally I just had to write Kelly O’Hara an email and be like, ‘look I just think you’re so good. I’ve watched you and I think you’re so good’ and she was like, ‘Well I think you’re so good, and I want to work with you someday’. And I thought well this is crazy. Ya know I had to eventually get over the idea that they were bigger and better then me and eventually accept that I was in the room, Ya know? They kept insisting like, Ya you’re in the room, take a seat.”

“You’re at the cool kids table.”

Malone– “You. It was crazy. Like we had just opened too and like ten days later the nominations come out and then the circus really started. It was a two month circus of lunch-ins, and galas, and cocktail parties and press events and every single day it was like two or three things, and then you do the show. Two or three things and then you do the show. But it became the new normal. And the hardest part was trying to figure out what to wear. Like, I had to go buy a bunch of clothes. And then people started giving me a bunch of clothes. That was also crazy. My Best friend who’s never been jealous of me in her life, you know, she’s got her own amazing life and was never jealous of me, and then Anna Wintour dressed me for the Tony’s and she like ‘Ok now I’m jealous of you because you got to go to Vogue’ so I was like, ‘Ok, I’ll take you to Vogue sometime, now that I know people there.’ It’s great.”

“We’re going to talk about your show at Joe’s pub in a minute, but first I have to ask you my Diane Sawyer question. If you were me, what question would you ask?”

Malone-“Oh, I don’t know. Do you want to talk about being married?”

“What’s something that people don’t ask you in interviews, but you really want to talk about?”

Malone– “People don’t ask me about my old dogs. I always say I wish people would go to a shelter and pick out the ugliest, oldest dogs, and rescue them, and I wish people would spay and neuter their dogs, and also that people would stop breeding dogs. I don’t care what kind of dog you want to have. If you want a pure-breed pamapoo or whatever, fuck you! Go to a shelter and see all the faces of all the souls that no ones going to love. It’s a huge passion of mine because I think it’s a huge tragedy in society. And you know what, go rescue a dog I guarantee you it will be so grateful and just love you. You will never know love like you will from a rescued dog.”

“It’s funny I’ve heard you talk a lot about a time in everyone’s lives where all we are is somebodies child and that was it, and that’s all these dog’s ever are and they’ll never even grow out of it. They just want to love you, unconditionally. It’s unconditional love.”

Malone– “Unconditional Love.”

“Speaking of unconditional love, real quick what did you have to say about your wife?”

Malone– “Oh, nothing, just that I love my wife. Unconditionally. And when the law got passed the other day, we were like ‘Oh we’re married in so many more states now!’. You, know cause we got married in so many ways just trying to deal with the bureaucracy of trying to live, like we got married for our heart in 1997. We had a beautiful little Hippy-dippy ceremony in Aspen where everybody stood around us holding daisies. It was so typical. Like we don’t know how typical we were being at the time. And then we became domestic partners in California when I was in Grad school and I needed Shelly on my insurance, so then we were legally domestic partners in some state, and then we got married in New York when it was just legal in a few states, we got married-married but we went to a court of law and had a judge marry us, and then the other day, we’re like ‘And now we are married even in South Dakota!’ South Dakota where Shelly’s family is from and there are so many haters. Like we get so missed treated at family reunions with Shelly’s family, a certain subsect of Shelly’s family that’s super catholic and now I’m like ‘Ha-Ha, Mother-Fuckers’!”

“So lastely, Joe’s pub, your concert coming up. I heard you sold out. Congratulations.“

Malone– “Yah. We sold out and then I added a second show and then it sold out.”

“Right on!”

Malone– “Yah, it’s a show I’ve been working on for a long time and it’s always hard to sell tickets too, Like I used to have to beg my friends ‘Please, please, please will you come?’, and now it’s like, tickets sold out in under 24- hours so I added a second show and that sold out too so that was crazy. My friend Susan Drowse who I wrote it with is going to be there, she’s the musical director for Beautiful (The Carol King musical) and she’s going to be in town to rehearse it with me. I’ve also got a really great base player this time and a great jimbay play and it’s this whole star studded thing. But now I have to rethink it, because it’s about my dad, haha, and it always has been. I mean it’s this show I’ve been working on for 5-years now. It’s called ‘Beth Malone, so far’, so now there’s got to be a different ending, dealing with my dad. Or definitely a more complicated one.”

Catch Beth Malone in her Tony nominated performance in Fun Home running now at the Circle in the square theater.

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