October 18, 2019 Interview – Betty Buckley
Informing us of the past, present, and what is to come, stories define who we are. An undeniable extension of humanity, a good storyteller is able to improvise, be theatrical, and embellish when necessary. These elements and more are what makes Tony-Award winning Broadway, film and TV Actress/Singer Betty Buckley such a captivate performer. From her various Broadway credits including 1973’s Pippin to her feature credits including the more recent 2016 film Split or AMC’s Preacher series, Buckley’s talent shines through in everything she does.
Possessing equal love for acting as she does music, she has released eighteen studio albums over the last three decades and now hits the road in late 2019 for a series of concert events. A schedule that will run into 2020, it all begins on October 17th with shows also on 18th and 19th at the Segerstorm Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA. Eager to get out there and share her music with the world, amidst her busy schedule Betty Buckley sat down to chat about her beginnings, how she approaches music and acting, plans for the future, plus much more.
Betty Buckley – I fell in love with the Musical Theater when I was 11. My mother had been a singer/dancer, she took me to see my first musical at our local Fort Worth Theater, Casa Mañana. I saw the show The Pajama Game there with the original Bob Fosse choreography. The guys who did that show opened a dance school in Fort Worth, and I wanted to learn the number “Steam Heat” from that show.
Since I was three-years-old, I had studied dance with my aunt who was a dance teacher and had been a professional dancer. My mother also had an incredible collection of the classic Broadway Musicals. And I remember when I was around twelve and babysitting, I used all my babysitting money to buy albums by all the great Lady Singers and some of the great Jazz Instrumentalists. I studied them and sang with them on our record player. I just loved it! I loved music, and I somehow just knew I would be on Broadway some day. It felt like a kind of given trajectory. I’ve been performing, with my mother’s encouragement, since I was eleven-years-old and, professionally, since I was fifteen. I had started singing when I was very young in the Methodist Church Youth Choir.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, that is quite a rich history. You did make it to Broadway many years ago, and you have been there many times since then. You have done various productions, but you then got into film and television. What led you into film/television?
Betty Buckley – I was doing a show on Broadway called Pippin, and I auditioned for Brian De Palma for a film he did called Phantom of the Paradise (1974). He didn’t cast me in it, but I did a lot of ADR work creating voices for a lot of minor characters. He then decided he was going to direct the film of Carrie, the Stephen King novel. He gave me a copy of the book and said, “I want you to play the gym teacher in this.” A few months later, he sent me the script wherein he had combined the role of Ms. Desjardin with the role of the principal in the book. The character was renamed Miss Collins. It was a beautiful feature film debut–a most wonderful gift!
From that film, which became a Cult Classic, I, then, did the TV show Eight is Enough for four years. After that I did the Oscar Winning film Tender Mercies (1983), CATS on Broadway and after that many other shows.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. You have done a great mix of television, movies, theater, album recordings and a lot of concerts. Since you have worked in both television/movies and theater, how would you compare the mediums.
Betty Buckley – I don’t really compare them. It’s important to me not to compare; I think each thing is its own. I think in our culture we are programmed to view everything very comparatively, competitively, and there is no such thing. Each thing is its own thing. Being a storyteller in one medium is pretty much the same as being a storyteller in any other medium. The frame is just different. The work you do to create a character and tell a story is precisely the same.
Cryptic Rock – That is a very good point. With music you have released eighteen individual albums over the past three decades. Your most recent works were 2017’s Story Songs and 2018’s Hope. You have quite a few interesting selections you mix into your albums such as Radiohead songs. What inspires your selections to record?
Betty Buckley – I’m just always on the look out for a good story song. That story of which, or the communication in which the character involved in the story is something with whom I connect or with whom I resonate. It doesn’t matter to me where the song comes from, that is whether it is a standard, contemporary singer-songwriter piece or a song that comes from the Musical Theater.
It is just about: what is the story, who is the character and do I have something specific to say in that regard. I look for vivid lyrics and beautiful music that is moving to me.
Cryptic Rock – It makes for an interesting dynamic. The album prior to your previous two was 2014’s Ghostlight where you worked with T Bone Burnett.
Betty Buckley – Yes, he and I grew up together in Fort Worth. It was really fun getting to work with him again. He engineered and produced the first album of my singing back in 1967. It was recorded around 1966, or so, when we were both 18 or 19. He had his own recording studio in Forth Worth from the time he was 17. When Playbill Records and BMG records released that recording as “the first album I never had” (T Bone and I had stayed friends all these years), and he said, “We have to make a new record.” So we did, and that was so much fun! He’s an amazing guy!
Cryptic Rock – That is great you were able to work together again. You have some concerts coming up. How excited are you for these shows?
Betty Buckley – I have been on the road for the past thirteen months doing the National Tour of the new Broadway Production of Hello Dolly! I finished my contract with them a month ago. I took three weeks off and just recently went back to work on some new music and arrangements of a few new things. I recently went to L.A. to work with my wonderful Pianist/Arranger/Music Director Christian Jacob. He is multi Grammy-nominated and is, also, a film composer who has composed the music for a couple of Clint Eastwood’s recent films. He is brilliant.
I was working with him on some new arrangements and upcoming concerts which are on October 17th, 18th and 19th at the Segerstorm Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. I will have my quartet with me, featuring Christian, a drummer named Dave Tull, a wonderful guitar player named Nir Felder and a bass player named Trey Henry. They are all incredible.
Then, I go to L.A. for a big show at The Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on November 2nd. Tom Scott is opening the show and his guest is Billy Valentine. Then, I do the second set, and I will have Christian Jacob, Ray Brinker on drums and Oz Noy, who is an incredible guitar player, along with Trey Henry on bass. I’m really excited about that concert, because I’m a huge Tom Scott fan. I knew him years ago in the ’80s, I’m really excited to see him and hear him play again.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like they are going to be wonderful shows. You will be performing music from Hope, Story Songs, and some new material?
Betty Buckley – Correct. We are narrowing down our selection list and trying some new stuff. I’m excited about what we’re planning to present.
Cryptic Rock – Fantastic. Seeing that you have performed quite a bit in front of live audiences, you feed off the audience many times. How is it different for you when filming where the audience reaction is not as instantaneous?
Betty Buckley – That is a good question. It’s the same work. I guess the vitality of a live audience and that connection is pretty thrilling, and if you make any mistakes, you can’t go back and fix anything in a live performance. In film, you can do as many takes as needed until you feel like it’s right. That’s a big difference; the challenge is different to get it right the first time.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. You also teach, so what are some of the most important things you teach aspiring performing artists?
Betty Buckley – I teach them how to meditate as the means for focusing their minds in a one-pointed way as communicator/storytellers. I teach them to really trust themselves. And I teach them to keep in mind that the final answer for what they want to accomplish in this world should be theirs and theirs alone. No agent, director, family member, friend or teacher can tell what you can and can’t do in this world.
I really believe that if you have a vision, and you make a commitment to honing the talent that you’ve been given, and developing the craft of acting, storytelling, singing and musicianship, you can do whatever you want to do. I teach them what the fundamental tools of communication are and how to connect with an audience. All of these things were taught to me by great teachers. I feel like it’s my responsibility, my obligation, if you will, to pass those tools along.
Cryptic Rock – These are all important life lessons that anyone can take with them.
Betty Buckley – Yes, without a doubt.
Cryptic Rock – With Hello Dolly! complete, and the concerts coming up, are there any film or television projects you have coming up?
Betty Buckley – Not yet. Since I finished Hello Dolly!, several projects have kindly been offered to me, and I turned each one of them down, so far – a film for television, an independent film and a feature film. So far, I haven’t connected with the thing I really feel is something that I want to commit to, at this point. I also needed to take a month off; I moved some concert work I had scheduled in September to March of 2020 because I needed to take some time off.
I look for stories that I think are necessary and relative to the time in which we’re living. A couple of scripts came across my path, I guess because of my work as one of the main villains in Season 3 of AMC’s hit television show Preacher. I’m a huge fan of that show, and the people who created it, and everyone in it. The cast, crew and creative team, are just incredible! I was thrilled to get to do that! I love the style of that show!
Of the couple of things I turned down recently, one was kind of superficial and stereotypical, and the other two were very nihilistic. I don’t think this is a time for me to be a contributor to put those kinds of stories into the world. I want audiences to feel hope. I want people to feel uplifted, and positive about who we are as human beings, and what we are capable of doing in this world. Those movies that just crossed my path weren’t that.
Cryptic Rock – Understandable. Hopefully something compelling will come to you soon, it will be great to see you in a feature again. Last question. What are some of your favorite films?
Betty Buckley – I loved Split that I was in with James McAvoy and directed/written by M. Night Shyamalan. It was one of the top 10 box office international box office of 2017. And I was really excited to be a part of that. M. Night Shyamalan said he wrote the role of the psychologist for me, which was an incredible thing. I was delighted to be a part of that film. It was my second film for Shyamalan, the first one being The Happening.
Some of my other favorite films are The Black Stallion (1979) by Cinematographer/Director Caleb Deschanel and Don’t Look Now (1973) by Nicolas Roeg. I loved Bad Timing, A Sensual Obsession (1980) also by Roeg. It’s a very interesting movie. Of course, I love anything by Scorcese like The Godfather (1972). I like psychological thrillers that are exciting to follow and keep you on the edge of your seat, like Shyamalan’s movies.