What if you had the chance to be a fly on the wall to an intimate and revealing conversation with one of your favorite actors? Actress Ilana Levine opens this window on her popular podcast “Little Known Facts” when she sits down with celebrities to have discussions which are, in turn, hilarious, revealing, and inspiring.
Levine, whose credits include playing Lucy on Broadway in the revival of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and starring in the infamous “The Contest” episode of “Seinfeld,” among many other film and TV appearances, combines a quick wit with curiosity and compassion to give a safe space to her guests, with revelations on both sides. The result is an invaluable library of the private lives and inspirations of a generation of artists including Hamptons residents John Slattery, Edie Falco, Julianne Moore, Uma Thurman, Rob Morrow, Matthew Broderick, and Sarah Jessica Parker. In a world of canned sound bites on red carpets, the luxury of time and space to explore their passions and the causes they care about provides a refreshing and fascinating experience for guest and listener.
“I am so incredibly honored to sit with someone when they share something true and deep. I don’t take it lightly,” said Levine. “I say that my podcast booth is the confessional. It is the coziest, smallest room. People come in, and we put these headphones on, and it’s like we’re in an isolation tank. For that hour, the rest of the world has gone away. We’re in each other’s heads, and it’s incredibly intimate.”
The idea started with a conversation with her husband, actor Dominic Fumusa (Edie Falco’s husband on “Nurse Jackie”), where she was looking for a new creative spark. The very next night she was approached by a friend who was producing podcasts to launch one of her own. “And without blinking an eye I said, ‘Ok,’” said Levine, “I’ve done a lot of voice over and love that style of storytelling. As a woman, it’s also a joy to not worry at all what you look like. You can go into a studio in a baseball cap and pajamas and tell a story.”
Instead of starting with what you know, she started with who you know. She recalled, “I thought of the incredible abundance of talented people in my life whose stories overwhelm me because I am so proud of these people. I’ll invite people to talk about being an artist in a way I would have liked when I first started out. I bumped into John Slattery of ‘Mad Men’ that week and he said, ‘Yes.’ And because he said yes, so did the next 119 guests,” she added with a laugh.
For someone who was barraged with interviews, Slattery found the experience inspiring. Afterward, Slattery told her, “I felt like I was so safe, that this conversation could go anywhere, and I was in great hands. Suddenly I was revealing things about myself that I had never revealed before.”
Levine shared some memorable moments, “Edie Falco auditioned on Tuesday and was cast the next day on ‘The Sopranos.’ Thinking it would only be a pilot, she took every dime she made for shooting the pilot and put a down payment on a studio apartment believing this might be her only chance to get a substantial paycheck from an acting job. Patti LuPone, who gained international acclaim in her role on Broadway as Evita Peron in the musical Evita revealed that she felt tormented throughout the process of working with director Hal Prince. And Molly Ringwald shared what it was like to grow up with her blind father, who is a well-known jazz musician. She never thought of him as having a disability. I found it poignant that someone who gained world-wide stardom in the visual medium was raised by someone who never saw her work. She also shared how hard it is for people to accept her as an adult. They want her to still be 16!”
Of her podcast experience Levine commented, “It took me on this ride that has brought me such unexpected pleasure. Not just because I get to talk to these people, but it’s the people I’ve met who’ve listened to the podcast who share their stories with me how the podcast has helped them or inspired them. What it means to not give up when everyone says no all the time. Even in countries where they are not allowed to listen to Broadway cast albums, they secretly listen to my podcast.”
The “a-ha moment” for Levine is how vulnerable all of these award-winning actors, writers, and artists feel. She commented, “The celebrity culture is that they’re just like us because they went to Whole Foods and bought a pineapple. But really, they are like us because they go through the entire gamut of emotions and struggles every day in their lives. Sure, many of them have financial stability — but it doesn’t change the day-to-day fears and heartbreak and loss.”
For Levine, it’s about the world of mindfulness, a positive oasis in a toxic world. She sums it up, “To turn away from the chaos in life and be in the present moment is everything.” And we are lucky little flies to join her there.
You can find the “Little Known Facts Podcast” with Ilana Levine on iTunes at https://apple.co/2mGnoFB.