“When you’re trying to find a character like Sally, it can permeate you. It’s hard to wash it off at the end of the show. Now that she’s under my belt, I can do that a little better, but …” She interrupts herself. “Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you make such startling discoveries about yourself. Those stay with you for a while.”
What she discovers in Sally’s crushing date with reality, eight times a week, is left unsaid. When I ask her to lead me through her feelings as she begins to sing “Losing My Mind,” she will only take me to the threshold. “I’m thinking about the last thing I did, the horrible fight going into the song ‘Loveland,’ which is a very upsetting song for me: Love is candy, all that.” She sneers—not a look you ever expect to see on Bernadette Peters’s face. “Then the curtain rises and I walk forward.”
In the politest possible way, she makes further inquiry impossible; it would seem like grilling a sparrow. Instead we discuss Coming Up Roses, an indie feature premiering at the Woodstock Film Festival in September. In it she plays a former musical actress, the disturbed mother of two girls who find that singing show tunes to lift the spirits doesn’t always work.
“Yes, another light part,” Peters says, sounding mystified, or amused, by her choice. “And do you know what I had to do one day? I had to find a way to hit my 15-year-old daughter.” (The actress playing the role was 19.) “I mean really smack her around. I’ve never hit anyone in my life! After I did it, I felt like I was having a heart attack for a week.”
For a second it seems she may have one again, but instead the moment resolves in a giggle. “Isn’t it a strange profession? When you have to look for something like that within yourself, it’s scary. And what’s also scary,” she adds, touching the moon at her throat, “is that you find it.”