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Andrea Martin: ‘You never say no; you just keep going’

Andrea Martin in her Toronto home on September 11, 2010.

JENNIFER ROBERTS/The Globe and Mail

For Canadians, Andrea Martin is so indelibly identified with the many vivid characters she played on SCTV it's sometimes easy to forget she's had a varied and rewarding career post-Edith Prickley and Edna Boil.

Movies and television have all beckoned but it's as a stage performer, perhaps, that Martin, now 65, has enjoyed the greatest success, earning a Tony in 1992 for her Broadway debut in My Favorite Year and nominations in 1997 and 2002 for roles in, respectively, Candide and Oklahoma.

She was scheduled recently to do a one-woman cabaret show, Andrea Martin: Final Days! Everything Must Go!!, for four nights at New York's swanky new Below 54 club but a throat infection forced her to move the dates to August. Fully recovered now, she's set for an in-person appearance Wednesday evening at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, the latest guest of honour in the Lightbox's popular "Conversation with …" series.

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We reached her by phone last week at her apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Were you a ham as a kid? Or was this extroverted on-stage thing something you had to develop?

I was a very spirited, creative, imaginative kid with a unique vision, I would say. I wasn't crazily extroverted but I was constantly conjuring up ideas, fantasies, things I could act out. But I wasn't a stand-up buffoon or clown or anything like that. Which I am now, of course.

Were your parents [Martin was born in Portland, Me., to a restaurateur-grocer father and a stay-at-home mother] worried by or encouraging of this?

They weren't worried and they weren't encouraging. I think they were a little removed from it because as parents they were happy to see their kids stay out of trouble and I don't think they ever thought it could blossom into a career. Then they got worried … My dad was very successful; my mom was quite frustrated, quite spirited like me, in fact, but didn't have the outlets I had moving up. I don't know if mothering and parenting came naturally to her. Her creativity was sadly suppressed like many housewives in the '50s before women's lib.

Have you ever thought of writing a book? Or is a book too 20th century?

In fact, I am writing a book right now for HarperCollins Canada and really enjoying it. It's not a memoir but a collection of essays very much like those of – may she rest in peace – Nora Ephron. So it's my observations on life which can either be comedic or poignant or frustrating or angry or whatever they are. I've had things published in Parents Canada magazine and travel magazines … but 99 per cent of what'll be in the book will be new.

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Looking at your CV, it seems like . . .

CV, what's that mean?

Curriculum vitae, it's, um, Latin.

Wow, I'm really impressed with your knowledge of two Latin words!

Thanks, I think. But I just wanted to say that sometimes it seems you've done so much of everything … are there any new worlds to conquer?

Always. I'm a Capricorn. I'm a perfectionist. You never say no; you never say never; you just keep going. I love working and I love re-inventing and challenging myself … Like I just finished doing a Web series for BiteTV, their travel channel – it's airing in September – something I filmed on a Mediterranean cruise called Broadway on the High Seas. Hmmm, what would I like to do that I haven't done?

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Samuel Beckett?

I'd love to do a Samuel Beckett play! I'd love to do more classic plays. One of my career highlights was doing Serafina Delle Rose in Tennessee Willliams's The Rose Tattoo [in 2004]. I'd also like to host a reality television show. I'd like a lead in a highly successful sitcom. And be a soloist with the National Ballet of Canada. Now that may not happen but it is in my bucket list!… I don't feel like I'm ever apathetic. I always have great drive. Even when I have downtime, I'm thinking. Admittedly, I do wish I had more hobbies … Maybe I'll take up Latin!

Well, you have two words already.

I feel so good about that. Curriculum vitae. So great.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

In Conversation with . . . Andrea Martin occurs Wed., July 4, starting at 7 p.m. ET at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. Tickets: 416 599 TIFF. www.TIFF.net.

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James More

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