Whoopi Goldberg

Interview

By

David Sheff

It wasn’t Marilyn Monroe but  Whoopi Goldberg,  hair tumbling over her

forehead, standing on the Radio City Music Hall stage facing the president of

the U.S. at his 50th birthday party and threatening to sing “Happy Birthday, Mr.

President.” “I was going to wear a blonde wig,” she joked, “but I see that Jack

Kemp already has the wig.” The crowd—including Bill Clinton– roared.

Clinton has long been one of Goldberg’s biggest and most public fans,

especially of her movie “Sister Act.” (“I wanted to be in that choir so bad I

could spit,” he said.) Besides hanging out with the Clintons and roasting

Republicans on his behalf (a typical preelection one-liner: “Will someone please

introduce Lorena Bobbitt to Bob Dole?”), Goldberg has, for the better part of

two decades, been working nonstop. During the past year alone, she released

three movies and served a second tour of duty as emcee of the Academy Awards

ceremony. Her Oscar night performance was vintage Goldberg–provoking equal

parts applause and outrage.

 

Wearing a black gown that won her top honors in one poll as worst-dressed

woman, Goldberg set the tone at the best Academy Awards ceremony in years with a

pointed and hilarious monolog. She immediately took aim at some sacred targets.

“I want to say something to all the people who sent me ribbons to wear,” she

said. “You don’t ask a black woman to buy an expensive dress and then cover it

with ribbons.” She then fired off a list of ribbons that she chose not to wear:

“I got a red ribbon for AIDS awareness. Done. I got a purple ribbon for breast

cancer. Done. I got a yellow ribbon for the troops in Bosnia. Done. I got a

green ribbon to free the Chinese dissidents. Done. I got a milky white ribbon

for mad-cow disease. Done. Done. Done again.”

She also ribbed actor Charlie Sheen, who gained attention for being a

frequent ($ 50,000) customer of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss’. Goldberg noted

that three actresses who were nominated for Oscars– Sharon Stone, Mira Sorvino

and Elisabeth Shue–portrayed hookers in the year’s movies, and asked, “How many

times did Charlie Sheen get to vote, anyway?”

But the most contentious part of the show came when she took on the Reverend

Jesse Jackson, who had called for a protest against the Academy Awards ceremony,

complaining that there was only one black nominee. “I had something I wanted to

say to Jesse right here, but he’s not watching, so why bother?” she said. In

fact, she treated him and his protest with such thinly veiled disdain that a

political firestorm ensued. She was sharply criticized by minority

organizations, as well as by some producers and directors, who said that her

remarks marginalized and belittled Jackson and the issue he raised: racism in

the motion picture industry. But Goldberg also had her supporters, who thought

the protest was inappropriate at an awards ceremony that was hosted by Goldberg,

produced by Quincy Jones and featured other prominent African Americans,

including Laurence Fishburne and Sidney Poitier.

As always, the attacks rolled off her back. A veteran of controversy,

Goldberg has frequented the tabloids since her painful, tumultuous and

well-documented affair with Ted Danson. The “tabloid twins,” as Goldberg dubbed

them, suffered a barrage of bad publicity when Danson left his wife and children

for Goldberg. Things began to disintegrate for the couple after Danson made his

infamous appearance at a Friars Club roast of Goldberg in 1993. Reciting

material he and Goldberg wrote together, Danson, in blackface, told jokes that

many denounced as racist. Several guests, including talk-show host Montel

Williams, walked out. Others, such as New York mayor David Dinkins, Jackson and

Dionne Warwick, attacked Goldberg and Danson in the press. The couple suffered a

bitter and highly publicized split soon after.

Goldberg, who is 41, then wed for the third time–there were two brief

marriages before, one in 1973 and the other in 1986– to union organizer Lyle

Trachtenberg in 1994. After announcing their engagement, the couple married at

her Los Angeles home, where the words FUCK OFF were painted on the roof to

frustrate airborne media. The marriage ended a year later, and Goldberg is now

in a relationship with Frank Langella, whom she met while filming the basketball

movie “Eddie,” one of this past summer’s quiet successes. As she has said, “It’s

been a hell of a time.”

Goldberg was born Caryn Johnson in 1955. Raised by her mother, a nurse and

Head Start teacher, Goldberg grew up “poor but never hungry” in the Chelsea

neighborhood of New York City. At the age of eight, she acted in children’s

theater and took the bus to museums, the ballet and plays. Despite her mother’s

best efforts, Goldberg could not escape the influences of her neighborhood. She

admits she did “every drug” and dropped out of high school (“I couldn’t pull it

off”). At 18, she married her drug counselor and got pregnant soon after–her

daughter Alexandrea, age 22, has her own daughter, and Goldberg is the

proverbial doting grandmother.

 

Goldberg made her living at a number of jobs–including doing makeup and

fixing hair in a funeral parlor–and survived on welfare after heading to San

Diego, without her first husband, in 1974. She then moved to Berkeley and joined

the Blake Street Hawkeyes Theater. It was there that she changed her name. (Her

first name derived from whoopee-cushion jokes and her last was suggested by her

mother to honor Jewish ancestors. The name led to a classic Milton Berle line:

“A black woman with a Jewish name. She doesn’t do windows because she’s got a

headache.”)

In the early Eighties, Goldberg developed “The Spook Show,” a one-woman tour

de force with such unforgettable characters as a junkie with a heart of gold and

a surfer chick who, in Valley Girlese, tells about her coat-hanger abortion.

There were other theater pieces, including a brilliant tribute to one of her

heroes, Moms Mabley.

Goldberg was discovered performing in New York by director Mike Nichols, who

brought “The Spook Show” to Broadway in 1984. It led to a Grammy-winning comedy

album and a private performance for Steven Spielberg and some of his friends,

including Michael Jackson. That, in turn, led to Goldberg’s first film role as

Celie, the abused but ultimately triumphant main character in Spielberg’s

version of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” The performance earned Goldberg

her first Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination for best actress.

There have been more than 30 movies since. They have varied widely, from

forgettable comedies to poignant dramas, including ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash,”

“Burglar,” “Fatal Beauty, … Clara’s Heart, … The Long Walk Home,”

“Soapdish,” “The Player,” “Made in America,” “Naked in New York,” “Moonlight &

Valentino,” “Theodore Rex,” 52 “Sarafina!,” “Boys on the Side,” “Corrina,

Corrina,” “Bogus” and “Eddie,” as well as her role as the voice of the head

hyena in “The Lion King.” There have been blockbusters–”Ghost,” for instance,

for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1991, and “Sister Act,”

which led to a record-setting salary of $ 8 million for the sequel (a box-office

disappointment). She also had a recurring role as Guinan, the psychic

bartender,’ on the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and in the 1994

movie “Star Trek: Generations” and hosted her own syndicated TV talk show, “The

Whoopi Goldberg  Show.” In her most recent movie, “Ghosts of Mississippi,” she

plays Myrlie Evers, wife of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, in a drama

directed by Rob Reiner.

Goldberg, who divides her time among a New England farm, a Manhattan

apartment and a Hollywood home, was between films when Contributing Editor David

Shelf sat down with her to begin the interview. Here’s Sheff’s report:

“Because her Manhattan apartment was being renovated, I met Goldberg at a

hotel on the Upper East Side where Paul Davis, the artist and photographer, was

taking glamour shots of her for a fund-raising performance. Goldberg batted her

eyelashes at him and made self-effacing jokes about how she might have broken

his camera. Although no one would describe her as a classic beauty, she

nonetheless looked gorgeous, with her large brown eyes, crown of hair and smile

that could melt ice.

“Goldberg was in a great mood after hanging out the night before with her

pal Bill Clinton at his 50th birthday celebration. After the photo session, when

we sat down in a private room at the hotel restaurant (where she indulged

herself with bacon and Marlboros), she mused aloud about the unlikely company

she now keeps. ‘I’m exactly the kind of person the Secret Service is paid to

keep away from most presidents,’ she said. ‘I mean, this is the president we’re

talking about. Not the president of the PTA, either.’”

PLAYBOY: Does Clinton have a good sense of humor?

GOLDBERG: He has a great sense of humor-he’s hysterical. I’m convinced he

wants to be a comedian.

PLAYBOY: Could he make it on the circuit?

GOLDBERG: I’d pay money to see him. And the First Lady–she is very funny,

too. We laugh a lot when we’re together. I genuinely like them. I like them

because they are real. I don’t care about anybody’s skeletons, you know, because

I’m so busy holding back my own. But from my limited view, they are people who

believe there is a better way. I trust them.

PLAYBOY: How does it feel to be friends with the president?

GOLDBERG: Shit, I get to talk to the president of the United States and have

opinions that people are actually interested in. It is pretty groovy.

PLAYBOY: Groovy?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, I’m a hippie. Can’t help it.

PLAYBOY: Meaning what?

GOLDBERG: Oh, all that good hippie stuff. I mean that I believe one person

can make a difference, that we are responsible for other people. You know, peace

and love. It’s out of fashion, but it’s really a great way to live. I believe in

peace and brotherhood and all that stuff.

PLAYBOY: Are you trying to communicate these values in the movies you

choose?

GOLDBERG: When I can, though I do all kinds of movies.

PLAYBOY: In Ghosts of Mississippi, you play the widow of NAACP leader Medgar

Evers. Was that a labor of love?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, definitely. It’s a true story that many people don’t know

about. Evers was killed in 1963 by a man named Byron de la Beckwith, who was

tried twice by white juries and got off both times. I get to play Evers’

widow, Myrlie. She’s an incredible woman. She kept the flame of her husband

alive for 30 years to make sure that the guy who murdered him–who shot him in

the back went to jail.

PLAYBOY: Do you find it tough to play a living person?

GOLDBERG: Sure is. Myrlie was as much of a stretch for me as anything I’ve

done. I kind of roll along down the street, carrying four bags at one time, a

mess, and Myrlie Evers glides into a room. She is a presence. She lives in

Oregon now, and I really wanted her to like the movie. She is happy with it,

which was like, whew. You can’t take a whole lot of liberties with people who

can knock on your door and tell you how badly you screwed up the whole thing.

Her response and the response of their children meant more than that of any

others. Evers was murdered in front of those kids. He was shot and crawled to

the front door and died in his wife’s arms with the children standing there

crying, “Daddy, get up. Daddy, please get up.”

PLAYBOY: Some people would say that Rob Reiner, who directed the movie, was

not the one to tell this story, that stories about black people should be told

by black people. Do you disagree?

GOLDBERG: I do. One reason black filmmakers tend to bring black stories to

the forefront is that those stories aren’t often told. But filmmakers should be

able to tell whatever story they are inspired to tell.

PLAYBOY: You’ve been through this before. Steven Spielberg was criticized

for making The Color Purple.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, and that’s just as crazy. The fact is that Steven Spielberg

[she gets a huge smile]–I think he’s the cat’s pajamas. He is the best person

and he made a beautiful movie. It is not about being black or white, it’s about

being a good storyteller. He is. So is Rob Reiner. Reiner is a king in my book.

He’s a joy to work with. I’m very lucky because now I’m working with more

directors who know what they’re doing.

PLAYBOY: As opposed to?

GOLDBERG: Let’s just say that some of the directors I have worked with

haven’t known much of anything.

PLAYBOY: Can’t you pick and choose the directors you work with?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, right. [Laughs] Unfortunately, I’m not in that position.

PLAYBOY: Doesn’t clout come when you’re a big box-office draw?

GOLDBERG: I do get more money, but the attitude becomes, “We’re paying you

all this money, so shut up and do the work.” Which is why it has been said that

I’m difficult. The best directors will tell you that I’m a pussycat. [Smiles]

PLAYBOY: Then what happens?

GOLDBERG: I just have ideas about the way things should work. I’ve been

doing this awhile now, and I occasionally do have a good idea. The fact is, I’m

a collaborator. I’m from the theater. The theater is based on collaboration. So

I’ve learned to collaborate a lot more quietly.

PLAYBOY: Do movies suffer when directors don’t listen?

GOLDBERG: Sister Act 2 is an example. I knew that you couldn’t make that

movie unless you had the nuns from the original movie in it. They were the

driving force; people fell in love with them I fought and fought and fought and

fought to have them in the story, which contributed to my bad reputation.

PLAYBOY: Yet for that movie, you set a record for a female actor in Hollywood

at that time–making $ 8 million.

GOLDBERG: Maybe if I were more consistent, making lots of movies that made $

100 million, directors would listen. But my movies tend to be great movies that

are critically acclaimed and make no money, or movies that aren’t so critically

acclaimed and make a ton of money, or those that aren’t so critically acclaimed

and don’t make any money. Arnold’s movies make a zillion dollars no matter what

he does, so he can do what he wants. Sly’s movies tend to make a zillion dollars

and he can do what he wants. Other people get paid a lot of money sometimes, and

then get a lot more leeway than I get. But you can’t spend time saying, “She has

it and I don’t.” You just can’t.

PLAYBOY: Do you always go for creative control?

GOLDBERG: I always ask. The bottom line is that directors find I really do

know a lot in terms of what needs to happen. I know how to fill the holes. I

have turned a lot of shit into sterling silver. PLAYBOY: So you agree with a

critic from Time magazine who wrote, “She has the ability to turn a routine

flick into a pretty good movie entirely on her own.”

GOLDBERG: Yeah. And imagine what I can do with a really good flick. But it

goes back to how people visualize the world. They may think of me when they

need a maid.

PLAYBOY: Didn’t you once say that you would never play a maid?

GOLDBERG: No. I never said I wouldn’t play a maid. I said that I wouldn’t

just play maids. But in the words of Hattie McDaniel, “Better to play one than

to be one.” She used to get a lot of shit for the roles she was playing, too,

but people don’t realize that she wasn’t turning down Scarlett O’Hara. Nobody

said, “Hey, will you do Stella?” to which she said, “No, I’ve got to go play

this maid!” In my case, I’ve never played a maid who wasn’t a lead in the movie.

And the story of these women, who clean other people’s houses and take care of

their children, is a worthy one to tell. Whether it’s Corrina, Corrina or

others, though, there are people who say, “Oh, she’s playing a maid again.” I am

happy to play a maid if the movie is good. In general, good movies don’t always

come to me–in fact, I go out and find work. I call people. I say, “I hear

you’re doing this movie and I want to be in it.”

PLAYBOY: Who have you called recently?

GOLDBERG: I’ve been calling Clint Eastwood. He’s getting ready to do a movie

of a book that I thought was extraordinary, Midnight in the Garden of Good and

Evil. I would love to play the drag queen, Lady Chablis. He’s probably going

to end up using the real Lady Chablis, but I called. I said, “I can play a man

playing a woman, and I would love to do this. I can pull it off.” Whatever he

decides, I will continue to actively look for good roles. I want to make a movie

about a really bad person One of my favorite performances was Anthony Hopkins’

in The Silence of the Lambs. At first you think you might want to get to know

this guy, and then he says something that makes you back up and realize he will

bite your face if you get close enough. Would I be somebody’s first choice for a

character like that? No. I wanted to do Cutthroat Island because I think I would

be a great pirate–I could get real dirty and fight with a sword and still be

sort of charming, I think. But I’m not statuesque and beautiful.

PLAYBOY: You mean, like the star of that movie, Geena Davis?

GOLDBERG: [Smiles] No, though I am very attractive and get cuter the older I

get. I’m even getting–well, not statuesque, but I’m growing. [Laughs] I’m

expanding. That’s the best way to put it. But still no calls.

PLAYBOY: You’re probably lucky that you didn’t do Cutthroat Island. It

flopped

GOLDBERG: But it might have been a different movie, you know.

PLAYBOY: When are you thought of for movie roles?

GOLDBERG: I don’t know. I’ve gotten a lot of movies when other actors

dropped out. Burglar was for Bruce Willis. Jumpin’ Jack Flash was for Shelley

Long. Fatal Beauty was for Cher. Most of my career consists of movies that were

meant for other people. I mean, thank God Bette Midler didn’t want to do Sister

Act.

PLAYBOY: Was it a letdown to go from serious works such as The Color Purple

and your one-woman show, which touched on many social problems, to your next

movie, Jumpin’ Jack Flash ?

GOLDBERG: No. It is a piece of fluff, but people still tell me how much they

loved it. I’ve done some wild films, you know. Some weren’t financially

successful, but there are none I would hang my head to. That one and Fatal

Beauty are mind candy. They’re not going to fix the Bosnian problem, but they

don’t set out to. Also, everybody says, “Well, why aren’t you doing more Color

Purples. But that’s not what people are asking me to do. It’s not like somebody

handed me another Color Purple and Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and I said, “I choose

Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”At the time, however, I was just amazed to be doing what I

was doing. It was other people who were criticizing me. I took heat for the

movies I did; there were about four or five years of intense heat.

PLAYBOY: The gist of it was what?

GOLDBERG: That I didn’t have it. That I was a flash in

the pan. But I kept working. I tried to get other movies. When I heard they were

making The Princess Bride into a movie I said, “Let me audition for that.” It

was a big lesson for me about how it works and what you’re supposed to look like

They laughed. “Is she crazy?” I said, “But the book is about a princess who

doesn’t look like anybody else, who has a very different attitude. So why not

me?” It hurt my feelings because I thought, Are you telling me that because you

think I couldn’t be a princess that all these other doors are going to slam too?

Basically, yes. So I took the stuff that nobody seemed to have a problem with me

doing.

PLAYBOY: Like Burglar?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, which was fun and silly, too. That was ray macho period. I

had the best time: motorcycles and leather jackets and blue contact lenses!

Though when I did it I was criticized because I didn’t turn out to be the female

answer to Eddie Murphy.

PLAYBOY: Meaning?

GOLDBERG: Meaning the movie didn’t do Eddie Murphy business; it didn’t

produce tremendous amounts of money at the box office.

PLAYBOY: Sister Act did, though. How did that change things?

GOLDBERG: I received lots more money for some of the big movies, but great

movies still didn’t come flying at me.

PLAYBOY: After that movie, it was reported that you sent Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Disney executive in charge, a

hatchet in the mail. Did you?

GOLDBERG: Yeah. Because he and I didn’t click immediately. There were things

about Sister Act that weren’t as good as they could have been, and I tried to

make them better–and Jeffrey thought I might have overstepped my bounds.

PLAYBOY: By giving ideas to the director?

GOLDBERG: Ideas? Yeah. And they weren’t really as open as I hoped they would

be. I just wanted to make things better. I don’t know what their experience had

been with other actors, but we had an antagonistic relationship. I finally said,

“This is ridiculous.” I sent him a hatchet and said, “Let’s bury it,” and he

sent me back a present. [Smiles broadly] A pair of brass balls. And that began

our friendship.

PLAYBOY: Ghost was another big success. How did that one come to you?

GOLDBERG: I heard about it and said I wanted to try for it, but my agent

said they didn’t want me. “But why not? What did I do?” I said, “At least let me

read for it.” “Well, they feel you would bring  Whoopi Goldberg  baggage.” “What

is  Whoopi Goldberg  baggage? What does that mean?” So they wouldn’t see me.

Eventually I got a call, though. Patrick Swayze insisted they call me. He said

he did it because he was a fan. Two weeks later I had the part.

PLAYBOY: The movie launched Demi Moore and brought you an Oscar. Did you

expect it?

GOLDBERG: No. The statue came and it was pretty groovy, I have to say.

Movies I thought would have gotten me nominated just fell by the wayside, such

as The Long Walk Home, which is some of my best work. But nothing–nothing,

nothing, nothing. So you just kind of go, “Oh, well,” and move on. But this was

nice.

PLAYBOY: You’ve played more than one psychic. Are you interested in that

world?

GOLDBERG: Oh, yeah. I’m a big believer that people are still here. They

aren’t forced to stay, they’re here by choice– they’re here just watching. Some

people were miserable in life and they’re miserable in death, which is why we

have loud and angry ghosts–their essence stays. A ghost to me is like perfume.

Many people can dab it on and you get different wafts and different smells at

different times. People who worked in this profession are with me at times.

PLAYBOY: Who?

GOLDBERG: John Garfield is with me. Parts of James Cagney, some Bette Davis.

Moms Mabley is with me all the time. A great much of her is on my shoulder.

Periodically, I feel wafts of Dorothy Dandridge. I mean, you look at me and

think, Why you? My crossover has been pretty big–worldwide, in fact. So you

have to believe that a whole lot of folks are behind you, helping you break it

out.

PLAYBOY: Is it incomprehensible that you’ve accomplished what you’ve

accomplished yourself?

GOLDBERG: I’ve always felt that smatterings of other people have made my

path easier. Basically, I’ve had it laid out on a silver platter; I mean,

really. It’s been placed in my hand, and I’ve been ushered into a foreign land

and treated rather well, you know. In hindsight, I’ve done a lot better than a

lot of people with a lot more talent, and I didn’t self-destruct.

PLAYBOY: But where does talent come in?

GOLDBERG: Jack Nicholson is talented. Brando. De Niro. I’m nothing compared

with great actors like that. There are a lot of talented actors out there, but

maybe the camera doesn’t like their face or, you know, they’re not good at

auditions, or whatever. I just know I’m one of the luckiest people on earth.

PLAYBOY: Did The Player sum up your view of Hollywood?

GOLDBERG: It was Robert Altman’s view, but it’s about right. It’s that silly

sometimes. Not quite murder, but you never know.

PLAYBOY: In Boys on the Side your character is a lesbian. Was it gratifying

that the lesbian community applauded your portrayal?

GOLDBERG: Yeah. I did an interview with Lea DeLaria for The Advocate. She

said, “You were in, girl, you were in. We loved you.” That was good to hear.

People have asked, “Was it difficult to portray a lesbian?” No. It was just like

I portray anybody else. I don’t have to walk around in muscle shirts with a pack

of Marlboros rolled up in my sleeve. The faces of lesbians have changed. They

are no longer only short-haired, cigar-smoking, motorcycle-riding women. These

are real women. And I’m an actor. I can become whatever is required.

PLAYBOY: Including an elderly man in The Associate.

GOLDBERG: I play a woman who is really, really good on Wall Street–she

takes care of all the business and is in a high position. But because she’s

black and a woman, she ain’t going any higher. So she creates this man and

suddenly everyone wants her– r him.

PLAYBOY: Though you’ve made hits and misses, is it still risky to be in a

movie that bombs as badly as Theodore Rex, which went directly to video?

GOLDBERG: It seems it would be, but my career doesn’t make much sense as it is.

I should not have had the career I’m having. Normally, two or three box-office

flops can murder a career. But I’ve had a few more of those. Yet despite

everything, people seem to know that my potential is long-range. So they put me

in movies. And people go to see my movies. Eddie opened in the middle of

Twister, The Rock and Independence Day and did well. It didn’t feature bombs

exploding. It didn’t have a shot of breasts. Nothing but silly fluff comedy, and

it lived. That says something.

PLAYBOY: Were you a Trekkie before you joined the cast of Star Trek?

GOLDBERG: Oh, yeah. I love Star Trek, always have. I love science fiction,

especially horror science fiction. I praised the heavens when the science

fiction channel finally came. I love James Whitmore, the giant ants under L.A. I

love Them! and Village of the Damned and Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man,

which is one of my favorites. And Soylent Green. I love any of the old Universal

horror stuff. I loved Thriller, the Boris Karloff TV show.

PLAYBOY: How about The X-Files?

GOLDBERG: I love The X-Files. I’ve been on Chris Carter for the past couple

of years to do that show. He told me I have to find time. I just love the idea

that there is this group in the government that knows all these strange things

are happening. You know David Duchovny knows and is trying to find where his

sister went in the link. It’s just the best. The best.

PLAYBOY: Did Star Trek bring you a new type of fan?

GOLDBERG: Oh, yes. I get a lot of mail from Trekkies. They send me pictures

of themselves dressed as me. People put down Trekkies because they don’t really

understand what they are. The thing is, they are people who want this idea of

the future to be real, where there’s a united front and a future where all types

of people hang together and fly through the galaxy and it is very hip.

PLAYBOY: As opposed to the Independence Day view of the future, in which

aliens attack Earth?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, and this is what I have to say about Independence Day,

though it is very unchic to say: I didn’t care for it at all. It really bugged

me. I was glad to see all those actors working, but if you’re going to do War of

the Worlds, then do it. Do it right. Pay attention. Don’t put bucket seats with

seat belts in an alien craft. Don’t have a lady running down a tunnel with a

fireball chasing her, and have the fireball pass her by and she doesn’t even

break a sweat. I mean, come on. Jeff Goldblum comes in drunk–he’s throwing

stuff around and his father says, “Get up off the floor, you’re going to catch a

cold.” Goldblum gets up and says, “Catch a cold?” and he’s sober as all get out.

Walt a minute, you were drunk as a skunk a second ago! I want to know where all

the clothing came from that the women were changing into once they got into the

bunker. Was there a Gap down there? When Bill Pullman comes back and his little

daughter is waiting, there is a woman holding her, and she gently thrusts the

little girl toward Bill. The woman is wearing pearls–double-stranded pearls.

And her outfit is newly pressed. I’m looking at this woman thinking, Where the

fuck did you come from? I was very bummed.

PLAYBOY: Would you like to travel in space?

GOLDBERG: Ooh, yeah. But I have to do more to prepare. Right now I can

barely operate a computer. I’m very slow. I just play Jeopardy.

PLAYBOY: Have you been on the Internet?

GOLDBERG: The Internet is one of those things I’m not sure about. I just

don’t get it. And technology is moving at such a rate that I can’t really keep

up with it. I was in London recently, reading about these chips they want to put

into little children. I’m not sure. I’m just not sure. I don’t trust bar codes.

Why can’t I read them? Why can’t I know what that bar code says? It’s a secret

code and we’re kept out of the loop. Scary.

PLAYBOY: Have you seen any of the sites on the Web that cover you?

GOLDBERG: No, though I’ve heard it’s all over the place, especially Star

Trek stuff. And let me remind everybody who does those things that my birth date

is November 13, 1055. For some reason, everybody has my birthday wrong in every

biography. Let’s get it right, y’all.

PLAYBOY: What was it like turning 40?

GOLDBERG: If you read stuff about me, I’ve been 40 for ten years. I’m almost

60 in some circles.

PLAYBOY: Is the confusion based on your attempts to shave off a few years

like other actors have been known to do?

GOLDBERG: I used to make myself older, not younger, because people would

always tell me I was too young for the parts I was going after. So I gave myself

two years. Now those two years have multiplied into eight or ten or 20. In some

reports I’m 48, some I’m 51, some I’m in my 30s. I’m 41.

PLAYBOY: Was it psychically difficult to hit 40?

GOLDBERG: No, I was so happy. I finally felt like I was growing into myself.

I’m now growing into my face and growing into my thoughts, and I’m clearer about

a lot of things. Everything is pretty great.

PLAYBOY: It’s been written that you

met Frank Langella on the set of Eddie–and he’s your boyfriend of the moment.

GOLDBERG: “Your boyfriend of the moment.” Now does that sound trite or what?

How about, “The man with whom I’m living and sharing my life.” That’s more

elegant.

PLAYBOY: Do you plan to get married?

GOLDBERG: No. I’m just happy to be with him. He is wonderful. He is funny.

It’s one of the great things about our relationship–we get to laugh a lot. But

I also have a great deal of respect for him. He is about the finest American

stage actor we have. His work, since I was a young actor, was kind of like a

goal. Design for Living, Booth, Dracula, The Father. Just endless. When I first

met him on the set of Eddie, I said, “Why are you doing this movie?” He said,

“This is probably the only way we’ll ever get to work together.”

PLAYBOY: So there was romance from the start.

GOLDBERG: [Smiles] HoG-ha. But it was more about working together then. In

my mind, I had to come up to his level. He’s extraordinary and a really good

guy. Which is not to say that the other men in my life haven’t been. They were

nice men, but somehow there’s something extra extraordinary about this one. I’m

taking it a day at a time. And, by the way, he’s cute. I had to add that. He’s

fine, as my daughter would say.

PLAYBOY: By now, are you used to questions about your relationships?

GOLDBERG: I’m not used to it at all. It wasn’t always like this. The public

didn’t really care until I got involved with Ted Danson. Since then it has

become a real thing in my life. It just doesn’t go away.

PLAYBOY: How does it affect you?

GOLDBERG: It’s hard enough to have a relationship, but to have a

relationship under a microscope is harder. You always want to rebut everything

you see that isn’t accurate. I don’t mind if you think I’m an asshole, but I

want you to think I’m an asshole for the right reasons. It’s hard on everyone

around me. When it’s really inaccurate it bugs the shit out of me.

PLAYBOY: Was the scandal over the Friars Club roast the low point for you

and Ted Danson?

GOLDBERG: I had a good time at the Friars Club. It was funny. PLAYBOY: Not

everyone agreed. GOLDBERG: No, but people who didn’t get it were people who

didn’t understand what a Friars Club roast is. No one warned us that they had

opened it to the public and that the people on the dais had no idea what the

hell we were doing. I feel like we were set up. If people understood what a

Friars roast was, they wouldn’t have been shocked at all. And this was one of

the funnier roasts that had been done. But sadly they chose to take something

that was done in fun and turn it into a lot of bullshit.

PLAYBOY: Do you think

people were genuinely offended, or was the reaction built up by the media?

GOLDBERG: I think they were genuinely offended.

PLAYBOY: Roast or no roast, do you disagree that blackface is simply bad

taste– and is a form of true racism?

GOLDBERG: I do. Was it in bad taste? The Friars Club is in bad taste. That’s

the idea. It’s about, “Your ass is so wide tha—” or “Your mother gave head

to—” That’s what it’s about. RuPaul came out and talked about how he taught me

how to give head. We were making a point.

PLAYBOY: What exactly was the point?

GOLDBERG: Even in hip Hollywood, there are people who are uncomfortable with

a white man and a black woman. The stereotypes prevail. So I took them on. Ted

and I used to get a lot of really hateful mail. We took it and pushed it to the

limit. That was the point of Ted wearing blackface. Instead of people

understanding, they looked at it as something they could jump on. I said then,

as I say now, fuck them.

PLAYBOY: Fuck the black leaders as well as the black and white press that

criticized you?

GOLDBERG: Fuck them. What makes me sad is that it made Ted very

uncomfortable. For that I’m sorry. But I’m not sorry at all that we did it, nor

that I encouraged it.

PLAYBOY: Do you think Ted is sorry that he did it?

GOLDBERG: Yes, I do think he’s sorry he did it.

PLAYBOY: Because he cared what people thought?

GOLDBERG: He cared very much that people said he was a racist. I wish him

well. I hope his new show works and that his new marriage is happy. I hope one

day we’ll be able to sit down and talk about it with some laughter.

PLAYBOY: You don’t speak now?

GOLDBERG: No, and I’m sure we won’t for a very long time. I don’t have any

problem with what happened. But he does.

PLAYBOY: Did the hate mail come mostly from white extremists?

GOLDBERG: Them, and also from lots of black people. Black people were

incensed. Again, I’ve never been politically correct and never will be

politically correct, and I will go where I want to go.

PLAYBOY: Since the incident, have you spoken with any of the people who

criticized you publicly–Montel Williams or Dionne Warwick?

GOLDBERG: I spoke with Dionne. I said, “Look, you know what the Friars Club

roast is.” She said, “Yeah, but it got out.” I said, “But that’s not my fault.

If you have a problem you should talk to the Friars Club.” She said, “You’re

right.” I don’t have anything to say to Montel because Montel went out for

himself. He got the publicity he needed. He used us as a soapbox. I think in

retrospect that he’s unhappy he did it, because I think he’s had a little

firestorm of his own, and suddenly it occurs to him that that’s what happens

when someone puts your business in the street. Hey, it’s OK. I’m going to piss

people off again. I hope I’m not going to piss people off throughout my life.

PLAYBOY: Do you have a lot of time for your family?

GOLDBERG: More and more. I’m a workaholic, but I’m trying to take some

breaks. We’ve been spending more and more time together. I’m cleaning baby spit

off my shirt and playing with my granddaughter and watching her cannonball into

the pool.

PLAYBOY: Your daughter’s father was your first husband as well as your

drug counselor. How did you meet and fall in love?

GOLDBERG: I felt I had better do something because I didn’t know what was

coming. I got married, but it wasn’t particularly right for either of us. I got

pregnant and had this little baby, and I left my husband and went to San Diego.

I had a couple of relationships and then didn’t have a relationship for, like,

six years. I met another man and had a fiveyear relationship, and he helped me

raise my daughter. Then I came to New York and did my show, and it was tough on

him, so he went away. And then I didn’t get married. I went out with a couple of

people and then slipped back into a little drug haze and woke up married to

somebody else.

PLAYBOY: And that was your second marriage?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, and it took me about a year and a half to get out of that,

and then I went into another really bad relationship. I then went into what I

thought had the potential of being a good relationship, but it didn’t work out,

and I met another guy and got married, and then I realized I had made a

mistake and said, “I’ve made a mistake. I’m really sorry,” and was in the

process of getting out of that when I met Frank. So, you know, it’s kind of

normal, except that maybe I got married a few too many times. It’s because I

love a good party, but I have recently realized that I can actually just throw a

party and not get married. I think I’ve learned that. Now I’m more interested in

a caring, loving relationship, which is what I have now.

PLAYBOY: Are you more capable of having one now?

GOLDBERG: Yes. You start telling yourself the truth, you know. You start

facing reality. Being in love with someone and being with someone is work, and

it’s daily, and it’s not a Band-Aid.

PLAYBOY: Did relationships used to be Band-Aids?

GOLDBERG: Oh, yes. I thought that they would make me feel better. I thought

they would protect me.

PLAYBOY: Protect you from what?

GOLDBERG: The .world. But now I know you’re only better if you feel better

inside. You have to do the repair work that’s required.

PLAYBOY: Were drugs other Band-Aids?

GOLDBERG: Yes. Band-Aids that don’t work. They were a way not to feel pain

or mistakes.

PLAYBOY: What drugs did you do?

GOLDBERG: How much time do you have? I did everything.

PLAYBOY: Was is difficult for you to stop?

GOLDBERG: It was difficult until I figured out why I did them. You don’t

want to hurt, but the wound gets bigger and festers. So I stopped doing all

drugs and I faced those wounds and felt the pain. It hurts, but it does heal.

PLAYBOY: What advice did you give your daughter when she got pregnant at 157

GOLDBERG: I understood why she had done it, which was to have some identity

other than being my child. At 15 you want your own identity.

PLAYBOY: Were you upset that she was having a baby that young?

GOLDBERG: Yes, but ! would support her no matter what came along. I practice

what I preach: You have to support your children. I wasn’t going to turn her out

or make her feel bad. She was scared. That let me know that our relationship was

still good, even though it’s inevitably in that mother-daughter tunnel. But she

came to me first and she said, “Mommy?” And I said, “What?” She said, “I’m

pregnant.” I said, “Well, what do you want to do?” She said, “I want to have

it.” I said, “OK. You know it’s a lot of work. It’s not easy and there will be

times when you’re not going to want to be bothered.” She said, “I’m ready.” I

said OK, knowing full well that this was a task for the family. Now her baby,

born on my birthday, is seven–and fantastic.

PLAYBOY: Didn’t you advise her to have an abortion–to wait to have a child?

GOLDBERG: You can’t tell kids much these days. They’re much older than we

were. All we can do is try to create environments for those who choose to have

their children. And there will be more of them if the extreme right gets its

way. If they abolish or make it harder to have an abortion, there will be more

children with babies. But if our kids have children, we have to help them

through it. We’ve got to hunker down and make the best of it and not let them go

by the wayside. We ought to be giving some of these young boys an education,

too. Where are they all? If they are going to have children, they need to be

prepared for the responsibility that comes with fathering. We need to start

making the boys as

GOLDBERG: Don’t get me started.

PLAYBOY: Get started.

GOLDBERG: We’ve all known and been working with and struggling with the

problems Hollywood has with black actors. We knew it much better than he did.

Yet I was hosting the awards, Quincy Jones was producing them, black acts such

as Stomp were on, so it was the wrong place to complain. Besides, Jackson never

asked what we–black actors– thought. But because he said he was boycotting the

show, all I said was, “Since you aren’t watching, I ain’t going to deal with

you.” This created a big old stink, too. Ooh, people were so pissed off.

PLAYBOY: When Jackson called for the protest, did you and Jones sit down and

discuss what your reaction would be?

GOLDBERG: I was ready to rip him a new behind. But Quincy said that he

didn’t want me to do anything.

PLAYBOY: We take it that you couldn’t help yourself.

GOLDBERG: [A particularly sweet, innocent smile] That’s right. Listen,

Quincy has been fighting this battle for 45, 50 years. Harry Belafonte has been

fighting it for 60 years. Sidney Poitier for years and years. So I just had to

quietly deal with it. A lot of people were very angry. They thought I insulted

Jackson.

PLAYBOY: And marginalized him.

GOLDBERG: Marginalized him? He basically put me and Quincy in the position

of choosing to do this thing we wanted to do and felt was a very positive thing

to do, or to stand up alongside him. He put us in the position of looking like

we were kissing somebody’s ass.

PLAYBOY: Do you agree that black actors were underrepresented in terms of

the nominations?

GOLDBERG: Maybe, but not in terms of that show. I mean, it was the wrong

show to point to and say that blacks are being blocked from participating in

Hollywood. People seem to forget that the mere fact that I’m still here is a

huge statement. So is the fact that a lot more people look like me than they did

12 years ago, when I started–I mean, this hair? And I never have to be anybody

except who I am. In a previous generation, a black actor might have had to fit

a mold. But this is me. These are my lips, my nose, my hair, my butt–spread,

unspread, spread, unspread, depending on the season. I have to hold my temper.

PLAYBOY: Is Hollywood still racist? Does it downplay the work of blacks?

GOLDBERG: No. Because if you look at the past five years of the Academy

Awards, one or two of us have always been nominated. I have been

nominated–what? Twice? And won once. But are things perfect? Hell, no. It ain’t

perfect in the world.

PLAYBOY: Have you talked with Jackson since then?

GOLDBERG: Oh, yes, yes. He said [imitating him] “Well, you know, we’ve got

to get together.” I ain’t heard from him since. Yeah, that’s Jesse. He’s

basically full of shit.

PLAYBOY: A character in your Broadway show was a black girl who wanted

blonde hair because everyone on TV was blonde. Did you feel that way when you

were little?

GOLDBERG: I guess I did. When I was growing up, you looked at the back of a

magazine and saw the Breck girl. And you just knew it wasn’t going to happen.

You’d take the magazine to your mother and she would just say, “Ain’t going to

happen.”

PLAYBOY: Is it fundamentally different for a black girl growing up now?

GOLDBERG: Oh, yeah. I mean, this is very egotistical of me, but look at me:

I’m here. I’m here and I’m here in a big way. In little kids’ books, in

magazines, in movies, on television, on the Academy Awards ceremony, on Star

Trek, in reruns forever, God bless them. I am a presence. There was no one until

I became a teenager, and then Diahann Carroll came on in a big way with the TV

program Julia. Now there are shows with entirely black casts and commercials

with black actors.

PLAYBOY: For similar reasons, gays complain that they are portrayed as

homicidal maniacs or stereotypical queens. Are you sympathetic?

GOLDBERG: Of course. America has been in the closet for a long time. We are

behind in our thinking in so many ways. Sexual revolution or no sexual

revolution, the bottom line is that we are still very uncomfortable when it

comes to sex. Anything we don’t understand, we want to eliminate. But I think

people have to recognize that there is nothing you can do to stop people from

living their lives. Either adapt or walk away. Move to another place where

people will continue to be intolerant. Move to Iran.

PLAYBOY: That’s basically what you said to white supremacist Tom Metzger

when he appeared on your talk show.

GOLDBERG: That’s it. He said that the races should be separate and I said,

“So where are you going, Tom? Because I’m not going anywhere.” This is why the

immigration issue is making me insane. Immigration is the backbone of this

country. Immigrants built America. I look at the last names of a lot of the

people who are speaking about the terrible problem with immigration and think,

How long ago were you an immigrant?

PLAYBOY: What were the high points of your talk-show experience?

GOLDBERG: Getting to sit down with some wild people–Alexander Haig and

asking him, “So what should I call you? Should I call you ‘General’? … Call me

Big Al.” Gordon Liddy–talking to him was a hoot! Whatever he is, he’s a great

conversationalist. We disagree on just about everything. Same with Charlton

Heston, but talking to him was a thrill.

PLAYBOY: Didn’t he give you a big kiss? I

GOLDBERG: Yeah. I asked him if there had been an uproar when he did The

Omega Man and had this great interracial kiss with Rosalind Cash. It was one of

the first big, swooping smackaroonies that we saw. He said, “No.” Then he leaned

closer to me and said, “Are people really upset by that in this day and age?”

And I said, “Oh, yeah! I’ve had them cut out of movies.” And he leaned closer

and said, “Really?” And I said, “Yeah,” and he leaned closer and gave me a big

old kiss! And there were other good moments, too. I have a tattoo of Woodstock

on my breast, and Charles Schulz asked if I wanted him to sign it. It was

wonderful. When Tom Metzger was on, he asked for my autograph for his kids.

PLAYBOY: In that case you were criticized for being too nice.

GOLDBERG: My job on that show was to listen. I never said I was going to

fight for causes. I knew how I felt, and I thought I was very clear about it.

People were angry because they wanted me to voice their opinion. But one of the

reasons they yanked the show is that I wouldn’t get into fights, wouldn’t do a

monolog and wouldn’t put in a band. The show was about conversation.

PLAYBOY: Would you have had Newt Gingrich on your show?

GOLDBERG: I would have enjoyed the opportunity to talk with Newt Gingrich. I

have always said it is hard to take someone named Newt seriously, but this is

coming from someone named Whoopi. Gingrich, with his loose-lipped contract, is a

small-minded man. Yeah, it would be great if taxes could be cut. I would be so

happy if welfare could be eliminated. I would be thrilled, you know, if big

business really embraced the country. I would be thrilled if we didn’t need

affirmative action. But we do. At least Colin Powell acknowledged the need for

affirmative action.

PLAYBOY: Do you admire him as a black leader?

GOLDBERG: He is for a woman’s right to choose and for affirmative

action–the latter because he knows it works. He backed the wrong horse, though.

Clinton really does believe in affirmative action. I wouldn’t be here, and

neither would any other person of color. Before, it just wasn’t working. We have

had to take sterner actions to ensure that all Americans get their due.

American, not African American. I won’t let anyone call me African American.

PLAYBOY: Why not?

GOLDBERG: Because I’m not an African American. I’m purebred, New

York-raised. I’m not from Africa. Calling me an African American divides us

further. It means that I’m not entitled to everything an American is entitled

to. My roots go back longer here than a lot of those folks who have nothing in

front of “American.” Some of those folks came on the Mayflower, but we were

under the Mayflower. We were here. I am just very, very insulted by what that

does. I don’t have to excuse the fact that I am brown-skinned or black-skinned.

I don’t have to explain that. I was born here. I am as American as a hot dog. As

baseball. [Laughs] I can feel the teeth in my ass right now as we’re talking

[laughs]–just feel it. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp.

PLAYBOY: Who’s chomping?

GOLDBERG: The people who feel they have the divine right of kings to speak

for me and every other black person. Fuck ‘em.

PLAYBOY: You take on social issues in your annual Comic Relief benefits.

After ten years, how has the experience changed?

GOLDBERG: It’s more fun than ever. It’s a reunion.

PLAYBOY: Is it occasionally difficult to hold your own in the company of

Robin Williams and Billy Crystal?

GOLDBERG: The boys have sort of nurtured me along, and now I’ve finally come

into my own with them. They’re a tough duo. They are so fast. It took me until

three or four years ago to just bust in. They were always really good to me,

encouraging me, going, Pow! you’re on. I always considered myself the Vanna

White of Comic Relief, because I do all the serious stuff—the information, the

phone numbers. I finally busted loose with them. Now we run wild. These boys are

always talking about their genitalia, and I finally said, “Look. Explain this to

me. What is it about your dick? Why are we talking about it, yet again?”

PLAYBOY: You’re also on TV commercials now. Did you have qualms about

becoming the MCI spokesperson?

GOLDBERG: No, because MCI really does a better job.

PLAYBOY: You sound like a paid flack.

GOLDBERG: They asked me if I wanted to be their spokesperson, and I made

them jump through hoops. I said, “I want to see your paperwork. I want you to

prove to me that you are the better company.” They did. I believe they are

cheaper and their service is better. Having me as their spokesperson actually

helped MCI, which I’m kind of proud of. It’s why I will speak out for the things

I believe in. People seem to listen a little bit. And I do want things to get

better.

PLAYBOY: Have they?

GOLDBERG: Well, things got better and then they got worse. As far as I’m

concerned, the Reagan years did more to destroy the fabric of the nation than

anything. Dismantling a lot of those programs with no safety net destroyed the

morale of folks who were working so hard and struggling so long to make

something happen. My daughter would come in from the park and I’d say, “Well,

you’re home early,” and she’d say, “Yeah, some guy was driving by and shots were

flying.” I would be in conniptions because I grew up in a time when shooting

went on only in the movies. This idea that life doesn’t mean anything anymore

comes from the top. Treat people as if they matter, care for them, tend them,

help them grow up strong, give them good schools, child care, make them feel as

if you care about them and show them that they are valued. Then they will be

valued and will feel valued. The government has to get in there and roll up its

sleeves.