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Marissa Jaret Winokur: Back in Business

The Tony Award winner discusses appearing in the Geffen Playhouse's Love, Loss, and What I Wore, her new CBS talk show, Glee, and Dancing with the Stars. logo
Florence Henderson, Meredith Baxter, Gina Torres,
Marissa Jaret Winokur, and Paula Christensen
in Love, Loss, and What I Wore
(© Michael Lamont)
Marissa Jaret Winokur became the toast of Broadway when she played the role of Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, winning the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in the process. More recently, the actress has relocated to California, where she's worked in television and is mom to her now two-year-old son, Zev.

Now, she's back on the LA stage through August 29 in Love, Loss, and What I Wore at the Geffen Playhouse with co-stars Meredith Baxter, Florence Henderson, Gina Torres, and Paula Christensen. And this fall, she'll be one of the panelists on a new CBS talk show alongside fellow moms Sara Gilbert, Leah Remini, Julie Chen, Sharon Osbourne, and Holly Robinson Peete. TheaterMania recently spoke with Winokur about these projects, her plans for getting on Glee, and her feelings about Dancing with the Stars.

THEATERMANIA: Until now, you've been away from the stage since the birth of your son Zev. Was that your decision?
MARISSA JARET WINOKUR: I haven't come back because it's been too hard for me to do a play and take care of my child. You need to give 100 percent when you're on stage. I went backstage to see Patti LuPone when she was in Gypsy and she said to me, "just wrap him up like a baked potato and take him wherever you go," but I couldn't do that. However, I really hope to be able to come back to Broadway in about two years. I want to do all of the Ethel Merman parts -- as long as Sutton Foster doesn't do all of those shows before I have the chance to come back. Sutton, if you're reading this, please leave me Call Me Madam!

TM: So now you're doing Love, Loss, and What I Wore at the Geffen. Is clothing important to you?
MJW: I am obsessed with clothes. I want to design my own clothing line. And I think there are so many people out there like me who always feel that they have nothing to wear or nothing fits. I know when people lose weight, they want to throw out their "fat clothes," but my advice is don't do it. Just put them in a box and hide them, because trust me, nobody stays their skinniest.

TM: What most excited you about doing this show?
MJW: I am really glad to do scripted material again. I've spent so much time lately hosting shows or being on reality shows, that it's nice to remind people I am really an actress. Lately, I keep being cast as Marissa Jaret Winokur, and I keep thinking, "what character is that?" And there are so many moments in the play I relate to; for example, I still have a photo of me in my Madonnaesque prom dress. And the parts about being close to your siblings mean a lot to me. The only thing is that I have to do the section about wearing cowboy boots, and I've never worn boots in my life -- my calves are not made for them. And I think I haven't been up after 8pm since Zev was born, so I'm glad it's a short show!

TM: Some people will be surprised to see you're a blonde now. How did that happen?
MJW: Around New Year's, I had a "mommy life crisis." Every day, I was wearing the same leggings and tank top, and I was a mess, so I decided to go get my hair done. They asked me about getting highlights and I just went completely mad and decided to go totally blonde. I never had the chance before because of my work -- that brown curly hair has been part of my persona since 1994. When CBS picked up the pilot for this new talk show, I was sure they would want me to dye it back, because my hair is part of what makes me recognizable. But it turns out the whole cast has darker hair, so I get to be the blonde girl in the cast.

Marissa Jaret Winokur and Matthew Morrison
in Hairspray
(© Paul Kolnik)
TM: Are you truly psyched about being part of this talk show?
MJW: After a Broadway musical like Hairspray, this is my second dream job. I really understand how hard it is to work and be a mom at the same time, and I think that's true of all six women on the show. Our vibe is really good, so even when we disagree, there is a level of respect. And we all know that no one can do everything right as a mother, and my hope is that a lot of moms will feel better about what they do because of our show. For example, it's okay to let your kid watch television; it's not going to kill him.

TM: What do you think will happen during the live segments?
MJW: First, I think Leah, Sharon and I are going to be the unfiltered ones! I think as a group, there's going to be lot of dinners and get-togethers to talk about the show, but you don't want to hash out too much before you go on the air. You want there to be that energy and excitement! But I also love that I get to tape pieces for the talk show in advance; I get to ask parents real questions about their kids or ask teenagers on Hollywood Boulevard about having sex. I'm finding real people are so interesting!

TM: Dancing with the Stars was also live television. What was that experience like for you?
MJW: I was so happy the day it was done, but now I miss it and I am ready to learn another dance and go back on. My favorite was the tango -- I felt like Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith. I thought I'd love all the Latin dances, but if I never do a Latin dance again, it will be too soon. They are so hard! And what I loved about the ballroom dances is that you're really connected to someone!

TM: Ever since you did Hairspray with Matthew Morrison, you two have been best friends. So why haven't you ended up on his series, Glee?
MJW: I think I am the only person in Hollywood not campaigning to be on Glee, because I think it's so obvious that they should call me. Of course, I want to be on it, and of course, I'd want to be Matt's love interest -- because I really enjoy kissing him and it's okay with my husband. But if not, I'd really want to be Jane Lynch's love interest, if Sue ever became a lesbian.

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