Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Frau Farbissna / Actress Mindy Sterling on The Groundlings and the first Austin Powers movie

Mindy Sterling Austin Powers Interview 
Actress Mindy Sterling talks with Justin Bozung for TV Store Online about the influential Los Angeles-based comedy troupe The Groundlings as well as her role of 'Frau Farbissina' in AUSTIN POWERS (1998)...

Actress Mindy Sterling
TV STORE ONLINE:   You've been super busy!

STERLING:  I know!  I've been super busy and I'm doing a project right now that I'm really excited about...

TV STORE ONLINE:  Being that we're talking today, of all days, on Father's Day--let's talk about this comedy that is coursing through your blood...   

STERLING: Yes, my dad was a performer.   He [Dick Sterling] was an actor, singer, and comedian. I definitely think that I got my goofy side from him, even though my mother was pretty goofy too.    They got divorced pretty early in my life but I don't think you can run away from something like that...

TV STORE ONLINE:  And Dick worked with Jackie Gleason...Did you ever met Gleason?

STERLING:  You know I don't know if I ever met Gleason, but I do remember going to see my Dad at the Jackie Gleason Theater. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  You got your start working in the influential Los Angeles-based comedy troupe The Groundlings.   Were you in The Groundlings at the same time as people like: Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Paul Reubens and Cassandra Peterson?

Frau Farbissina Austin Powers 2
STERLING:  My class had Jon Lovitz.  I don't know if Cassandra was there already when I first starting taking classes.    The people that were performing in the Groundlings that I really looked up to were Phil Hartman and Edie McClurg.   Paul Reubens had already left by the time I arrived.   I remember seeing Phil Hartman for the first time and saying: "Does this guy know he's a genius?"    I had some pretty cool people to watch and look up to there.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  And you're still working with The Groundlings in some capacity all these years later, aren't you?

STERLING: I am!  I'm not teaching there right now, but every now and I again, like on a Thursday Night, I'll go on and work out with the group.

Frau Farbissina Austin Powers 3
TV STORE ONLINE:   Given all the quirky characters that you've played in your career, do you think there's anything that you worked on there in your time with The Groundlings that has transcended over into characters that you've played in front of the camera?

STERLING:  Absolutely.   That was the place to create characters.  It was a place, a forum where you could do that.   You had an audience.   Once you're in The Groundlings, you get to put things up in front of an audience to see if it works before you'd put it in a show. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  What's your process for creating these sort of quirky characters...I mean, they're not oddballs really, but some of the characters that you have played seem like their slightly "off"--if that makes sense...

STERLING:  Well, aren't we all a little off?   We all have odd aspects to our personality.  I love observing people and seeing how they work.  I like studying mannerisms and how people dress.  I like to see how people walk and talk and I take little things here and there.   I find all that fascinating.  I also watch a lot of television (laughing), so I probably pick up all sorts of little things from people that I see on television as well...

Mindy Sterling Dick Sterling
TV STORE ONLINE:  'Frau' comes from the mind of Mike Myers, but what do you think you brought to her that wasn't already on the page of Mike's script for AUSTIN POWERS?

STERLING:  You now, I'm not sure.  I can't say, "Well, I brought this and that to her..."  I remember calling my Dad up on the phone when I was cast in AUSTIN POWERS. I said, "Dad, I've got to do this German dialect..."   My dad was amazing with dialects, so he gave me some advice.   All of my dialects, basically, sound the same...(laughing)  I have to listen to someone, to maybe be able to hone it in.  My Russian and German are the same! (laughing)  I don't know if Frau even had a German accent, but more of a random Eastern European dialect...(laughing) 

TV STORE ONLINE: I think everyone remembers Frau's yell from the AUSTIN POWER films...

STERLING:  Yes, it was goofy.  I yelled, but on the page of the script it just said something like "she calls out for..."   I didn't realize that I had such a irritating and screechy loud mouth.  That was just how I really yelled...(laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:   I love the close-ups of you in the first AUSTIN POWERS....Frau is great because she's, maybe like you--always observing the people around her?  She always seems to be on the verge of saying something but doesn't...

Mike Myers Austin Powers Interview
STERLING:  Right, yeah... (laughing)  She had a lot to say but didn't.  She was a control freak but she bowed down to her master.   That's why she held things in.  It would be so interesting to see the two of them in the future to see what happens to them ten or twenty years later.   There was talk about that at a point.  But I don't know if that's going to happen now...

TV STORE ONLINE:   You seemed surprised that I wanted to discuss the first AUSTIN POWERS film with you when we first started exchanging emails to set this interview up....

STERLING:  Well, I just thought that it was strange inquiry because it's been twenty-years since the film came out..  I still love the AUSTIN POWERS films...I don't know if there is anything else that is as close to my heart as those films... I just started thinking about how there couldn't be anything that you'd ask me about AUSTIN POWERS that I haven't been asked before... But you have asked me some new questions...

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did the film come across to you initially?  I mean, it's a weird movie when you start to think about it...Did you read the script completely before you got the role of Frau, or did they just give you "sides" to audition with?

STERLING:  No, I read the entire script.   I thought it was funny.  I laughed out loud as I was reading it.   That tells you something.    When we did AUSTIN POWERS we didn't have  a clue as to how the film would be perceived, and the film didn't do very well in the theater, but it did great on home video.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you think anyone like Mike or [Director] Jay Roach was concerned about the initial concept?  I mean, the film comes across as being wonderfully accessible to a mainstream audience, but it also really works as a sort of snobby cinefile spoof because of its numerous references to the British Spy genre, right?  We have references to many James Bond films in AUSTIN POWERS but also to films like GET CARTER (1971) and BLOW UP (1969) for example...

STERLING: Right, but you know that was something that I would have never thought about while we were shooting the film.  My only focus was on being Frau.  I was just grateful and blessed to be working with the people that I was working with on the film.  And to be honest...Sometimes things just go over my head....(laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:   What was your experience like on the second AUSTIN POWERS film?

STERLING:  It was great.  I remember when I got the call about the second film, I was in Hawaii at the time vacationing with my family.  I was really excited about that film because there was more for me to do.   I was more confident and secure with the shooting of the second film as well.    It was a nice experience for me, because I had never been offered something like that film before in my career, and when the third one happened--well, who would have thought that a third would be made?--I became part of the gang and that was exciting to me.

Frau's Yell in Austin Powers
TV STORE ONLINE:   The most elusive aspect of the first AUSTIN POWERS film is...What happened to Frau in the thirty-years after 'Dr. Evil' was frozen in the '60s until he was thawed out?   She doesn't age one bit....(laughing)

STERLING:  (laughing)...Yeah, yeah.   When I first read that in the script I laughed out loud.  It's a very funny idea.

TV STORE ONLINE: It is.  I don't think that people have rightly recognized some of those surreal elements of the first film yet...   Characters die off in the first film and come back in the sequel, or even, appear in one film as one particular character and then re-appear in one of the sequels but as a different character in the story....Rob Lowe plays the Hooters patron in AUSTIN POWERS and he plays Number Two in the second film...

STERLING:   I know!  You're completely right.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What are you working on now?

STERLING:  I'm doing a hilarious web series for Vimeo right know with Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion.    They raised this money for this series called Con Men.    It's about their lives and their journey through the comic con world.   I play Alan's horrible talent agent.   She's completely inappropriate and she wears wigs and she thinks that she's more than what she is.  

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung