Andrea Martin on Making Out with Steve Martin and 50 Years of Comedic Genius
The legendary Andrea Martin opens up about her bigger role in Season 3 of “Only Murders in the Building,” her dream to “outdo” Betty White on “SNL,” and a lot more.
Andrea Martin has been a force to be reckoned with in the comedy world since her professional debut as part of the Toronto cast of Godspell in 1972, and a few years later as a cast member on Canada’s answer to Saturday Night Live, SCTV—both alongside Martin Short. This summer, she is reuniting with Short once more on Season 3 of Only Murders in the Building, which premieres Aug. 8 on Hulu.
In this episode of The Last Laugh podcast—our final one (for now)—Martin teases her role as Steve Martin’s love interest and reveals there may have been a brief moment when she was up for the part that ultimately went to Selena Gomez. The actress also reflects on five decades in show business, from the ego blow of never being asked to do SNL, to an update on Martin Scorsese’s SCTV reunion documentary, to the one big project that is still on her career bucket list.
“I’m slightly anxious,” Martin says the second she appears on the Zoom screen for our conversation. It’s not that she’s worried she might say the wrong thing, it’s just that, as she puts it, “I don’t know anything about technology. I know you think I’m joking, but I’m really not.”
At 76 years old, the two-time Emmy and Tony winner is on the precipice of a huge summer, including the return of her hilarious Aunt Voula in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 and an expanded presence on Only Murders. After appearing in just two episodes in Season 2 of that show, Martin confirms that her part is “a little bigger” in Season 3, including a couple of episodes in which her role is “quite substantial.”
Martin plays a hair and makeup artist named Joy, who she confirms will become more of a legitimate love interest for Steve Martin’s character this season. The two Martins have been friends for decades, mostly through Short; as she puts it, he’s “not a stranger to me.” But until now they had never really acted opposite each other on screen.
“It’s certainly the first time I’ve ever kissed Steve Martin,” she adds with a laugh, joking, “Do you want me to dissect it? It was soft…” She admits that while shooting the make-out session in question, they were both “shy in some bizarre way, because certainly comedically, we’re not.”
“He’s happily married, and I haven’t been with anybody for a long time,” Martin notes. “But I think, actually, the awkwardness played really well for the characters, because they’d known each other for years, but never had been romantically involved.”
Martin also reveals that she’s in one “very big group scene” with the show’s most high-profile new co-star Meryl Streep, who she’s known for years, both through their late mutual friend Carrie Fisher but also because their kids attended the same elementary school in L.A. “I didn’t have any lines with her, but it was a big group scene to establish where this season was going to go, and it was fabulous,” she tells me.
Before Selena Gomez was cast as the unlikely third lead opposite Steve Martin and Martin Short on Only Murders in the Building, it was rumored that the two men had intended the part of Mabel to be played by an actor from their own generation. So, I wonder, was Andrea Martin ever in talks to play that role?
“I wouldn’t say ‘in talks,’” she replies. “I would definitely say that when Steve was conceiving this idea, he and Marty talked, like they do all the time, and for sure, I definitely was mentioned as ‘This would be something great for you to do.’ And then the next thing I knew, lovely Selena Gomez is playing the part.”
“Honestly, if I can really be candid with you, I think it was a much better choice to cast her,” Martin adds, generously. “I would have loved to have done it. But she brings such a different audience to the show, she’s so lovely. I can’t speak enough about her with the kind of fame that she has to be so low-key and modest and humble. She’s a lovely human being. She deserves all the success that she has.”
After five decades in show business, the same can certainly be said for Martin.
Below is an edited excerpt from our conversation. You can listen to the whole thing by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.
You’ve obviously known Martin Short for quite a long time. He’s also your brother-in-law, which people might not know. What do you remember about the very first time you met him?
I really remember that vividly. Unlike anything else you’re going to ask me, that I actually can recall. We were auditioning for Godspell, all of us, in Toronto. I knew Eugene Levy because we had done Ivan Reitman’s first movie, Foxy Lady. And then we did another movie for Ivan Reitman called Cannibal Girls. I did not know Marty. And I didn’t know Gilda [Radner], but I remember their auditions. I remember that Marty sang a Frank Sinatra song, which is not really a song you’d pick for Godspell. And then Gilda got up and sang “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” which wasn’t a particularly good song to show off any vocal skills.
It was pretty soon after Godspell that Gilda Radner went off to join the first season of SNL. Was that something that was on your radar at the time? Were you trying to be on that show when it started?
You know, I never was. I never really thought about it. I certainly saw a lot of my friends go on it. Bill Murray had come to Second City in Toronto. That’s where I met everybody. John Belushi, I met through all of them. And of course, Gilda I’d worked with. And I knew Lorne Michaels because we both started out in Toronto together. So I certainly knew that group of people. I wasn’t thinking at the time that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t really have an idea of strictly comedy, or improv comedy, being in my future. I went off to Stratford and did plays. I did Private Lives with Maggie Smith and Brian Bedford. So I really had a much broader range of where I thought my career might go. And then once everybody was on it, and then hosts on it, then I thought, “Well, shouldn’t I be on that once?” But nobody asked me.
Did it remain an ambition for a long time after that? Because Martin Short didn’t end up joining SNL until nine years after it started.
Did my ego suffer a bit? I wouldn’t say suffer, but was there a little pang in my ego? There was. But I never had aspirations to do it, honestly. It’s fascinating when you hear young people saying, “The only thing I want to do is be on SNL.” I mean, it was never an endpoint for me, ever. To this day it isn’t. Would it be cool, once before I pass on, to maybe outdo Betty White? Maybe at 97, I’ll be on. That would be a cool thing, just to say I did it, but I don’t lose sleep over it. I really don’t.
Well, you obviously ended up on Canada’s answer to SNL, which was SCTV, an incredible show that also created so many stars. Do you feel like there was a deliberate effort to be different from SNL? Did you have conversations like, “SNL’s over there doing this, let’s do this different thing?”
Well, that’s interesting. I don’t remember a conversation like that. I think certainly the fact that SNL was successful probably propelled us to put our best artistic shoes on, but I never had a conversation like, “SNL is doing that, what can we do differently?” We really knew what each other’s strengths were. I think we played to those strengths once the concept was developed. We had worked together for a long time. I’ve never done SNL, but I can tell you for SCTV, we had so much say in what we were doing and how it was edited and what the music was that we’re going to pick to augment the scene. And we were on the sound stage when other actors were performing, giving notes to them. It was such a different time. We would look at the monitors afterwards and say, “Let me do it again, and I’ll do it this way.” I really would kill for that. I really do miss that, the ability, when I work, to be able to look at something and say, “I know how to make that better.” I have to say, it’s a big loss, certainly, in my creativity. Because I think I could be really objective about what worked and what didn’t.
Even watching yourself? That must be hard.
Yeah, but I think because we knew each other very well and we loved each other, nobody was frightened to say “that’s not working” or “try it this way” or “maybe you should use a different wig.” It was so profoundly collaborative. I think if you talk to anybody in SCTV, they’ll all say that what they missed the most as their careers developed was the say that they had in what they were doing and the collaboration.
I also could imagine that the lack of a live audience made it so that you weren’t basing everything on what people were laughing at. On SNL, they do a dress rehearsal, and if something doesn’t get laughs, they cut it. But you guys weren’t doing that. You were using your own sensibility, which maybe leads to more risky creative work in some ways. Do you think that’s true?
I think that’s absolutely true. I think you said it very well. And I think the fact that we respected one another, we were going to listen to what everybody had to say. It was really fun. And it was a lot of hard work.
Whatever happened to the Martin Scorsese-directed reunion documentary project that was supposedly coming?
I think it was just people getting pulled in different directions. Everybody was doing something different; I mean, Martin Scorsese does a movie every 10 minutes. So I think that was a combination of all of us trying to decide succinctly what the show is going to be, and not able to come up with that really. And then being pulled in many different different directions, because all of us were working on different projects. I actually think that we’ll get to see something that will be like a reunion. I don’t know who the players will be in it. Martin Scorsese is off doing so many things, but he was so great to work with. We did film an interview portion. Jimmy Kimmel hosted it, and everybody was there, except John [Candy]. Rick Moranis came back. That was fun. So I think that we will see something, honestly. There’s so much footage, so many years of great sketches, and then to have that interview, and then to have Martin Scorsese being interviewed also about SCTV. I think, in some way or another, you’ll see something in the future.
So after SCTV, you never stopped working and have been doing great stuff all along, but there was this real career resurgence later in life. What do you think really kicked that off?
Well, I was raising two sons and when they finally went off to college, that’s when I really gave it a hundred percent of an effort. I don’t think my heart was in it a hundred percent [before that]. I was really torn, being a mom. And I just couldn’t find a way to be satisfied either way, being home alone without any work or being off working without my kids. And finally when they went off to college, then I really felt free to achieve a dream.
Was that a scary thing, to step back? When you do that, you never know whether the industry is going to welcome you back when you decide it’s time.
I never thought that. I just thought that if I was going to give it my all, then people would like me.
That’s more confidence that probably a lot of people have.
I mean, I have a lot of anxiety, for sure, and I’m always thinking, was that scene good? But in my overall career, I just think that my love for acting and my love for working with other people and developing and creating characters is loud. And I think that gets you a place. I mean, you have to have a little talent. I think it’s a combination of experience, because I’ve lived a long life, but I think my enthusiasm and the kind of innocent approach I have to everything has kept me in the business.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is one thing that I think drew a lot of attention to you in a new way. That must have been a project that you had no idea was going to become a big thing, right?
That is really true. No idea at all. Oh my god! I think it’s the biggest grossing romantic comedy of all time! No, nobody was thinking that. And there’s a third one coming out! It’s coming out in September. And look, I’ve only seen the trailer and it was very emotional to me coming out of the pandemic and the isolation of where we are as a country. It feels like people are a little unraveled and looking for a center, looking to connect. And when I watched this trailer I thought, “Oh my gosh, it’s like a warm hug,” and I think people will take to it. I hope they do.
The other project that I wanted to talk about, because I just feel like it was one of the most underrated comedies of recent years, is Great News.
I love that show!
You were fantastic on that show and it really was one of my favorites. It’s one of those shows that I don’t think enough people watched and could have gone on for a lot longer. What was it like getting the opportunity to play that character, which was just really well-written, funny, and at the center of a sitcom that was produced by Tina Fey? What made you excited to take that on?
Who wouldn’t be excited about that? Tina had me go to lunch with her and Robert Carlock and [showrunner] Tracey Wigfield. And we had lunch, and we talked, just to kind of feel each other out. And then they offered me the part. It was based on Tracey’s mom, her relationship with her mom. And then I got to meet her mom. Of course I said yes to it and I jumped at the chance. We shot the pilot here in New York and it was so easy! You know when something just falls into place?
Is it true that you were supposed to play Liz Lemon’s mother on 30 Rock at some point?
I never heard that. Not Liz Lemon’s mother. Let me think about this, it was the mother of somebody on the show. Tina literally just texted me.
Maybe you could ask her, “Whose mother was I supposed to play?”
OK, hold on. [Starts texting Tina Fey] “Hi, I’m doing The Last Laugh podcast right now and Matt asked me if I was supposed to play Liz Lemon’s mother. Is that true? Or was it Alec’s mother, or none of the above?” Wait, she’s writing back. “I can’t remember!” she says. “Elaine was always Alec’s mother. But maybe we tried you for my mom, I truly can’t remember.”
Elaine Stritch, right. Well, we almost got to the bottom of it. What was she texting you about earlier? Are you guys going to work together again?
Oh, you know, we’re friends, so we were talking about getting together over the summer at Marty’s cottage. Look, she’s the smartest person I’ve ever worked with, but she’s so even-keeled. And it’s so comfortable to work with her because you know she’s going to come up with the greatest lines. She’s really confident, really humble, just one of the players, but she’s the smartest person in the room. So it’s the best of all possible worlds.
Looking ahead, what do you want to do that you have never been able to do?
Well, I would have loved to have worked with Fellini, and I’m sorry that I’ve never had the chance. But I got to go to circus school because I did the trapeze in Pippin, and that was a great dream of mine, to really work in the circus. So that was the closest that I came to that, which was extraordinary. That was a huge dream. I don’t know if I have dreams as big as that. But I really want to get back on stage. There’s nothing I love more than being in the theater. I like working with people that I know.
Only Murders in the Building certainly fits that bill.
Totally! And, you know what? Here’s what I’m going to say. I hope that I will be open to everything that comes my way, and not let it be affected by fear that I’ve had in the past, that I might not be able to do it, and then talk myself out of it. I hope I can be an open vessel. I hope that the years of my life, 76 years—anybody can Google that—and raising two beautiful sons and having a granddaughter, I hope that experience of living, that I will be able to put in a part that maybe hasn’t come along. And I hope that all that I have and all that I’ve experienced in my life, and the great heritage I have, being Armenian, and what that entails—I hope that the part will come along and it will be offered to me, and I will be able to fulfill that part by living the life that I’ve led. That’s what I hope for.
Listen to the episode now and subscribe to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.