Victor Victoria, the adventurously frank, bawdy, and hilarious musical starring Julie Andrews as a poor singer who becomes the toast of Paris when she reinvents herself as gay Polish female impersonator Count Victor Grazinski, turns 30 this year, which officially validates its timelessness. The Blake Edwards-directed romp is equal parts farce and social commentary, and it features unforgettable performances by Robert Preston as Victoria’s gay mentor Carroll “Toddy” Todd, James Garner as nightclub owner King Marchard, and perhaps most notably, Lesley Ann Warren as the squeaky, naughty, and hysterical showgirl Norma Cassady. Norma is Judy Holliday on a horny sugar high, and that coquettish insanity earned Warren a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the ’82 Oscars.
The most famous projects in Warren’s oeuvre are as extreme and unpredictable as Norma herself. As a teenager, Warren played the titular naif in Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s ’65 TV version of Cinderella (taking over Julie Andrews’ 50s role), burgeoned into adult roles on shows like Mission Impossible and Harold Robbins’ 79 Park Avenue, and eventually landed standout roles in Victor Victoria, Clue (the ne plus ultra of American cinema, as far as I’m concerned), Songwriter, Cop, Secretary, and memorable arcs on Will & Grace, Desperate Housewives, and In Plain Sight. Best of all: She’s one of the few actresses to star in two of AfterElton’s “Best Movie Ever?” selections, which included Victor Victoria.
Ahead of her appearance at tonight’s 30th anniversary screening of Victor Victoria at Los Angeles’ Downtown Independent theater, we caught up with Warren to discuss her memories of the movie, the dynamic between Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews, and her upcoming Clue mini-reunion.
AfterElton: It’s officially been 30 years since Victor/Victoria‘s release. Have your feelings about the movie shifted or changed since its debut?
Lesley Ann Warren: You know, I’m so proud of it. So, so, so proud of it. When I first saw it, it was at a private screening at Blake Edwards’ home with the cast only, and I was absolutely mortified. I thought, ‘Oh my God, nobody will ever hire me again. This character is way too big and too flamboyant.’ I couldn’t take it in. But then I remember, I went to the very first public screening, which at that time was at the Shubert Theater on Avenue of the Stars, which is no longer there, but the place went berserk for my character and everything she does and the movie. I saw what the reality of the situation was! The ensuing years have made me just more and more proud.
AE: Is it disorienting to be terrified by your own work, then adored for it by audiences? That would confuse me.
LAW: No. The thing is, when you’re creating it and doing [the movie], you’re not outside of yourself. But then when you see it in the context of the film, you’re completely disconnected from the experience of embodying it. I thought she was so big, so flamboyant, so off the charts with her colorful behaviors. I thought no one would take me seriously again! But really truly, once I saw it with an audience, I realized what a potent, fun, fabulous character that Blake and I had created. Then I felt nothing but pride. It wasn’t disorienting. It just shook me out of my own fear and let me enjoy the effect of the work.