Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Alex Borstein

Swan's Song

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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After graduating from San Francisco State University in the early 90s, where she and I performed sketch comedy together, Alex Borstein returned to her hometown of Los Angeles. Years of persistence landed her a job as staff writer and the voice of Lois Griffin on "The Family Guy," but more importantly, a slot on Fox's 1995 sketch comedy show "MADtv."

Once there, Borstein created a stable of memorable characters, including the clueless Miss Swan. Earlier this year, she planned to bring her new one-woman show to San Francisco, but postponed when a juicy part came up in The Lizzie McGuire Movie, which also meant a free trip to Rome and a shoe-shopping spree.

Finally, she returns. Her show, entitled Drop Dead Gorgeous in a Down to Earth Bombshell Sort of Way, will take place at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, in San Francisco.

Q: What's the new show like?

AB: I kind of wanted to do something that's just me. A lot of people are, 'are you the lady who plays Miss Swan?' I get that a lot. It's wonderful. I love it. But I want to go to the next level and, 'OK I can do other stuff too.' It's pretty much an hour of standup and storytelling.

And there is a theme. Up to a certain age, there were so many incredible chicks on TV. You have the "Facts of Life" girls and Thelma on "Scooby Doo" and Janet on "Three's Company." These really cool independent chicks. And then it vanished, off the face of the earth. I stopped seeing anyone that looked like me on TV. I couldn't relate to anything. "Melrose Place"? Who the f--- are these people?

And so the show's about that lack of role models, plus me being in a position of trying to become one myself. Holding myself up to a microscope and asking questions about my characters.

Q: Will we see Miss Swan?

AB: Miss Swan makes a little appearance. There are a lot of impersonations throughout. I get to do a little bit of everything. There's even a tiny bit of singing. Every comic is really a frustrated rock star.

Q: Is it true that your husband proposed to you on the set of "MADtv"?

AB: Yes. He was dressed as a judge and said 'I sentence you to life with me,' or something like that. I was very embarrassed. I was totally complaining to him the whole night. It never aired, but I recently did Craig Kilborne and they got ahold of a tape and played it.

Q: You were also cast on "Gilmore Girls"...

AB: I originally was cast as the chef Suki. Contractually I couldn't do it with "MADtv" and so they re-cast it. But they were kind enough, they were so nice, they wrote this new part for me: Drella the bitter harpist at the Inn. I did have to take a bunch of harp lessons.

Q: I also saw you in the Robert De Niro / Eddie Murphy movie Showtime?

AB: Wasn't that just brilliant? If you blink, you miss me. I almost had the part of Rene Russo's assistant, which ended up being played by De Niro's daughter.

Q: What happened to you after college, and how did you get your big break?

AB: I finished college early. I got my degree in rhetoric. (Isn't that fun?) I moved to L.A. and I got a job in advertising, or I sort of forced my way into it. I made up an internship for myself.

That became a real job so I left graduate school. While I was there, my brother was like "Wanna take an improv class with me?" At the close of the class, they held auditions and I got in. At the ad agency, I met my writing partner and my husband. My writing partner and I started doing sketches together.

We were around the block from every casting agency in L.A. and they would never come to see us. So five of us went to this big, stinkin' international comedy festival in Austin. And there, thousands of miles away, was a casting agent for "MADtv."

Q: What was it like on your first big movie, The Lizzie McGuire Movie?

The trailer took a little getting used to, but the cast and the crew were amazing to work with. The director, Jim Fall, was so much fun to be around. Because most of the cast was under 18 Jim and I would save up all of our foul mouthed jokes for each other on the set. The only tough part about doing a film with so many minors in it is the scheduling. That was probably our biggest challenge. Not to mention the fact that shooting on the streets of Rome is like a free-for-all. They don't block off any streets or have any security we just had to shoot when we had a three second window.

I came back to Los Angeles with a big movie credit under my belt, a new love of Italy and Italians and 12 pairs of shoes!

Q: What are you working on next?

We just finished writing a movie called Box Office Gross, a parody of all movies and the whole moviegoing experience. We slam everything and everybody, from Schwarzenegger to Drew Barrymore.

I also read a script called Bad Santa. I just laughed so hard. I begged to do anything in it. And I'm entertaining the idea of writing a Miss Swan movie.

Q: I'm looking forward to your new show. When I first met you, you were doing standup in the SFSU dorms.

AB: Wouldn't it be funny if you came to the show and it was the same jokes?

September. 27, 2002

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