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NPR Arts & Life

'Fresh Air' Favorites: Carrie Fisher

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Next up in our interview series of staff picks from the decade is our 2016 interview with Carrie Fisher. I'm sure a lot of "Star Wars" fans are thinking about her now that the final episode of the Skywalker saga is in theaters. Carrie Fisher became known around the world as Princess Leia. She was in the first three "Star Wars" films as well as "The Force Awakens" in 2015 and "The Last Jedi" in 2017. She appears through archival footage in the new film "The Rise Of Skywalker." Fisher was also the author of the memoir "Wishful Drinking" and the novel "Postcards From The Edge," which she adapted into a film starring Meryl Streep.

Fisher was the daughter of celebrities - singer Eddie Fisher and actor and singer Debbie Reynolds, who starred in "Singin' In The Rain." My interview with Carrie Fisher was recorded in November 2016. She died one month later. The day after her death, her mother died. When we spoke, Fisher had just published a memoir called "The Princess Diarist" about making the first "Star Wars" film. The book included excerpts from the diary she wrote while shooting the film when she was having a secret affair with her co-star Harrison Ford.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Carrie Fisher, welcome back to FRESH AIR. So how did you find your "Star Wars" diary? I mean, had you forgotten that you wrote it?

CARRIE FISHER: I forgot that I wrote it, and I was making my bedroom bigger. And so there was all these boxes of writing underneath the floorboards. And I found it among all this other stuff, and I remembered when I saw it.

GROSS: So what most surprised you that you'd forgotten you'd experienced but you'd had written about in your journal?

FISHER: That I was so insecure.

GROSS: Oh, yeah. That surprised me, too. It seems like you really needed other people to tell you who you were 'cause you didn't know.

FISHER: No, I know. At least I knew that. At least I was aware that I didn't know who I was. So that was something, but it was sad to me.

GROSS: As you've pointed out, in "Star Wars," you were the only girl in an all-boy fantasy. When did you start realizing that you were a part of boys' sex fantasies?

FISHER: Not until way later, and I'm very glad of that. Like, about - I don't know - maybe eight years ago, some guy said to me, I thought about you every day from when I was 12 to when I was 22. And I said, every day? And he said, well, four times a day.

GROSS: (Laughter).

FISHER: And, you know, what do you say to that - thank you?

GROSS: What do you say to that?

FISHER: Then I started becoming aware of it in an uncomfortable way.

GROSS: So it was a very boys' kind of set when you were making the film?

FISHER: Yeah. It's mostly - crews are still mostly men. I mean, I like that they have a continuity girl. So they don't call her continuity woman. It's a continuity girl. And there are women in makeup and hair and wardrobe, but not in camera, not in sound, you know, and not in special effects. It's all men.

GROSS: Did that add to your feeling of insecurity?

FISHER: I think I sort of felt isolated. You know, I didn't really have anyone. I didn't confide in men. Well, I didn't confide in anyone then.

GROSS: As opposed to oversharing like you do now (laughter)?

FISHER: Yes, that's right. I've made up for it.

GROSS: So what's really made news from your book is your affair with Harrison Ford when you were making "Star Wars." He was in his mid-30s and married. You were 19. Did you tell him you were going to write about it before you actually published the book?

FISHER: Oh, yeah. I don't think...

GROSS: I'm relieved to hear that (laughter).

FISHER: You're relieved to hear it?

GROSS: I'm relieved, yeah.

FISHER: Oh, no. I wouldn't have ambushed him like that. But it's still - no matter if I told him or not, it would - it probably feels like an ambush. It feels like an ambush to me, and I'm the one that wrote it.

GROSS: Did you tell him, or did you ask him for permission?

FISHER: No. I said, I found the journals that I kept during the first movie, and I'm probably going to publish them. And he just sort of raised his finger and said, lawyer.

(LAUGHTER)

FISHER: And then I said, no, I won't, you know, write anything that you don't want. I mean, I'll show it to you before, and you can take anything out that you want taken out. I don't want to, you know, make you uncomfortable, which I, of course, have - unduly uncomfortable.

GROSS: So he read it before it was published. And did he ask for an changes?

FISHER: I sent it to him, and I never heard back. So I can't imagine that he wasn't - that he was comfortable with everything that was in it. But it's not like it's negative about him; it's just a personal story that's been a secret for a long time. And I'm sure he would have stopped me if he could have. But I gave...

GROSS: But it sounds like you gave him that opportunity.

FISHER: Well, I gave him the opportunity to take out anything he didn't like.

GROSS: Right. But not to stop it, yeah

FISHER: But I don't think it's that revealing, or it's certainly not offensive. It's not unkind about him. It's flattering. I mean, the way people are reacting to it is funny to me, too. I'd do him at 73.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So it sounds like, you know, reading the book that you had a kind of love-hate relationship with your identity as Princess Leia. It made you a star. It's an iconic role. There's things you haven't liked about being Princess Leia in the eyes of the world. What's the downside?

FISHER: No, I actually don't think there is that much of a downside. The downside is the hair (laughter). The downside is the hair and some of the outfits. But I like Princess Leia. I like how she handles things. I like how she treats people. I - she tells the truth. She, you know, gets what she wants done. I don't have a real problem with Princess Leia. I've sort of melded with her over time.

GROSS: You write in the book that you had endless issues with your appearance, how you looked in "Star Wars."

FISHER: Yes, absolutely.

GROSS: And you say, what I saw on the mirror is not, apparently, what many teenage boys saw. So what did you see when you looked in the mirror?

FISHER: A giant, fat face, like a sanddab with features.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: And the hair?

FISHER: The horrible hair. I just looked like - I don't know, like, this really fat-faced, cute in a - not a good way girl.

GROSS: Whose idea was it to have the buns on either side of your head?

FISHER: Well, they kept putting hair on. They kept saying to me, do you like this one? There were some worse ones, if you can imagine. But it was George and the producers. I mean, you know, they - Pat McDermott, the hairdresser, kept putting hairstyles on me, and we kept parading them in front of them. And I don't know, they - somehow they chose that one. And to put more hair on either side of a round face is going to make it even wider. So that was my problem with that.

GROSS: While we're speaking about appearance, in "Return Of The Jedi," when you are held captive by Jabba the Hutt - who is this, like, giant, slimy, slug-like creature and crime boss - and you're wearing this, like, incredibly revealing metal bikini. You are rail thin (laughter).

FISHER: I know.

GROSS: And you're wearing this, like - wearing - I mean, he has you chained. So there's this, like, big, like, metal chain around your neck. So it's a very, you know, like, PG-13, kind of campy, S&M, B&D image.

FISHER: Yeah.

GROSS: And Jabba the Hutt is, like, licking his lips. He's stroking you. So there's something, like, so, like, sexual about it, but this is a movie for kids. So was there lots of joking on the set about, like, the deeper S&M imagery of this scene?

FISHER: No, what my joke was, when we first rehearsed it - they're brought in front of Jabba. They talk to Jabba. Jabba talks to Harrison and Mark. And then they're led off. I never - they never say, hey, how are you? So as they were being led off, I said, in the rehearsal, don't worry about me; I'll be fine, seriously.

GROSS: (Laughter).

FISHER: Which I thought they should have kept in there because it was like, where am I in all this? Sure, they're going to be digested for 2,000 years, but I have to stay with the slug with the big tongue.

GROSS: And nearly naked (laughter).

FISHER: Nearly naked which is not a, you know, style choice for me.

GROSS: We're listening to our 2016 interview with Carrie Fisher. We'll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to our interview with Carrie Fisher, recorded in November 2016. She died one month later on December 27. The following day, December 28, her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died.

Your mother is Debbie Reynolds. You had a very contentious relationship with her when you were a teenager - and I think that probably continued into your 20s - in that, you know, you worked in her Broadway show. You were in the chorus of that. You sang in her Broadway act, you know, in her cabaret act for a while. So you worked together. In some ways, you were very close. In some ways, you were, like, very far apart. You were anxious to move away from home. How did your relationship change as she became an older woman, like when you became - like, now, like, you're middle-aged. She's - or older - she's in her 80s. What's - is the relationship still contentious? Has it changed?

FISHER: Not at all. I can appreciate - she's an immensely powerful woman, and I just admire my mother very much. She also annoys me sometimes when she's, you know, mad at the nurses. But, you know, she's an extraordinary woman - extraordinary. There are very few women from her generation who worked like that, who just kept a career going all her life and raised children and had horrible relationships and lost all her money and got it back again. I mean, she's had an amazing life, and she's someone to admire.

GROSS: Did you appreciate her strength and her accomplishments more as you got older?

FISHER: Oh, God, yeah. You know, when I was a kid I just thought she was someone who was telling me what to do, and I didn't want to do it.

GROSS: How did you feel about her celebrity when you were young? Was it helpful? Was it intrusive?

FISHER: Well, I had to share her, and I didn't like that. When we went out, people sort of walked over me to get her. And no, I didn't like it. I didn't like it. And I - you know, people thought that - I overheard someone saying, well, she thinks she's so great because she's Debbie Reynolds' daughter. And I didn't like it. It made me different from other people, and I wanted to be the same. I wanted to be, you know, just no different than anybody else.

GROSS: Your mother's most iconic film is "Singin' In The Rain," you know, one of the great musicals of all time. What are your thoughts about the movie? And if you like it now, did you always, or did it take you a while to appreciate that film, too?

FISHER: No, no. I always liked it. It's brilliant. I mean, to do the transition from sound - from silent to sound is a brilliant, brilliant time to focus on. And what was interesting to me is that there's three people acting in the movie then. It's two men and a female, and the same with "Star Wars." And both movies were sort of, you know, iconic. At the - well, they did the AFI 10 top films, and one was "Singin' In The Rain," and one was "Star Wars."

GROSS: That's so great you're on the list together (laughter).

FISHER: I know.

GROSS: You write that you felt doomed to have bad relationships with men because that's what you'd seen. You know, Eddie Fisher, your father, walked out on your mother when you were 2 to be with Elizabeth Taylor. Your mother's second husband spent all of her money - I mean, left her with nothing.

FISHER: Left her with nothing, and she had to pay his debts. So future earnings went to him. Everything she made went to his debts, to Harry Karl, who was also having sex with hookers the entire length of their relationship, which she found out later on and so did we. So it was a very interesting childhood.

GROSS: So when women dress like you at Comic-Con conventions, what do you most frequently see reflected back at you - like, which costumes, which hairdos?

FISHER: Oh, my favorite one to see is the metal bikini on men.

GROSS: (Laughter).

FISHER: And that is what has been happening a lot.

GROSS: That's a thing?

FISHER: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. A lot - and not thin men, by the way.

GROSS: That's hilarious.

FISHER: Yeah, so that makes me feel good about myself.

GROSS: (Laughter).

FISHER: Kind of a before-and-after thing - this is way after. Not only is Princess Leia fatter. She's a guy.

GROSS: (Laughter). All right. Carrie Fisher, thank you so much for talking with us.

FISHER: Well, thanks for talking to me.

GROSS: Carrie Fisher recorded in November 2016, one month before her death. Debbie Reynolds died one day after Fisher's death. Our end of the decade series featuring staff picks from the decade continues through the end of next week. If you enjoy hearing interviews from the past, we have a great new archive site featuring FRESH AIR interviews going back as early as the 1970s, when FRESH AIR was a local program in Philadelphia. You can search by name or topic. You can make playlists. Check it out at freshairarchive.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET'S "DILL PICKLE TANGO")

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Mooj Zadie, Seth Kelley and Joel Wolfram. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET'S "DILL PICKLE TANGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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