On Sunday, Oct. 7, Gina Gershon premiered her new act—a one-woman musical about her search for her cat, and so much more. Two days before the big night, the 45-year-old actress joined me for a bowl of chicken soup at Bubby’s.
She arrived at the Tribeca eatery from a rehearsal in classic rocker style—lugging an enormous guitar case, wearing blue jeans, boots and a white V-neck. Her hair was girlishly barretted off to one side. Her arms were muscular and lithe. The venue of her show, “In Search of Cleo,” is The Box. (Where else can a sex icon actress-turned-musician perform these days?!) It was on her mind.
“It’s not that I’m a perfectionist,” she said, pursing those Hollywood lips. “It’s just hard when things are technically challenging; you can’t keep creating on top of it, you have to keep fixing the problems, instead of moving forward and kind of taking it to a new level. It’s just like troubleshooting. Right now we’re in troubleshooting mode.”
Setting up the sound system was becoming a real drag, she said.
Ms. Gershon toured with a band while promoting her 2003 film Prey for Rock & Roll, but she says this is her first real show. This time it’s all her music.
“I’ve always been interested in music,” said Ms. Gershon, who grew up in the Los Angeles valley. “I’ve always had music around me, most of my family’s in the music business or they’re musicians. I was always being dragged to concerts or going to my uncle’s rehearsals; he had a big orchestra.”
In addition to the uncle, Jack Elliot, other musical family members include her brother-in-law, who plays with Emmylou Harris. One cousin is a musician, another cousin’s a manager and her sister does A&R for country music.
Ms. Gershon’s first gigs involved song and dance: “I was like the dancing legs in Beatlemania, that was my first paying job. It was a long time ago, we were younger, we were the dancing legs, because I was a dancer in high school, so I danced in that. And I just always did musicals, and for a while I just put it aside to play guitar and play jew’s-harp.”
For those unfamiliar, the jew’s-harp is basically a weird little device with wires sticking out; you place it in your mouth and then flick the wires to produce various “boing” sounds. Ms. Gershon is one of a small number of people who can play it. As such, she’s jammed with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Paul Simon, Rufus Wainwright, the Scissor Sisters. “I’m the hired gun,” she told me. “So I’m trying to put it in the foreground. Give it the respect it deserves.”
It is indeed not unpleasant to imagine Ms. Gershon making boing sounds with her mouth.
Despite being titled In Search of Cleo, both the show and the album have little to do with her cat, Cleo, which she lost and then spent the next two months searching for.
“It’s really about loss and about bad relationships and about trying to find the right thing,” she said.
MS. GERSHON WAS GOING THROUGH a lot a year and a half ago when she was driven to write this music. Among other things, Uncle Jack had passed away and she’d broken up with a boyfriend of seven years. Then her beloved black cat went missing.
The actress acknowledged that her particular career track allowed for such a detour.
“I’m not a really good planner,” she said. “I’ve been told I should plan more.”
And Ms. Gershon freely acknowledged she’s been frustrated in her acting career.
Despite recent TV roles as the libidinous Orthodox dry cleaner on Curb Your Enthusiasm (“The most fun acting job I’ve done in my entire life.”) and Rescue Me (her friend Dennis Leary wrote her into the script), the kind of parts she would like don’t come around often.
“I like very complicated complex characters,” she said. “A lot of the movies that I tend to love, people don’t want to make those kinds of movies these days.”
She allows that the roles that made her infamous in the mid-1990’s—the butch lesbian in the Wachowski brothers’ Bound, a stripper in Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls—might have something to do with where she is now.
“When I did Bound, all of my representatives said that I shouldn’t do this, because I would ruin my career,” she said between delicate sips of soup. “I was playing a lesbian, and it wasn’t quite acceptable yet to do that. And it did alter the course of my career in some way, but I thought the movie was amazing, and it kind of took me down an interesting path. Did it take me down a commercial path? I mean my tastes have never really been that commercial.”