Gina Gershon, Polymath

Photo: Patrick McMullan

“Let’s not talk about the part, ’cause I’ll have a massive anxiety attack,” Gina Gershon is saying, as she wolfs down a salad between rehearsals. She’s kidding, sort of. The role in question is Bye Bye Birdie’s Rosie, the Latina girlfriend of Albert (played by John Stamos). Rosie was created in 1960 by Chita Rivera, as stellar a Broadway lead as any, and her shadow can’t be helping with that anxiety issue. “If one more person says, ‘Oh, my God, how do you do Chita Rivera?’ … The answer is, I can’t. I’d have an easier time being Harvey Fierstein.” Maybe she would: Wikipedia, at least, calls Gershon a gay icon. “It’s just from the roles I’ve played,” she says, chuckling. “Maybe it’s the way I move. Maybe it’s my boobs.” Her role in Showgirls probably didn’t hurt, either.

Gershon works a whole lot in movies and TV (lately with guest roles on Ugly Betty and Curb Your Enthusiasm). But she’s also had a surprising number of other projects going on, and that lineup has often included stage work, even if it’s not so high-profile. “There are certain people who only know my rock-and-roll stuff, and there are other people who think I only do this dark, weird stuff, then there are people who know me from comedy. I did a children’s book with my brother, and kids are like, ‘You’re an actress?’ I think I confuse people a lot. But I’m just doing whatever’s most interesting.”

Still, she wasn’t really a big Broadway gal till she co-starred in Boeing-Boeing last year, and that turned out to be harder than she’d expected. “Boeing-Boeing kicked our asses—we were falling apart at the end—and I thought I would take a break after that. So when [the Birdie producers] came to me, I said, ‘I can’t do it.’ But then the more I thought about not doing it, the more I was bothered,” she explains. Add in a sentimental attachment to Rosie. “I played her in my first musical, in junior high,” she says. “I don’t think I nailed it, so I felt I should give it a second shot.”

Bye Bye Birdie
Henry Miller’s Theater
In previews Sept.10 for an Oct. 15 opening.

Gina Gershon, Polymath