Register Thursday | June 27 | 2019

In Bed With Carrie Fisher

The actress-writer discusses awards, on-set crushes, Star Wars and waking up to a dead man

On June 9, 2005, after a screening of the latest Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas was presented with the American Film Institute’s thirty-third Life Achievement Award. Writer and actress Carrie Fisher, best known for her role as Princess Leia in the first Star Wars trilogy, was a key speaker at the AFI dinner in Lucas’s honour. Though the spotlight wasn’t on her that night, the following day she sat down for a chat about the evening with friend and fellow writer J. T. LeRoy, who had spent the night at her Southern California home.

Carrie Fisher: Where’s my drink? Where’s my drink? Where’s everything that I own?!

J. T. LeRoy I wake up every morning and I ain’t there.

CF Well, I guess that’s true of all of us. …

JTL God, I hope you do a one-woman show. Are you going to do that?

CF I’m going to try. I was really good last night. I never say this—my daughter says, “Mother, you’re being so confident!” So what? Am I going to apologize for that? Are we doing the interview yet?

JTL Yeah, but you can tell me some things off the record.

CF I just did this thing for George Lucas [last night] and it was sort of like a coalescence of every speech I’ve done for George. That’s a lot of speeches, so they all kind of came together … It was this giant Star Wars event and I hadn’t seen all these people in a thousand million years.

JTL Was it in LA?

CF It was a George-Lucas-here-comes-an-award-for-you [event] at the American Film Institute. All I’ve been doing, for literally ten years, is giving him different awards. And because I gave some to him, I’ve given some to Harrison, and if I give some to Harrison, I give some to Johnny Williams, so this is sort of what I do now—sort of like a sideline where I dole out awards for people. I’ve been perfecting my awards’ hefting. A very amusing part of the evening was when William Shatner opened the show, sort of pretending he thought he was in the wrong building. Then he did a kickline with the storm troopers. I was going to say, “Hey, excuse me, Bill. I don’t come to your Star Trek conventions, you don’t see me wandering through your Priceline commercials, what are you doing here?”

JTL Did you do that?

CF Well, no, because he opened the show by saying, “Oops, I’m lost.” I just focussed on mocking George and myself.

JTL How do you do that? What do you say?

CF I say that George’s two directions were “faster” and “more intense”—both on the set and, I’m told, in bed. That George is a sadist who writes lines like, “I place information vital to the survival of the rebellion and the memory systems of the Sartu unit,” but like any abused child wearing a metal bikini tied to giant slug about to die, I keep coming back for more. That went very well. And I said, “Amongst his many possessions he owns my likeness, so that any time I look in the mirror, I have to pay him a couple bucks.”

JTL It brought the house down.

CF Yep. …

JTL What did you wear?

CF Oh, ask me what colour I wore! I screamed at George about the new girl [Natalie Portman] getting to wear new clothes every time she walked through a door and I even bet she got to wear a bra … He told me there was no underwear in space.

JTL That’s pretty funny!

CF That one white dress that I wore all throughout the first film [Star Wars], I couldn’t wear a bra … because you would see straps and things, and “that would look silly alongside R2-D2,” or something like that. So I had to wear gaffer tape if there was running to be had. I always thought we should have a contest at the end of the day to see which crew member could take off the tape. You know, these were the games I played.

JTL They should make Natalie have to have some of that tape ripped off.

CF I don’t think the Natalie group had as much fun. I think they went into it jaded. They knew what they were doing; they knew they were going to do something that was going to be a hit. But no matter what they did, it wasn’t going to be loved like the originals were, because people got to discover the originals. No matter what, people were going to be mad about this new bunch of films because of the place that the originals had in people’s hearts. [The newer] movies never had a chance. Of course, they did remarkably well, but I mean with the critics, they didn’t have a chance. People forget, but we were destroyed in the originals in terms of the critics too. I never got the reviews I’m getting now.

JTL You’re kidding. Really?

CF Yeah, I mean I’m getting reviews now—retroactive reviews, brilliant reviews—but [when the originals came out] I got really cruel reviews, just like they give to the group now. They’re kind of more cruel now, because critics are weighing [the new Star Wars films] against the first three. Reviewers seem to have a special kind of venom when they go after George, like, “How dare he come back and do it again!” Well, he does dare. He does this thing brilliantly, and, in point of fact, I thought that last movie he did [Revenge of the Sith] was great.

JTL A lot of those critics were just—

CF They’re just fucked! They’re just mean! I couldn’t disagree with them more in the way that they attack him. I just think that they are biased. When I see some of those reviews, I think “Wrong, just wrong.” They’re not taking into consideration that [George] invented the form and that, as such, he set the standard … They’re beating him up with his own stick. It’s not right. It’s not right to do … I bet they’ll change their minds about these [films]—well, certainly about this last one. It’s brilliant. It’s fucking brilliant.

JTL Do you work on any of the scripts now?

CF I’ve always seen the scripts before and in some way go and blah blah blah with [George]. The only thing that he could use some assistance with is his dialogue. But again, you can’t just go in there and use someone like me for the dialogue because it’s a style unto itself. It’s from another place, so it can’t be just like witty banter or some bullshit like that … There was a little bit of Alec Guinness that every so often came out as amusing. I thought [George] really used the young kid great this time.

JTL Which kid?

CF Hayden Christensen. I thought he was wonderful this time. …

JTL How is it, for you, seeing all the old folks from the movie that you haven’t seen for a while?

CF Well, I’ve seen them all along. I love Billy Dee. We ran into him the other day at Barneys, me and my daughter … I see Peter Mayhew. I do autograph shows every now and then.

JTL Who is Peter?

CF That’s Chewbacca. I see Harrison when I give him awards sometimes … and we did that Vanity Fair cover.

JTL Yeah, how was that?

CF Mark was digitally inserted, which I said sounded, you know, like it hurt. The only ones that were really there were me and Harrison and Billy and Peter.

JTL Why was Mark inserted digitally?

CF Well, I don’t think he wanted to come, quite frankly. There were dif-ferent excuses that were given at the time. He was in New York but he didn’t want to get on a plane, I think. But up until last night, he hadn’t seen Harrison since [Return of the Jedi]. …

JTL Someone was telling me how actors are just this empty glass waiting to be filled. But you were never like that.

CF I never really wanted to be an actress, and the joke is I thought, “I’ll do a little acting, but for sure I want to do this goofy little cult film because the script is so incredible. I want to do that, but how the fuck is [George] going to be able to bring this off for no money?” …

JTL Who were some of the other folks that were up for the Princess Leia role?

CF Everyone! From Jodie Foster to Amy Irving to I don’t even know. A girl named Carrie Nunn was the other one that was considered. Chris Walken was considered for Harrison’s part.

JTL Oh my God, so the casting around it was sort of like Gone with the Wind?

CF Well, hardly! It’s not like Gone with the Wind because it’s remembered for its acting … We are not remembered for our acting, and if we are, it’s not for it being that great. …

JTL Where did you go to school?

CF I didn’t even make it out of high school, and then I went to drama college, and then I went to Sarah Lawrence for four months.

JTL Why did you drop out?

CF Because my mother [Debbie Reynolds] went to New York to do a Broadway show and I went with her. I was in the Professional Children’s School in New York, where they send you your schoolwork on the road … It was a terrible time in my mother’s life, and she wasn’t really insisting that I do it. Ultimately, I missed out. I just read Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett and she [discusses] the friendships that she made in college and all these different educations she witnessed, things that she got from getting scholarships and blah blah blah and going to Yaddo. And even though Michael Tolkin thinks he can get into Yaddo, these are all the things you miss out on from not having an education.

JTL What’s Yaddo?

CF It’s a place where you can write … You get a room and here’s the quietness and you can stay for x amount of time. Wouldn’t that be cool?

JTL Yeah, but do you think you could work in that environment?

CF Well, I would certainly like to try. Because of Star Wars I will never be thought of as a writer. I’m starting my fifth book and I will never be thought of as a writer.

JTL I’m amazed that there are people to whom I say, “Carrie Fisher,” and they say, “Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia?”

CF Right. It will never change … It’s not that I mind it, and a lot of them are kids and whatever. I have been signing those same pictures my whole fucking life, and it won’t stop. If I made the unfortunate decision to choose that I didn’t like that or that I didn’t like being Princess Leia, then I would have an unhappy time.

JTL But I think that’s great. There are a lot of people who’ve done things in the past and they have a real kind of adversarial relationship with it.

CF I think Mark [Hamill] did. I think he’s made some kind of peace with it now. Maybe I’m wrong … Finally seeing him last night, he seemed okay. [There’s] this huge part of your life in this iconic film that defines a generation, and you can sort of say, “Yes, I’m in it!” and “All right, let’s go celebrate—fuck it!” If you can’t, and it’s just this terrible ghost that haunts you, well, wow, you’re fucked up. Billy Dee is the most together person of the group. He paints—he makes a lump of money from his painting. The most joyous person of the merry little band is Peter Mayhew. He’s a happy person.

JTL He just does his thing?

CF He makes his living by going to these autograph shows. He’s married a woman in Texas, and that’s how he lives. He’s Chewbacca. [When we made the first movie,] he was a guy who lived with his parents and was a hospital intern that was too tall. It’s like being in a circus … Where else are you going to get to know giants and dwarves?

JTL I didn’t really know how you were about all this.

CF Oh, George Lucas is a great guy. He’s done a lot for me and he’s just this very sweet man … I flatter myself to say that I’m the only one that has a real relationship with him. He comes to my birthday party every year and I go up there and see him or we talk a lot. You know, I love George. I love him. He’s an adorable man. …

JTL You’re equals.

CF Well, no. I really think he’s a true unbelievable visionary that, just out of his imagination, has come up with all of these things that have gone into our culture, that have just permeated our culture in every possible way. “May the force be with you,” “I am your father,” all this stuff, this unbelievable stuff; “There’s no try, there is only do.” It’s unbelievable! … I just think, wow—the fact that they’ve given an Oscar to [The Lord of the Rings:] The Two Towers, when that’s an adaptation of a book that was brilliant, right? George has come up with this whole different thing that really has inspired these other films, and they give an Oscar to that movie that really is a patchwork of many different forms. It’s the book, the filmmaker, blah blah blah … George has done all of this himself. He innovated the blockbuster really, and I think they sort of resent him in a way.

JTL Who is “they”?

CF The reviewers, the Academy … [George] has never been voted for best picture and they have given best picture to The Lord of the Rings—what the fuck is that? That movie’s given none of the same things in any possible way.

JTL It is kind of amazing how people don’t—

CF They just go after him with knives and guns drawn. It does hurt his feelings sometimes … Nobody is immune to that. No one!

JTL That’s sad … But you’re an artist too, and you can talk to him in that language. It’s a different language when you’re a writer as opposed to an actor. What it comes down to is the unconscious: you’re dealing in the day-to-day truth of it and George extrapolates it in a fantasy and in universal themes—but it’s the same language y’all talk. It’s just different than a straight-out actor that just plays those parts.

CF I just appreciate George and look at him with a wider scope, with a bigger picture. I don’t think that enough people do.

JTL It’s kinda like, “They know not what they do.”

CF Well, he’s hardly Christ!

JTL What’s the new movie you’re making now?

CF Oh, the one I’m making in Acapulco … Hmm, I can’t remember what it’s called. Oh, Romancing the Bride! I just play this horrible mother—this alcoholic, pill-popping, just really cruel mother and all my children are afraid of me … It’s just for cable and we’re going to Acapulco and my daughters are coming and I’m going to maybe do one of the New York Times travel pieces while I’m there and I have to start my other book. Everyone’s afraid I’m doing an exposé on Star Wars. “They said you are doing a memoir,” Mark said. “Are you doing a tell-all on Star Wars?” And I said, “I can’t tell all because I don’t remember enough!”

JTL I’m sure you could probably make some pretty good shit up.

CF Well, that’s why I do my little romans à clef. I think that the truth is a stern taskmistress. It’s also not all that interesting … There is some of it that I like, and I have some diaries that I kept during that time, but it was mostly torment because of a crush I had.

JTL You had a crush on one of the cast members?

CF Yeah, so I was kind of worried about that … This thing has followed me around like a vague exotic smell, so now I might as well write about—well, you know, not about it exactly on point, but off-centre, just off-centre.

JTL There’s so much truth in what you write. George Lucas has this fantasy of these great universal themes, but for the day-to-day stuff, I read your work and I’m like, “True, true, true.” It’s tools to get me through the day.

CF Well, this will be tools to get you through the science-fiction film. …

JTL When would you do the one-woman show?

CF I have no idea … I’ve been doing speeches for a long long time, so I have a lot of stuff for that.

JTL When I’m sitting there, in your room, I feel like I’ve seen so many of your shows, and they’re amazing. I’m sitting there spellbound. I feel like I should have been charged for this.

CF I’m a manic person, so I do a lot of these little shows, like sitting around howling at everyone who’s around me … The yackety-yak that goes around in the little bed—the boat bed.

JTL They talk about those tables in New York or France where all the artists sat around—it’s your bed!

CF Well, now it has all of life happening in it, as I’ve had somebody die in it. [On February 26, 2005, forty-two-year-old Republican Party media adviser R. Gregory Stevens was found dead in Fisher’s bed. An autopsy revealed he died from an overdose of cocaine and OxyContin.] It really is an eventful room.

JTL Did he die in this room or another room?

CF He died in my bed … People probably imagine I have a bedroom that’s kind of private, or whatever, but my bedroom is a thruway. It’s like the living room.

JTL But it fits. When I was in the other room and I woke up in the middle of the night and I raised my head and I could see you sleeping, I felt like it was safe to go back to sleep.

CF Yup, we’re all in one connected room.

JTL It’s like you’re the guardian of the port.