Show business is an industry rife with burnout. But those who do manage to survive usually do it with such aplomb they appear ageless. Her 68th birthday is less than a month away, but the indefatigable Andrea Martin remains a firecracker, with a recently released book, an upcoming movie project and even a new stylist to help her dress like the dynamic star she is.
A winner of both Tony and Emmy awards, the Maine native moved to Toronto in the early seventies, proving her comedic skills first with the improvisational Second City troupe and then turning heads on SCTV, the hit series that also starred, among others, then-unknowns John Candy and Eugene Levy. While Martin has always retained her U.S. citizenship, she made Canada her home, raising two sons here. Much beloved for her memorable roles in movies such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Hedwig and the Angry Inch and hit Broadway shows such as Candide, Pippin and Fiddler on the Roof, Martin wasn't always as self-possessed as she has appeared. Her autobiography Lady Parts, which was released earlier this year, reveals that she has battled her share of demons, including suffering from bulimia and taking up with a 28-year-old lover when she was 57. But Martin's trials have made her more resilient and, these days, she's feeling – and looking – exceptionally good. We sat on my living-room couch recently to talk about survival, dressing up and the comfort of Canada.
What does it take to survive not only in business but in life?
A certain amount of luck, perseverance, curiosity and a real passion for what you do. But I think that luck has a lot to do with it.
So you must feel particularly lucky because, as you say, you're still standing.
I continue to have opportunities that pop up and I love seizing the opportunities. Do I think that I've had a lot of momentum in my life? Probably not. I tend to retreat after I've had some success. In the last few years, I'm really just on the "yes" train. I'm just saying "yes."
Why did you tend to retreat?
I don't think it was conscious. I think it was partly fear of being successful and a great need to rejuvenate. I haven't learned over the years to really balance the kind of energy I put out with my normal life. I tend to work on my project really hard and then retreat for a few months and just be by myself. I'd like not to do that. I'd like to change that.
It's interesting that this realization comes at a time in your life when you're getting older.
You know, I think I have an enormous amount of energy. That's genetic, don't you think? My mom had a lot of energy, too. I think another thing is that I've been fit all my life and when you start at an early age and you love working out and love being fit, I think it has a longevity to it. I think it has a lasting effect.
You've managed to live with one foot in the U.S. and one foot in Canada. Why do you choose to live in that way?
My professional career started here. When you have that kind of hook, when you get married here, your kids are born here, your career starts here – that's a connection you never lose. One, I love it. And two, I'm really comfortable here. Canada has afforded me so much, all the important things in my life. So when I go to the States, I love that visibility and I love that there are more opportunities there, but I always long to come back here.
I understand you've just hired a stylist for the first time!
The one part of show business I really don't like is getting dressed before an event. I never enjoyed it. I would like to wear jeans and a T-shirt all the time. I feel much more comfortable cross-legged on the couch than worrying about who's looking at my dress. It causes me an enormous amount of stress and it really robs me of the celebration of an opening night or a book launch. I think it has to do with when I was growing up, a little Armenian girl in Portland, Maine. My dad, who was an enormously successful grocer and restaurateur, would have dinner parties all the time. And I was a bit of their entertainment. The pressure of having to get ready for those parties is that pressure I feel still.
Maybe it has to do with living up to people's expectations?
I think it just takes a lot of work. Or maybe it's a skill that I don't think I have – putting on makeup, getting my hair done right. When I look at all the beautiful movie stars out there, I think they must have an entourage around them when they're getting ready. I can't imagine Nicole Kidman doing her own hair and putting her makeup on.
In your book, you talk about your mother being a glamorous fashion plate.
My mother luxuriated in getting ready for a party. She would have her drink in one hand and she'd be parading around the bedroom and trying certain dresses on and loving looking in the mirror. I don't enjoy it. Do you?
Yeah, I love it. When I was little, I used to spend a lot of time watching my sister getting ready for dates and I wanted to be doing that so much. So that's fun for me. And then you get to go out and present yourself.
Yeah, and then having to negotiate heels all night long and having to hold my stomach in.
But you're an actor! Doesn't dressing up help to get you into the character that you want to present to the world?
That, I think, is the crux of it. Because when I've done a play for three hours and then it's the opening-night party, I want to enjoy the evening as myself. And myself is not in character with a red dress on or Louboutin shoes and eyelashes and hair done. That's not who I am! I don't want to have to continue to perform at the party. I want to put my bathrobe on and sit with a group of friends and say, "What did you think about the play?"
Have you gleaned anything from this new stylist of yours? What's the number-one thing she has been telling you?
That I have a very cute figure and should start wearing fitted clothes even though I am highly uncomfortable in anything fitted. I don't want to be thinking, as I'm sitting talking to Conan O'Brien, "Is my dress too tight?" or "Do I have to keep pulling it down?" I'm not comfortable that way.
This interview has been condensed and edited.