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The Globe and Mail

‘I’m a real producer, not a vanity producer’

Actress and producer Whoopi Goldberg speaks to members of the audience during a press day for the play "Sister Act" at the New 42nd St. Studios in New York March 2, 2011.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Whoopi Goldberg is one of only 11 entertainers who can proudly say they've picked up an EGOT – that's the acronym popularized by TV's 30 Rock that means the comedian has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony.

The View co-host's 2002 Tony Award comes from her work as a Broadway producer, rather than as a performer. Her latest work in that field is Sister Act, a musical version of the hit 1992 movie that starred none other than Goldberg as a lounge singer who must go undercover in a convent. It officially kicks off its post-Broadway tour in Toronto this week.

The Globe spoke to Goldberg over the phone on Tuesday.

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I appreciate you making time to speak to me today. You've spoken to a much more important person today, the President of the United States.

This will be the first time I'm talking to you. I've talked to him several times.

How did it go this time?

It was great. It's always great talking to him. I like him.

He chose to talk to you over Benjamin Netanyahu. Is that flattering?

VOICE OF NEW YORK PUBLICIST: I'm going to ask that you stay on topic with Sister Act please.

Okay, well that's just an introductory question.… Ah, so I guess we'll go on.

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So, you're a producer on Sister Act. What does that mean in this case?

If you think of me as the dramaturge, that makes it easier.

Oh, did you have creative input into the show?

Yeah. Picking the new writers, working on changing our dialogue, talking about theatres, all kinds of stuff. I'm a real producer, not a vanity producer.

Does that mean that you've got money in the show as well?

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It might.

How much money do you have invested in it?

I'm not going to tell you that.

What made you interested in getting involved in theatre on the producing side?

Well, if you want to see shows, you have to actually get them going. I wanted to see Thoroughly Modern Millie [the 2002 musical that won six Tony Awards], so I spent a great deal of time trying to connect with other people who wanted to see the same thing. I got contacted by [co-producer Stage Entertainment's] Joop van den Ende to ask if I wanted to be involved in the staging or the putting together of Sister Act and I said sure, because I actually know the main character and can speak to her.

What was it like the first time you saw another actress play the character you originated in the film.

Well, this is not the first time that's happened. I've gone through it with [the musical of] The Color Purple, I've gone through it with Ghost. It's just what happens.

What's different between the film interpretation of your character and this stage interpretation?

Deloris is younger and the period is different. It's happening in the seventies and not in the nineties. This Deloris can actually sing.

When you made the original comedy 20 years ago, did you expect it to have the long life that it has had?

I was just happy to get a job. You don't go into things thinking they're going to last forever. You don't think of it as something that you'll be seeing a stage version of. But if there was ever anything that should have been a stage version, this was it.

There's snobbery from some quarters about adapting movies for the stage – that it's lazy way of creating new musicals and out of control as a trend. How would you respond to that?

I wouldn't respond to that. It is what it is. They bitch about putting famous people in roles. They bitch about people going here to get the material. Look, that's what it is right now. In two years, it'll be something else. Why put it down? Why not be happy that actors are working?

You've popped into the show yourself in London as Mother Superior. Any chance of you making a surprise appearance on the tour?

Never again.

Why not?

My mom passed away while I was doing it in England. I love my show, but it's not for me to be in. I'm going to keep producing it.

Are you planning to act on stage again anytime in the future?

Probably in the middle of the next year with a one-woman show about Moms Mabley, an American comedienne.

Does it have a slot on Broadway?

We'll see. We start off and see what happens.

Are people courting you as an investor for other things? Are you going to sweep in and save the troubled Broadway production Rebecca?

People have quoted me about a lot of stuff in terms of the theatre, but it really has to resonate somehow with me. It has to knock me out or make me really want to get involved. I haven't seen Rebecca yet, so I don't know if it really needs saving or if it's just not the show people are ready for now.

The interview has been condensed and edited.

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