Exclusive: The plant tells all

As StageWorks Fresno opens a three-week run of ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ we ‘interview’ the veteran actor who plays Audrey II, with an assist from Logan Cooley and Will Bishop

THEATER PREVIEW

She’s a big girl, this strange and interesting plant, when you see her in person. Or do you say he’s a big boy? Think about it: The famous alien life form in “Little Shop of Horrors” has a male voice but is named Audrey II. When it comes to plants, there’s no need to get so gender specific.

One thing is certain, however: There’s no harder working actor in Hollywood today than the beloved Leaf Erickson (a stage name given to her years ago by an uninspired agent, but it stuck), the only singing and dancing extraterrestrial life form known on the planet.

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What a coup: The Munro Review snags an interview with Leaf Erickson (Ms. Leaf for short), the only one of his/her kind in the world. Photo / StageWorks Fresno

Ms. Leaf has been in every single production of “Little Shop of Horrors” since the show began, which means the veteran actor spends a lot of time on the road. At the moment she’s starring in the StageWorks Fresno production of the classic musical, which opens Friday, Oct. 6.

Ms. Leaf (her requested way of being addressed) has a reputation for being a little cranky, which you’d expect considering how hard she works and long she’s been performing. To my surprise, she agreed to a sit-down interview. To preserve her voice, she asked the two local cast members who “assist” her onstage — Will Bishop, who helps in the vocal department, and Logan Cooley, who offers full-body-puppetry expertise — to speak for her in the royal “we.” Our wide-ranging discussion included life on the road, favorite foods, the character of Audrey II, and even, ahem, Ms. Leaf’s sex life. Here are excerpts:

Donald: Welcome to Fresno, Ms. Leaf! I’m honored that you’re taking the time to talk with me. What are your first impressions of the city?

Logan: It’s so hot.

Will: We can’t breathe. It’s a little gross.

Logan: We don’t like deserts, personally. We like things to be a little more moist.

Donald: Sorry about that. I understand you live in Beverly Hills. How much time do you spend on the road?

Logan: Too often. We’re getting too old for this.

Will: Yeah, we have a lot of wear and tear, but we still get the job done.

Donald: Have you kept track of how many times you’ve played Audrey II?

Will: We can’t even count.

Donald: Do you worry about getting typecast?

Will: Definitely.

Donald: Are there any other roles out there for you on Broadway?

Will: We think we’d make a really good Evan Hansen.

Donald: There you go! I like it. Talk about alternative casting.

Logan: These new musicals, like “Hamilton,” there are no boundaries there.

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Plant food: Seymour (Terry Lewis) learns about the dark side of Audrey II. Photo / StageWorks Fresno

Donald: I’ve been talking to some other people, and they tell me you’re pretty demanding. What’s your response?

Logan: I wouldn’t say demanding as much as you have to set standards. We know we deliver a product that people will enjoy, so I don’t think it’s too much to ask for some accommodation.

Donald: I got a copy of your contract rider. It’s pretty extensive. You ask for six cases of Perrier …

Will: Not five. Six.

Donald: … every performance. You need a spray-bottle spritz every 15 minutes.

Logan: As a human, you don’t understand. It takes a lot just to exist. I find that the human race can be a piece of work at times.

Will: ReTWEET.

Donald: Do you hang out with the cast members at all? Do you socialize with them?

Logan: Oh god, no.

Donald: You feel that’s a line you don’t want to cross?

Will: It’s in our contract.

Donald: So no cast party?

Logan: Oh, no, no, no, no.

Donald: I know this could be a touchy subject, but you actually have to get physical with a lot of different actors.

Logan: Oh, yes. I’ve had quite a few men inside of me. And women.

Donald: Do you have anything in your contract about the personal hygiene of the cast members? Y’all have to get really close.

Logan: I don’t mind a dirty guy or dirty girl.

Will: It’s not that bad. After, like, the 20th person, you get used to it.

Logan: Let’s have some fun!

Donald: So it sounds like you’re pretty open-minded.

Will: Oh, yes.

Logan: Physically, of course.

Will: We get a little frisky at times.

Donald: I’m getting the distinct impression in this interview that, well, you’re a little lonely, considering you’re the only one of your kind on this planet. Do you mind if I ask you some personal, intimate questions? Have you had relationships with other vegetables or plants? There are some rumors …

Will: We’re not going to lie. I got to talking to a Brussels sprout recently. It was very nice. It was refreshing. I’m not going to get into specifics.

Donald: That’s quite all right. Actually, thank you for that. Are you attracted to a particular type besides Brussels sprouts? Artichokes? Leafy lettuce?

Logan: We like firm, girthy vegetables.

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Big dreams: Audrey (Abigail Nolte) has big dreams in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Photo / StageWorks Fresno

Donald: In terms of your character, is there a particular body part that Audrey II most likes to chomp on?

Will: I would say the feet.

Logan: Um, OK. (laughs)

Will: Or maybe the intestines?

Donald: Ms. Leaf, you said that very quickly, the feet. That’s strange and interesting.

Will: They go down pretty fast.

Donald: What’s the worst thing a director has ever done to you in a production?

Will: A director up in Minnesota tried trimming our leaves. No, sorry, can’t do that. It’s in our contract.

Logan: Without permission. Snip, snip. That was very uncomfortable.

Donald: Did you give him a warning nip?

Logan: He was hospitalized.

Donald: I know you’ve done the talk-show circuit. You’re familiar with some of the big celebrities. Do you have any dish for us?

Logan: I’ll tell you what. One time we partied with Ellen. And despite what you might think, she really knows how to take care of a plant.

Will: And James Corden. He knows how to have people over, if you know what we mean.

Donald: I don’t. Sorry. On a similar topic, I’m wondering, have you ever been to Alaska? Because of the long daylight hours in the summer, the vegetables get really big there. I once interviewed a 72-pound cabbage, the winner at the Alaska State Fair.

Logan: Send him my way!

Donald: Ahem. Moving on. You’re very well known for your philanthropy, particularly to plant-related causes.

Logan: Yes. We love our farmers, particularly organic farmers who stay away from poison. People don’t understand, just smelling and seeing some of the things these poor plants receive on a daily basis, it’s a lot more damage than humans realize.

Donald: Speaking of nature, have you had a chance to visit Yosemite while you’re here?

Will: Yes. It was beautiful.

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Friends offstage: Terry Lewis and the famous Leaf Erickson, playing Audrey II, in a scene from “Little Shop of Horrors.” Photo / StageWorks Fresno

Donald: And some poor person in the cast had to drive you around, right?

Logan: Yes. We requested Terry Lewis (who plays Seymour), but his electric car can only go 70 miles.

Donald: Then you have actually made a friend in the cast. You’re not totally aloof.

Logan: Yes. We find that Terry’s views on the earth and plants match ours. He’s vegan.

Will: We get along pretty well.

Logan: But the boy can’t drive you around. He just doesn’t have the range.

Will: And his car is really small.

Donald: Yes, I suppose that you’d really have to be stuffed in there. Finally, just to clear things up: You refer to yourself as a woman, but you play a man in the show. How did that happen?

Will: We don’t really like to put labels on things.

Logan: Humans are really into specificity, gender this and gender that.

Donald: In a sense you’re both genders as a plant.

Logan: We’re very androgynous.

Donald: So you don’t mind when people assume you’re male or assume you’re female?

Logan: It’s all the same, baby. It’s all the same.


Show info

“Little Shop of Horrors,” opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, Fresno Art Museum. Runs through Oct. 22. $25, $23 students and seniors.


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Author: Donald Munro

Covering the arts in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

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