When Laraine Newman resettled in her native L.A. after five seasons live from New York, she bought her new house but left some of the refurbishing to her mother. It was fit for a princess, except that Laraine was a little surprised to find two shower heads in the upstairs bathroom. “Okay, call me crazy,” deadpans Newman, “but I think she was making a statement.”
Of course Laraine, 28, wasn’t necessarily opposed. “I don’t know about children right now, but I could get married, I think. Not just because everybody else on Saturday Night Live got married, but because my wildness is behind me. Now I’m ready to have just one relationship,” she admits, before gasping in mock anxiety: “Oh, God, I said it. There’s no turning back now, Laraine.” Who would have thought that SNL’s sharp-tongued satirist would mellow so soon into a homemaking mushmouth? But when TV’s most innovative series died, Laraine couldn’t wait to get home and prove herself in movies and relearn how to hang out.
“After the fourth year the grind of the show just started to kill us,” says Laraine. “Jane [Curtin] and Gilda [Radner] and I looked at one another and said, ‘You’re not doing it after this year, are you?’ We knew last October.” By that time the show’s sororal jealousies had finally been sorted out. “The competition was never open—just hurt feelings and going away with your tail between your legs,” Laraine explains. “I never really resented it too much, but in the beginning the pecking order was painful. Gilda emerged as the star, and Jane and I just felt like supporting players. But [producer] Lorne Michaels gave us all our moments.” The women still are close friends. “We became like sisters,” adds Gilda. “When I say I’ll miss Saturday Night, it means I’ll miss Laraine.”
Throughout SNL’s run, rumors persisted that the show’s chemistry was, well, just that. “Believe me, there were things around all the time,” Laraine says now, adding, “The last year they had a kid working in the office who was an FBI informant. Most performers, though, draw the line at being high while performing,” she continues. “I know that I never performed high. Any comedian will tell you that cocaine is not a funny drug, that it ruins your timing. There might have been people stoned on pot, which is a pretty silly drug. Although I don’t advocate it, some people can still do their work high.”
One of Laraine’s idols and a co-star in her latest movie, Wholly Moses, is Richard Pryor, whose near-fatal accident occurred shortly after its release. “Those rum cigarettes…I tell you, boy,” jibes Laraine. “If it was freebase [inhaling cocaine dissolved in ether], I can only say that someone with a heart condition must wanna die really badly,” she adds seriously. “It’s tragic. He’s a remarkable performer, and there will never be anyone like him. But freebase is a serious jones [habit]. People start selling their property and stuff. I have seen it drive people mad. Pure, sheer horror.”
It seemed unlikely Laraine would move in such worlds when she was growing up a skinny, shy, acne-ridden kid who once suffered from scoliosis in L.A.’s upper-middle-class Westwood. Her dad was a quilt manufacturer, her mom an interior decorator, producer and author of the suggestively titled cookbook Do It in the Kitchen. Both discouraged her from going into show business, but Laraine threw her energies into plays at camp and school. After Beverly Hills High, where she says she never had a date, she was rejected by England’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Bristol Old Vic before spending 18 months studying mime with Marcel Marceau in Paris.
Back home, two months at Cal Arts (“a bust”) and a typing course at a business college (“My parents wanted me to have a skill”) led to a secretary’s gig with a rock booking agent. Six months later she joined her sister with an improv workshop group, which became L.A.’s the Groundlings. One night Lorne Michaels and Lily Tomlin caught her act and signed her for a TV special. A year later Newman was on her way to Saturday Night Live.
Though she only rented furniture during her New York years (she was robbed her first night in town), Laraine has thrown herself into domesticity at the two-bedroom, Spanish-style home she acquired a year ago in Westwood. It has no pool. “Okay, here’s the truth,” she says. “I hate sitting in the sun. It bores the shit out of me.” Ditto for the beach (“I don’t want sand in my hot dog”), tennis and rollerskating. “A good discussion is the kind of exercise I go in for,” says Laraine, though she does work out at home with weights, isometrics and yoga. An L.A. concession is her new white Mercedes convertible (“It’s so boss”), and she plans “a major party once the house is together. In about two years.”
Meanwhile Newman noodles on the guitar, has finished two scenes in Woody Allen’s upcoming movie and is considering taking acting lessons. “I’ve lived here all my life,” she observes, “and I’ve seen those ravaged faces of out-of-work actors whom people would come up to and say, ‘Didn’t you used to be…?’ I don’t want that to happen to me.”