Film and stage actress Missi Pyle is ‘Sexy as Hell’ in new solo concert show

Missi Pyle

Missi Pyle

Missi Pyle is setting the Los Angeles music scene on fire with her solo show Sexy as Hell, a semi-autobiographical show featuring original music, on Monday, April 22.

The actress-turned-musician is well known for her firecracker personality, sparkling sense of humor and film roles including The Artist, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish and Dodgeball.

Now Pyle is transitioning from stage and screen to perform a solo show which blends humor, personal experiences and stories and just the right amount of heart.

And, although she’s comfortable on both stage and screen, she admitted in a phone interview with Stage Door Dish last week that she is still embracing her musician within.

The show, which will be held at LA’s Rockwell: Table and Stage, will also feature music from Pyle’s three bands (The Nice Ladies, Smith and Pyle and The Tumbleweeds) for an unforgettable evening.

Days before Pyle’s concert, she opened up about her new gig, life after her most recent off-Broadway appearance in Bare and which of her wacky characters she identifies with.

SDD: Where exactly are you right now? Are you in L.A.?

MP: I’m in L.A. right now. I’m working on a pilot called Jacked Up for CBS.

SDD: Can you tell me more about the pilot or is it top secret?

MP: It’s a four-camera sitcom. It stars Patrick Warburton (Rules of Engagement) as a former baseball pitcher, just starting his retirement. I play his sister. It’s about him making this transition into retirement. It’s like a family thing- it’s me, Patrick, Rob Huebel, Tyne Daly and another actress named Ziah Colon.

SDD: What made you want to go back to television?

MP: I’ve always tried to do a pilot every year for pilot season. I love the four-camera sitcom. I just think it’s a great kind of marriage of theatre and television because you have a live audience that you tape in front of and I love the energy they bring. I have done several of them. Actually, I’ve probably done about thirteen or fourteen of them, but some never got picked up.

SDD: You’ve done film, television, stage and now you are working a lot with your band. Do you have a preference for a certain medium or do you find one more challenging than another?

MP: They are all very different so it all king of depends. They are such different expressions of art. I really love being on stage and singing my own stuff and kind of just being myself. It’s most certainly almost a challenge to not be able to hide behind a character, on some level, but I really like that. And I really love theatre but there’s so little money involved in that as a career. With television, if the things you make air, you get residuals, and it’s a wonderful way to make a living and still be able to do the things you want to do on top of that. It’s been a real dream for me to do my own music. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do my whole life and I’ve just been doing it for the last seven years or so.

SDD: What made you feel ready or prepared to start your musical career?

MP: I grew up singing in my Southern Baptist Church. I did musicals in high school and college. Then I just kind of took a break from it. I was still auditioning, when I was in New York but I always loved it. I had actually just written my very first song in 2006 and I wrote it for a comedy show. I had just had a breakup and it was called “I Wish You Were Dead.” Then I did a pilot with and actress named Shawnee Smith and she and I just clicked right away. She asked, “What’s your biggest dream?” And I said, “My biggest dream is to be in a band. I’ve always wanted to be in a band.” And she was like, “Oh, I’ve done that. I’ll do a band with you, but it’s not as incredible as you think it’s going to be.” I just said, “Okay, but don’t screw with me.” People are always saying they want to do things together, but it so rarely happens. But she had a bunch of songs that she had already written and she had wanted to do this album. So, I was like, “Alright, I’ll do it.” We went out to the desert to Joshua Tree. I had already written about two or three songs by this point, and I wrote a couple more with her while we were out there. So we had all these songs and we made an album together. Then we started performing together and going on tour. We were just performing around Los Angeles and New York. We performed for a few years and then she had a child so she was kind of done with it. I was just getting started so I learned a little bit on the guitar and then I recorded some music with a girl named Jenna Price when I was in Montana. She was a phenomenal performer. She’s an accomplished musician with a really beautiful life. We started singing together and playing music in 2010, and now we have an album that’s almost finished. When I was in New York doing a musical, I threw out to some producers that I wanted to do a show by myself. It was something I’d been wanting to do for a while. I said to my producer, “Could you get me a space? Anywhere would be great. I just want to go to a place where I can play there for like an hour.” He ended up getting me Joe’s Pub, and I was like, “Holy shit! That’s intense.” So, I got my friends together to play with me and we did the show there. And then I got with people and kind of made a story out of it. It became the one woman show that I am performing out here at Rockwell.

SDD: I’m really interested in your songwriting process because every songwriter does things differently. How do you approach songwriting and how do the ideas for songs come to you?

MP: To be honest, it’s not that easy for me. I’m a comedian mostly so with the first song I wrote I wasn’t taking it very seriously. I was just so hurt by this one guy and I started playing. People start to just strum and improvise and then they write and record it. That’s one way I’ll do it- I have written four or five songs that way. I’ve collaborated with other people on songs where we’re just starting with a blank page and music. Just starting with what did we want to write a song about? That’s kind of the other way to do it. When I try to just sit down and write a song, it’s very hard. Sometimes, they just come up and those are the ones that I think are the most interesting. The ones that I am trying to write tend to be more forced. But I love collaborating with people and I have written a couple of songs like that. I actually have a new song that I am working on where my friend wrote the melody for me. I have been trying so hard to find the words for it because it is such a beautiful melody. Nothing was coming to me, and I had it sitting around for about three years. Then I called up my friends like Shawnee and Jenna and told them that I had this melody, but I was trying to find the words for it. It was such a personal thing and they helped me write this song. It’s probably one of the most special things to ever happen to me. That was totally a collaboration of several people.

SDD: Do you find more fulfillment in acting or singing? Are they different or are there things that are similar?

MP: They are very different. Do I enjoy one more than the other? It really depends. I will say doing this show has been one of the most fulfilling things in my life because I created from beginning to end what I wanted the show to be. That was the first time I had really directed anything for myself as opposed to doing film and stage. I love performing my own stuff but that can be a little scary, because if they don’t like it, you can’t hide behind someone or someone else’s words. It is also very fulfilling. It just depends on what it is. Sometimes you find yourself doing something you normally wouldn’t have done, because you needed the money. Singing for me is the most fun, but am I best at it? I don’t know. It’s just something that is very fulfilling for me. I do sometimes rely on comedy but it is something that I have to step away from every once in a while.

SDD: You’ve worked with three different bands before, how did they differ?

MP: The band I did with Shawnee, I really feel like it was Shawnee’s band. It was our band but it was definitely her idea. I just learned so much from her. I remember when we would record and sing together she would just be so supportive and made me feel very confident in doing the things that I felt inspired to do. She took a lot of the fear away from me. Then doing the work with Jenna has been extremely fulfilling because we do a lot of collaborating on it. There is a lot of comedy in this music as well. We do things that amuse us and make us laugh. Then I have a totally comedy band with my friend Brooke and that is The Tumbleweeds and that is a lot more of the comedy. We’re like a fake Christian rock band.

SDD: You’ve played very iconic roles. Do you have a favorite role that you’ve ever created?

MP: I played this role on a short-lived show called The Wedding Bells. I played a character named Amanda Pontell. She was a guest star in the pilot. I just loved her so much because she was someone who just so desperately wanted to be liked but she was not a people person. So she tried so hard and came at it from the wrong side. She had a journey because she was really trying to be that person who had friends. To play someone who was so on the outside was really fun. David E. Kelley was writing for that and having him write for me was kind of a dream. I also loved being in movies with Tim Burton like the character I played in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was really fun. Working with people that are your idols was something that I never thought was possible.

SDD: That was a nice transition, because I was asked to ask you about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. How do you prepare to play such eccentric characters? Where does that ability come from?

MP: I think the truth of the matter is that truth is stranger than fiction. I have met so many people in my life that are that eccentric. Everybody knows someone like that. With the background that I came from, there were people that are so deeply religious that will have some very interesting quirks. I have met some bipolar people and it’s fascinating to watch them because it’s truthful. I think that comedy is great when it’s truthful. I try to seek that out. I worked with Alan Cumming on Josie and the Pussycats and he told me something that I always put in my brain. It’s that as long as you’re truthful it can be as big as you want it to be. I think that that’s really true. There are some characters that I see and I know exactly how to play them but there are also some characters that elude me. If I look at the role of that woman in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I can see who she is and how to play her. That’s true for her. She’s just a little bit broken. I think I play those characters a lot better than those straight characters. It’s harder to get into something like that.

SDD: Speaking about another film role you played, Big Fish is coming to Broadway. Would you ever consider participating in the Broadway production of it? What do you think of it debuting on the Great White Way?

MP: I think it’s very exciting. I don’t really know much about the production. I would love to go back to Broadway and do another musical. I had auditioned for Matilda and got a couple callbacks for that but I would love to go back to New York and do another musical. That was really fun. I love singing every day. I don’t know if people will respond to me as much as an actress in musicals but I really love doing them.

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Missi Pyle in “Bare.”

SDD: I actually saw Bare and I loved it. When I heard that you were branching into doing concerts and I thought of that big gospel number that you performed in the show. Can you tell me what that was like for you?

MP: It was great fun to be able to do that giant number. For me, that was why I wanted to do the show because I thought it would be exciting to be able to talk with the audience. Just to be this high version of Mary was fun. It was scary because there was always the chance that someone was going to ask a question that I couldn’t answer. Really, the audience never talked to me until the last week, so I tried to encourage them to actually say something. It was definitely interesting.

SDD: Were there particular questions you were asked or commentary that you remember from that?

MP: A couple of people would ask me to bless them. Some would ask me questions about myself as an actress, like, “Is Missi Pyle coming back to Broadway?” You know, stuff like that. There were so many people that came to see the show so many times and they were sort of the ones that asked the questions. They really just made comments like, “We love you, Mary.” I never really got anything that I think people would ask the Virgin Mary.

SDD: You were really part of the foundation of the show, in the sense that you kind of provided the hope as the adult, saying that what you are doing is not bad or sinful. What was that like for you to know that the show ended up having such a strong fan base of people who really connected with the story and knowing your role in it?

MP: I really did love being able to be the person that says it’s okay especially with the background I come from. The Southern Baptist Church doesn’t necessarily feel that way, though not necessarily everyone across the board. It was definitely something that people have been butting their heads up against for a really long time. So, to be the person that says it’s okay was really nice. My brother came to see the show, and he was the first person to give me a standing ovation, so I thought that was really lovely. You know, he’s a Christian, and just for him to see that show and hear me sing was a big deal for me. I hope that we at least help some people break down their walls against their preconceived idea of what they thought was wrong, and to just see the show as a love story. What’s wrong with love? I think that’s really hard to come up with an argument against love.

SDD: I have to ask this because everyone is talking about it. Is there a cast recording on its way?

MP: I don’t know. That is a good question and we’re really hopeful but we don’t know yet. I think the more noise people make about, the more there is a chance of it happening.

SDD: Is there anything in your career that you haven’t done yet, that you would want to do in the future?

MP: I’m really hoping to do this one person show and take it to a theatre, like to do a real one person show. That’s what all this has been gearing toward and I have been doing a lot of writing for it. I’d love to be in another musical on Broadway. That would be a lot of fun.

SDD: As for the one woman show, would that be autobiographical or do you have a story in mind for it?

MP: It’s pretty autobiographical at this point but I have a few different ideas. I don’t know for sure at this point. I was a sex education teacher for a while and I think those stories of a girl growing up are universal. That’s something I’ve thought about doing while making it funny and interesting. To tell people they can do whatever they want with their body but not so much 70’s feminist. It’s just a fun way to give people the confidence to do whatever they want.

SDD: What would people be surprised to know about you?

MP: I used to be married to a guy with a bear. I secretly want to quit being an actor so I can move to Africa and be a midwife and deliver babies.

SDD: You had a pet bear at one time?

MP: My ex-husband had a grizzly bear sanctuary.

 

Missi Pyle

Missi Pyle

SDD: Describe yourself in five words or less.

MP: Tall person who likes wine.

SDD: Red or white?

MP: White.

SDD: Stage or screen?

MP: Yes.

SDD: If you could delete any song from existence, which would you choose?

MP: The song from Titanic that Celine Dion sang.

SDD: Why?

MP: It just drives me bananas.

SDD: Do you have a favorite word?

MP: Jangrod. My friend and I call each other jangrods. It’s kind of a word that doesn’t offend anyone, but we know what it means.

SDD: Which one of your previous characters do you think you are most like?

MP: The alien from Galaxy Quest.

SDD: When you were younger, which Bare character were you most like?

MP: Probably Alex Wyse’s character [Alan].

SDD: What’s your current obsession?

MP: Scramble with Friends. Not Words with Friends; Scramble.

SDD: Is that kind of the same?

MP: It’s kind of a different level but I can’t stop playing it.

SDD: Are you good at it?

MP: I’m pretty good at it. I like that it’s just my brain just gets a break to stop for a few minutes.

SDD: What’s the last great show you saw on stage?

MP: Once.

Who was the last person who made you feel star struck?

MP: Sarah Silverman. I’ve worked with her a few times but I just saw her recently. She’s a really nice person. We are friends but every time I see her it’s like I can’t make a coherent sentence.

SDD: If you could trade places with anyone on Broadway, who would you choose and why?

MP: Whoever is playing Mrs. Wormwood in Matilda because I wanted that role really badly.

SDD: Which Broadway star would you most want to have a drink with?

MP: Probably Nathan Lane or Bernadette Peters.

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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