Carrie Fisher, trailed by her French bulldog Gary Fisher, looked terrific on the red carpet for the New York Film Festival screening of Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds Monday evening at Alice Tully Hall.
All the journalists asked questions about her Tweets on Donald Trump, who Fisher’s been slamming regularly. When she received a tweet asking her if she thought Trump’s sniffles during his debates with Hillary Clinton were from snorting cocaine, Fisher replied, “I’m an expert & ABSOLUTELY.”
Fisher’s life has been an open book. She’s spoken and written about her own past struggles with drugs in an effort to self medicate her bipolar disorder. The movie “Postcards From the Edge” (1990) starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine about a substance-addicted actress is loosely auto-biographical.
“I didn’t know it burned up anything,” Fisher told me when I commented on how the Twitterverse lit up with her remark about Trump. So did she think Trump sniffed cocaine before his debate with Hillary?
“No, I don’t think he’s on coke. I think he’s nervous,” Fisher told me.
Before she was hustled inside the theater, I asked if there was anything new she learned about her mother while making the documentary. “My mother is a dear woman. You know what surprised me? She didn’t want to be interviewed as being larger than life as she usually does, because she didn’t understand the nature of it (the documentary).”
“Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds” had its world premiere in Cannes where it received raves. The documentary is about a lot of things. It’s a showbiz movie, a portrait of aging and how it hits movie stars particularly hard, and primarily it’s the close-up look of a mother-daughter relationship that has its “Grey Garden” moments – they sing show tunes at every opportunity – but primarily it focuses on their relationship and unconditional love. The film is heartbreaking and funny. Everything is filtered through the keen eye and dry wit of Fisher, so it leaves you on a high.
(By the way, this entire family is zany. Todd Fisher, Carrie’s brother, and his wife keep a chicken as a pet. “It’s an emotional support chicken,” says his wife in the film. “So get poultry as pets,” Carrie Fisher cracked during the Q&A to a question about the hen.)
I got a chance to ask Carrie’s brother on the red carpet how his mother was doing. In the movie, there is a suspenseful and sad scene where Debbie Reynolds is frail but insists on going to the SAG Awards where she received a lifetime tribute. You worry if she will get through and, of course, she does.
Todd told me that since then her health has rallied. “She was not doing well a year ago. She was very ill and we weren’t sure what was going to happen.” He told me she had surgery on her spine for a cyst and there were complications. “It was a successful surgery, but surgery at age 84 is no joke. But she’s totally turned around and she’s going to be calling in tonight. She’s in very good shape! She’s unsinkable!”
During the Q&A, Todd Fisher dialed his mom and put her on speakerphone, where she sang in a clear voice that could be heard all the way to the back of the theater: “I’ve got you under my skin … I’ve got you deep in the heart of me, so deep in my heart you’re really a part of me, so I’ve got you … under my skin.” Debbie Reynolds ended with, “I’m sorry I can’t be there. I miss you. I love you all,” she told the cheering audience.
The documentary has plenty of archival footage of the children growing up, most of them taken by Reynolds herself to prove to her kids, later on, Carrie said, that they had a happy childhood.
There are also clips from movies, including Reynolds dancing and singing in the great old MGM movies like “Singin’ in the Rain.” These are followed by recent footage of the actress today, still immaculately groomed and made up, but of course, much older and frail but still performing. Even while she’s in pain, she can’t stop booking herself into Las Vegas gigs, wearing 50 lb. beaded gowns and telling showbiz jokes to mainly AARP-age audiences who love her. Performing is oxygen to her.
“It doesn’t make sense to her that her body isn’t cooperating,” says Carrie Fisher in the film after one of her mother’s performances. “And she just thinks if she ignores it, it’ll go away. Everything demands that my mother remain as she always was, even if that was irritating. She just can’t change. That’s the rule. And she’s fucking with me … It’s horrible for all of us, but she falls from a very great height.”
As for her own aging, Carrie Fisher says even before the revived “Star Wars” franchise, she would see her co-stars like Harrison Ford around L.A. and she said they look much the same. “We just look more melted.”
There’s a hilarious scene in the film where a personal trainer is monitoring Carrie Fisher’s workout in preparation for her reprising her most famous role as Leia in the next “Star Wars” film. “They take reports on my weight, they take measurements,” she said of George Lucas and the studio. As soon as the trainer empties out bottles of soda and junk food from the fridge, Carrie goes out and buys more.
While on the treadmill – coerced by the physical trainer – she muses, “If you die when you’re fat, are you a fat ghost? Or do you go back to a flattering time?”
Audiences may be surprised to hear what a beautiful voice Carrie Fisher has, although it shouldn’t be a shock since her father, Eddie Fisher, now deceased, was a great singer — although he is now known mainly as the guy who dumped Debbie Reynolds to run off with Elizabeth Taylor, and was then dumped for Richard Burton. Fisher made amends with her father before his death, and there’s a touching scene in the film of her tending to him months before his death.
After director Fisher Stevens talked about the difficulty of wading through thousands of hours of great archival footage to determine what would make the cut, Carrie cracked, “There will be a sequel. The Empire Strikes Back. Again.”
“Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” directed by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens, will air on HBO early next year.