Christine Ebersole, known for her Tony-winning performance as both Little Edie and Edith Bouvier Beale in Grey Gardens, returns to Broadway this spring in War Paint, a new musical about rival cosmetics titans opening April 6; Ebersole stars as Elizabeth Arden opposite Patti LuPone as Helena Rubinstein.
What’s it like working on a new musical?
It is very exciting because you feel like you are in from the ground floor. You’re in the lab when all of the experiments are happening and you are a part of it.
The newly renovated Grey Gardens estate is now available for a mere $20 million, the Internet informs me. Would you ever want to live there?
Do you have $20 million dollars? Sure, hand it my way!
I don’t! Maybe there will be house tours.
I’ve been to the house. I was invited to the house by Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee. I was very fortunate when I was doing Grey Gardens to actually perform there at the house for an anniversary party they had. It’s gorgeous. Sally did such a gorgeous job renovating it and making it a living space. It was an homage, but at the same time it wasn’t a museum piece. It was a living, breathing entity—and it was just gorgeous, absolutely beautiful. She kept a lot of personal effects that Edie had because she left everything when she left. But Edie sold it to them, and I think it was for $250,000.
In War Paint you’re portraying another real person. What did you learn about her in preparing for the role?
There are some very interesting things about Elizabeth Arden and her life. She wasn’t born into the manor. She grew up very impoverished in Canada and lost her mother when she was 6 years old. It is really amazing given what her circumstances were that she achieved everything that she did. It’s quite something.
What did you learn about the history of the cosmetics industry?
When Elizabeth Arden started out, the only people wearing lipstick were on the stage or in the gutter, as they say. So she gave lipstick to the suffragettes and really put a different face on it. Elevated its status in a sense.
Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein built their makeup empires in the 1920s. What would their journeys to the top like if they were doing this today?
They paved the way—they were the pioneers. They made it possible for everybody that is competing today. I don’t think you can put one in another place—it would be like going from here to Mars.
But as women CEOs in a new industry, the odds were against them.
What was great about these women is that they didn’t really pay attention to statistics. That is kind of true in life—when you look at the numbers you are sunk. You’re always defying statistics anyway, because statistics will tell you to cash it in, you know?
With less than a month left before the first preview, what do the next few weeks look like for you?
We are going to go into the theatre next week and start tech. So that is when we are in the theatre for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Hopefully we can really familiarize ourselves with everything. We have a lot of time for that!
Do you have a tech week routine?
I always feel like I just hunker down. When I get to rest, I get to rest and when I don’t, I don’t.
What was the first theatrical production you saw?
The Hither and Thither of Danny Dither in grade school.
If you weren’t a performer, what other occupation would you have?
Probably a minister.
What beauty products are always in your makeup bag?
Lip liner, gloss, a cream blush, eye pencil—that is kind of it.
What is your pre-show makeup routine?
I just put my own make up on.
Do you have a special skin care regimen when doing the run of a show?
I try to have moisturized skin, drink plenty of water, and not go crazy.