“Volunteer when I ask for someone to come up onstage, and you too can wear a Princess Leia wig,” Carrie Fisher tells me on the phone from her Los Angeles home. The actor and writer, still best known for wearing those side buns (and later a metallic gold bikini) in the original Star Wars films, has called to talk about her solo show, Wishful Drinking, which she brings to Chicago this week.
Fisher’s stage show, like her memoir of the same name, embraces the ups and downs of her nearly lifelong fame. The daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actor Debbie Reynolds, Fisher went on the road with her mother after her parents’ divorce. (Eddie Fisher left Reynolds for her friend Elizabeth Taylor in what was a major tabloid scandal of the 1950s.) At age 19, Fisher made her screen debut in the 1975 Warren Beatty film Shampoo; two years later, Star Wars made her an icon.
Concurrent with her Star Wars high, Fisher struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. At 24, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She touches on all of this and more in Wishful Drinking.
“I talk about everything a little bit,” Fisher, 54, says in her distinctively husky voice. “I guess I talk about my relationships a little bit. I talk about my father, my mother, my stepfather, my stepmothers. I talk about the mental illness stuff.”
After Star Wars (not to mention her notable cameo in The Blues Brothers, shot while she was dating Dan Aykroyd), Fisher continued acting, with memorable roles in such films as Hannah and Her Sisters and When Harry Met Sally… alongside many less memorable. She was married briefly in the ’80s to Paul Simon. A decade later, her daughter’s father left her for a man.
She also began writing. Her semiautobiographical debut novel, Postcards from the Edge, became a best-seller in 1987; its protagonist, Suzanne Vale, is an actor struggling to restart her career after leaving rehab. Suzanne’s mother, Doris, is a brassy former musical-comedy star who obliviously overshadows her daughter at every turn. Fisher later wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, which starred Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine as the thinly veiled versions of Fisher and her mother. Suzanne returned in 2004’s The Best Awful, having been left by her daughter’s father for a man.
Why come out from behind the see-through curtain now? “I found myself able to connect with an audience, so that I really feel like we’re spending the evening together,” Fisher says of Wishful Drinking, which she took to Broadway in 2009 after developmental runs around the country. “And you know, a lot of it, there’s a good deal of it that is improvised, and that I kind of do on the fly. It keeps it very present; you have to stay very alert to work that way.”
Playing herself also allows Fisher to embrace her most famous role, and all the lunch boxes and Pez dispensers that came with it. “I like these things. I like finding them. I got my daughter some cupcake tags when we were buying her stuff for her new apartment—she’s going to NYU, and so we went shopping at Williams-Sonoma, and they were selling cupcake decorations with Princess Leia,” she says. “So that was an essential for any kitchen for a college girl.”
Wishful Drinking plays the Bank of America Theatre Tuesday 4–October 16.