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Posted at 10:43 AM ET, 07/25/2007

Catching Up With Ricki Lake

By Liz Kelly

Ricki Lake. (Getty Images)

It's Tuesday morning and Ricki Lake is calling from Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she's wrapping up work on the Lifetime movie "A Very Lucky Girl" and looking forward to a weekend visit from her kids.

While Lake had her make-up touched up between shots, we talked about her acting debut in the 1988 John Waters-directed "Hairspray" (she originated the role of dance-crazed Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad), her cameo in this month's well-reviewed remake and, in light of Lindsay Lohan's latest arrest, how she managed to navigate celebrity as a young actress.

With a few movies in the offing, a documentary project and a possible ABC pilot, things are picking back up for the woman who credits "Hairspray" for giving her a 20-year (and counting) career.

Read the full interview after the jump...

You made a cameo appearance in the new "Hairspray," but have you seen the movie yet?

I saw it over the weekend. I hadn't seen it before that. I really enjoyed it. What's not to like? It was really well-executed, well-directed. It's hard for me to be completely objective because I'm so attached to that character -- it was such a star-making role for me. But I love Nikki [Blonsky] -- I thought she was adorable. It's really a proud experience. I look at my experience so fondly. It's my favorite movie I ever worked on and to see it live on now in these different transformations -- I think it's amazing. Props to Adam [Shankman] and the whole team. And I'm honored that they asked me to be in it, even though it's kind of a thankless role.

And you do a song?

Which was really cool for me because I'm a singer and nobody knows that. I was a singer before being an actor. It was an honor to work with [composer/songwriter] Marc Shaiman and the other women. Marisa [Jaret Winokur, who played the role of Tracy Turnblad on Broadway], who is a dear friend of mine, and Nikki who's this great talent.

I read in an interview that you and Nikki are actually close friends and you had advice for her as she prepped for the role.

She's adorable. I don't know if I had advice for her. I definitely can put myself in her shoes. I was the exact same age as she is when I made the film. It's surreal. John Waters had warned me when I went to Toronto to do my little cameo. It's so trippy because this girl is so much like I was back then -- fresh out of high school, plucked out of the middle of nowhere and made into a star. The difference is that I didn't know what I was getting into, that it would make me famous and give me a career for 20 years. I think with Nikki, of course there are expectations because the first movie was so successful and the show was a hit and she was the find out of 2,000 girls.

How did you handle fame at such an early age? Lindsay Lohan, who is just 21 was arrested again this morning on another DUI charge.

No she wasn't. Again? After she just spent two months in rehab? I don't know what to say. For me, I had a really great foundation of a stable home life and also didn't have great success until I was 18 years old. That's a reason I wouldn't put my children out there. One of them, my older son, is a guitar prodigy and I have this stage mother thing I have to fight all the time not to put him out there and remember he needs to be a kid. I'm not the expert.

But also having John Waters as my mentor and my first experience working as an actor [helped]. He said to me, "Be humble. Don't forget where you come from. Always appreciate everything." And he said, "Don't read the press. Once you start, you have to read the good and the bad." And that's stuck with me. He really made an effort. He took me aside right before the movie came out and we had a serious talk about what was about to happen. I was so young and naive. I had no foresight. There was no looking ahead, there was just living in the moment.

It was the best experience of my life and I think Nikki can probably say the same. And may she be as lucky as I have been in this business.

So you're in Canada right now?

Actually, I'm in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I'm filming a movie -- a really cool film -- for Lifetime. They do a movie on breast cancer every year and it comes out in October and this is also a movie where my character has breast cancer. It's really kind of an uplifting film (pun intended) because she survives. She's a very likeable character and it's a great story.

Then my documentary is going to be released.

When can we expect to see that? Will it be in theaters?

Well, yes, it'll be coming out theatrically very soon. It's called "The Business of Being Born" and it's about the birth system mostly in the U.S. -- it takes a critical look at the C-section rate and malpractice. [It's] along the lines of "Sicko," though I haven't seen "Sicko," this is about birth in particular -- infant mortality rates and basically how badly our country is doing it these days.

And you've also got a pilot in the works with ABC?

I do. When it rains it pours. I also have a feature film coming out in October. I have been laying low since my show went off the air in 2004. I kind of made a choice -- I was going through a divorce -- and took a step back. Once I got through that I did a lot of projects. I started my documentary three years ago and that was a grassroots little project we've been doing a long time. And now it seems it's all happening at the same time. "Hairspray" just came out. This is the 20th anniversary of us making the original film, which is just almost like -- I can't believe it that 20 years have gone by. I was 18 years old. I'm so blessed looking at all I've done in the 20 years. But especially right now with my documentary -- all my money is invested in it, it's my baby. Then I have a feature movie called "Park" with Sheri Oteri and Billy Baldwin coming out in October, then this lifetime film. So it's a lot.

And the pilot I did for ABC is called "The Middle." It wasn't picked up at first, but they just picked up the option so now we're waiting to hear to find out when it might air.

You chose to end "The Ricki Lake Show" a few years back to have more time with your family.

My contract was up and I chose not to renew it so I could move my family to L.A. After Sept. 11 (2001) we were way too traumatized and close to that and saw that. I love New York and will always consider myself a New Yorker at heart, but as far as raising a family, I felt L.A. was a better place -- the ability to work as an actor but also raise my children and feel safer. It was just a better choice for my family.

And you feel like you're at a point now where you feel like you can really balance being a mom and having a career? Because it sounds like you're super-busy.

You know, this is the first job I have had where I've actually been without my children this long and they arrive tomorrow. I've said it in print that I will not take any job that compromises my children's consistency -- whether it's school or basketball games. I don't want anything to get in the way of that. I also don't want to pull them out of that or leave them. It's been two-and-a-half weeks since I've seen them. They're arriving tomorrow and they're going to be here through the weekend. This is my last weekend; I go back next week. And my older son was away at sleep-away camp for two of those weeks so I was able to kind of justify doing this. But for the most part I don't make a lot of movies because I'm not comfortable leaving them.

If the pilot works out that'd be ideal.

Yes, it's in L.A. I'm a little nervous of the hours because to do a single-camera half-hour show is a lot of work, but you know what, I am not at all pooh-poohing any of it. I am so lucky. To be a talk show host for 11 years, an actor for 20 years, to be a part of the John Waters crew and be one of his muses and to now be taken seriously as a documentary filmmaker, it's been amazing.

Be careful what you wish for. It's kind of like the Tracy Turnblad Cinderella story where she gets everything she wants. I guess life imitated art. My life started to feel after I did "Hairspray" like Tracy Turnblad and I think for Nikki, too, it must feel like a surreal movie moment.

I have to ask -- do you ever get the itch to visit Baltimore?

Oh my god, yes. I was there -- and will be coming to the area soon for the documentary opening. It feels like a second home. People think I'm from Baltimore, but he [John Waters] found me in New York. But I feel like I'm from Baltimore -- all those haunts.

I love Baltimoreans. I love the accent. It feels like coming home and I will be coming back soon. I'm sorry I missed the premiere. John said it was outrageous. He said it was crazy -- like the first time, but with better cocktails. He just loves his hometown so much and always shoots his movies there. I spoke to him the other day and said "John, when are you making your next movie and putting me to work?" because I can't wait to go back to Baltimore.

By Liz Kelly  | July 25, 2007; 10:43 AM ET
Categories:  Catching Up With..., Celebrities  
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This is great, Liz... I always wondered what she did after "Chuck E's In Love" lol.

Posted by: Margo | July 25, 2007 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Wow, with the threat of Earthquakes (and there's no warning there), mudslides, wildfires, etc., I think NYC is safer. Interesting.

Posted by: Former NYer | July 25, 2007 11:36 AM | Report abuse

The whole 'west coast is safer' thing aside, she sounds like a remarkably sane, well grounded, interesting person. Thanks for the snapshot, Liz!

Posted by: methinks | July 25, 2007 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like she could definitely give the recent round of celebutards some advice even though they probably wouldn't take it.

I'd love to see her in another Waters flick.

Posted by: Bored @ work | July 25, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

LA is safer than NY? U, fire, drought, pollution, crime, culture of phoniness. and it is also totally irresponsible to live in a desert!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 25, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

As a NYer, I will be nice and say Ricki seems sane for an actor raising her kids in Hollyweird.

Good Luck to her

Posted by: Brooklyn in da House | July 25, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Ricki, you had me at "pun intended."

Posted by: mmy | July 25, 2007 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought it was kind of odd thinking that LA is a better place to raise your children. There's not a place in this world that is 100% safe sadly.

Posted by: Sharon | July 25, 2007 1:22 PM | Report abuse

"But also having John Waters as my mentor and my first experience working as an actor [helped]."

There's the answer to getting LiLo back on the right track -- let her get a few John Waters flicks under her belt. :)

Posted by: So that's the answer... | July 25, 2007 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Hey, So that's the answer ... ,
It worked for Christina Ricci!

Posted by: other liz | July 25, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

didn't ricki lee jones do "Chuck E's in Love?"

Posted by: b | July 25, 2007 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad she reminded us that she's a "star." I had forgotten.

Posted by: mike | July 25, 2007 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Were the fans really clamoring for a Ricki Lake update?

Posted by: Thanks! | July 25, 2007 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm curious if she bedded any of those loser dads who would show up on her show...

Posted by: Joe N | July 25, 2007 5:41 PM | Report abuse


You should track down L.A. (Leslie Anne) Powers if you can (she played Penny Pingleton in the original "Hairspray"). She's from the DC area---Prince William County, I think?

Posted by: Cee | July 25, 2007 5:43 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: ipanema | July 25, 2007 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Is she still fat?

Posted by: John Paul | July 30, 2007 2:40 PM | Report abuse

I just saw Ricki Lake this morning along Spring Garden, in Halifax, Canada, making her movie. She looks great!

Posted by: Barry | July 31, 2007 11:27 AM | Report abuse

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