Belleville has been the home of many celebrities over the years, but not many as monumentally talented and cutting edge Lea DeLaria. Lea took time out of her crazy schedule jet setting from London to New York City to L.A. to share her story with the readers of Lipstik Magazine.
Q: What was your life like growing up in Belleville Illinois?
A: What can I say but AWESOME! Growing up in an Italian Catholic family, attending St. Marys Catholic School, going through High School at Belleville West, those are all great memories for me. We lived across the tracks from the Stag Brewery and I can remember how the trains bustling through our neighborhood would lull me to sleep at night. My friends, on the other hand, thought that we were in the midst of an earthquake when they would spend the night. I still get the same feeling when I am in a building in New York City when the subway trains are going underneath it - I love that feeling of home.
Q: How did your professional career get started?
A: Technically, I have been singing jazz since I was 16 years old. My father Robert was a jazz pianist, so I grew up in a Jazzy home. My comedian days started when I left Belleville in 1982 for San Francisco to hit the gay and lesbian comedy club circuit and started performing on college campuses. I gave myself the moniker The F***ing Dyke, which actually came about from people seeing me perform and then shouting to me, Arent you that F**king Dyke? on the streets, so I decided to use it. When I was asked to perform my act on the Arsenio Hall show, and I came out as they say on national television, everything changed. This was before Ellen DeGeneres or Sandra Bernhard (who are both very good friends of mine) shared that part of their lives, and the rest is history.
Q: How do you go from comedian to playing roles in television, movies and on Broadway?
A: After I was on Arsenio, things just really snowballed from there. I played a police detective on Matlock in 1994. I have to tell you that, to this day, Andy Griffith is a wonderful friend and a mentor of mine. He was so patient and kind while I was learning the ropes of acting. My first major motion picture came in 1996 when I played the lesbian who hits on Goldie Hawn in First Wives Club. I then took on the role as Hildy in the NYSF Public Theater production of On the Town. Then I got to play Marryin Sam in Little Abner off Broadway, and as a taxi driver in the Indie Film Homo Heights. I also played a lesbian bar owner who is helping a teenager come to grips with his own sexuality in the movie Edge of Seventeen. I was then invited to play in the off-Broadway production of The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told and then toured playing prison matron Mama Morton in CHICAGO. In the midst of all of this, I still kept up my night job in comedy clubs from New York City to L.A. to London.
Q: With all the roles that you have played, have you had any recurring roles on television or Broadway over the years?
A: From 1999 to the end of the series, I got to play the psychic Delphina on the hit soap opera One Life to Live. That role was so fun I cannot tell you how much I miss playing her. I also played the dual roles of Eddie and Dr. Scott in the Rocky Horror Show on Broadway, and they allowed me to not only act, but sing those incredible songs that are so perfect for me and my voice.
Q: Rumor has it that you have also been keeping busy with your singing career. True?
A: True! I have been touring in London with my stage production of Welcome to Jazzland - Boom Booms Bow. It is so exciting being able to entertain thousands and thousands of children with my love of jazz and the stage play that my friend Janette Mason and I wrote and produced. I have also been working on my next jazz album House of David - DeLaria + Bowie = Jazz. My last album Double Standards rose to #6 on the billboard charts, so I cant wait to release this new one.
Q: Besides your jazz career, what else is happening at the moment?
A: I am back for Season 5 of Californication on Showtime. I played the role of Debbie at the end of last season and they invited me back to reprise the role. Being a part of that show and the actors that I get to work with is just tooooooo much fun! I stay in the know of what is happening both here and in Europe, and always keep my options open as to what my next project will be. Having a career that has spanned over 30 years is incredible and I dont plan on ever slowing down!
Q: As we wrap up this interview, I have to ask what is it like coming home to Belleville after all your worldly travels?
A: It is funny you asked this question, because the whole time we have been talking I have been thinking about how small the world actually is. I dont have to come home to feel like Im there. Constantly in my career, I run into people who are from Belleville. I am literally standing in Paris and a gentleman walks up to me, asks where I am from, and of course I say, from St. Louis. Its just easier to explain that way. And he says, Wow, I live close to St. Louis, I am from Belleville, Illinois. Im thinking, seriously! So we start talking about growing up in Belleville. My best friend, Diane Reed and I joke all the time about the fact that no matter where we are, it seems that all roads lead back to Belleville, Illinois. You have no idea how excited I was a year or so ago, when I was back walking down East Main street, and I looked into the window of the T-shirt shop, you know the one (Beatniks), and in the window hangs a shirt saying just that, All Roads Lead to Belleville, Illinois. So of course I had to buy one!