Tracey Ullman

English-born actress, comedian, singer, dancer, screenwriter, producer, director, author and businesswoman

Tracey Ullman (born Trace Ullman; 30 December 1959) is an British-American actress of television, theatre and film. She's most famous for her award-winning multi-character variety television shows. Though frequently cited as a "comedian", Ullman considers herself a "character actress". She had a brief stint as a pop singer in the 1980s and trained and worked as a professional dancer in the 1970s. Aside from acting, she has worked as a screenwriter, producer, director, and author.

My influences were Peter Sellers and the great British character actors.

Quotes edit

  • Go home!
    • Ullman's signature closing to the studio audience at the conclusion of every episode of The Tracey Ullman Show (1987–1990)
  • My real name is Trace Ullman, but I added the 'y.' My mother said it was spelled the American way, but I don't think she can spell! I always wanted a middle name. My mum used to tell me it was Mary but I never believed her. I looked on my birth certificate and I didn't have one, just Trace Ullman.
    • On the subject of her name in Look in TV Annual (Independent Television Books Ltd, 1984)
  • I hated the pressure that many of the children were under. Many of the kids were forced to grow up too fast, their careers were being decided for them before they were 13. If I went to an audition then they'd always choose the sweetest, prettiest kid. I wasn't obviously beautiful so I used to miss out." Ullman has also alleged that the owners taught their own children and that a certain level of favouritism seemed to exist. She also felt that the education she was receiving was of very little value. "These stupid teachers would come in and go, 'Good morning, darlings, lets all be dustbins!' I'd go, 'Oh, shut up! I wanna be a banana!'
    • On the subject of her childhood stage school, Playboy, September 1988, volume 35, issue 9, p.166
  • I never worked with a dialogue coach before, but I'd hate it if an American did a British accent and didn't do it well. It would be insulting.
  • I love having a kid [...] They don’t let you think about yourself. [The one drawback of being a mum in America is that] Mabel wants Barbie, one of those bloody awful dolls. No vaginas, no nipples and they're bulimic. This is what femininity is? [...] Ever tried to assemble a Barbie barbecue stand? [...] Fortunately, Mabel already knows that Ken's just Mr. Barbie. She already cut his hair punk style. She knows that ... Ken's an idiot.
  • I wouldn't do anything mean spirited. If it's in the wrong spirit, or if its not honest, then I wouldn't do it. It's got to honest. Otherwise, what's the point?
  • Some kids can play the piano or kick a football; I could just impersonate everyone.
    • Quoted on a 2003 episode of The View.
  • Every seven years or so I look around me and I want to look at the society and I want to try and be everyone I'm seeing in the world right now. [...] And I've done this all my life. I realized I used to do this in my mother's bedroom when I was 6. I used to be everyone in my village and everyone at school and everyone in the news, and I'm still doing that same show. I'm now 56. I think I can do it in my 80s. I'll just, you know, impersonate everyone around me then in the nursing home.
    • Quoted by NPR in 2016, on what what drives her to do impersonations
  • There's real fear of aging in this country, which I don’t share. It seems to be an American nightmare, especially for women. There’s nothing worse than a woman trying to look like she did when she was 32 when she is 58. It’s like, “Have some dignity, guys—just go with it!”
  • I based my career from the very beginning on people like Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Margaret Rutherford. I keep thinking Maggie and Judi are going to eventually not want those parts and I’m going to move up and take them (laughter). So, hopefully, I’ll be working in my 70s and 80s. You know, character actresses. I never had looks to lose. I could keep going—Meryl Streep and me.
  • I have the sh*ttest birthday—the 30th of December! Can you imagine what that was like when I was a kid in England? It was the day before New Year’s Eve. It was horrific! My sister’s birthday is on the fourth of July. It was all about strawberries and dancing in the garden in summer dresses. Mine was like, “Don’t talk about it. It’s her birthday.” It was pitch-dark (laughter). Every one wrapped presents for me that they didn’t want from Christmas. It was a terrible time to have a birthday (laughter)!
  • The BBC said the only thing they didn’t like about the show was those weird little animated characters and suggested maybe they could get rid of them because they would never catch on.
  • I really thought I was great when I did a quite serious soap opera for the BBC. I played a nice girl from St. John's Wood. 'Mummy, I think I'm pregnant. I don't know who's done it.' Then I would fall down a hill or something. 'EEEEE! Oh, no, lost another baby.' It seemed all I ever did was have miscarriages—or make yogurt.
  • Dignity, girls! Ageing with dignity – that's the thing.
  • American [comedy] was always stronger because you had Lucille Ball, you had Carol Burnett, you had Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner. I came from a country where we just had Benny Hill girls. You had to run around in a bikini basically in the '80s in Britain. Then I did a sketch show and Pamela Stevenson and then (Dawn) French and (Jennifer) Saunders just shook it all up. But I grew up thinking I could be a character actress. I didn't think I could go into comedy.
  • My face is a good one for doing impersonations. I’ve got small eyes, a low brow and a big head ... When I worked at the BBC in the 80s the only wigs that would fit me were Mike Yardwood's.

"Q&A: Tracey Ullman" (Newsweek, 19 September 2004) edit

  • I love John Waters. There's stuff in it that's beyond the boundaries of my taste, but his movies have always been like that.
  • As I get older, I just prefer to knit.
  • From an early age. I used to dress up and impersonate our next-door neighbor, Miss Cox. She wore rubber boots, a wool hat, and her nose always dripped. My father died when I was 6 and we were really sad, so I put on a show for my mum. [In a mocking American accent] Looking back now, it was a kind of therapy.
  • I left school at 16 and went to Berlin and danced [...] West Berlin, 1976. It was amazing. I wish they hadn't taken the wall down. Now it's full of east Germans wearing Versace shirts.
  • People think I'm a demented little pixie, but I'm not 'on' all the time. I'm sensible. I pay my bills. I've never done drugs. I don't drink or smoke. I eat organic. I'm a goody-goody, really, but I can play bad girls.

"Ullman, By Hook & By 'Crooks'" (NY Daily News, 14 May 2000) edit

  • I'm as famous as I want to be.
  • I thought I'd end up in a Swiss sanitarium. It was brutally hard work. I could barely see my family.
    • On doing her 1980s Fox network series
  • It's very therapeutic, what I do. Other people get this anonymity and thrill from being in an Internet chat room, where they can be anybody they want to be. That's the feeling I get, but to an even greater extent. I physically take on these characteristics. Afterwards, I feel I'm a parrot. I need a black bag put over my head until I become myself again.
    • On playing multiple characters in her television shows

"Tracking Tracey" (Interview, January 1989) edit

  • Working with the same people week after week brings out inspiration. You have to have an open discussion or you end up with actors saying fuck you to the writers and writers saying fuck you to the actors.
  • Every character I do is based on someone I know. I try to justify every sketch we do. If it's not working, we find someone to talk to who it has happened to.
  • What I fear most is that you will know where the laughs are going to come, or that you will know a character so well that you know when they're going to sing a song. In some shows, you just know that the audience is sitting there going "Oh no, she's going to sing."
  • They hold onto a small child who's hungry, then go back to their homes and feel good about themselves. That's how I perceive actors getting involved in politics and charities. They want even more attention for themselves, it's in their nature.
  • Why does everyone think the future is space helmets, silver foil, and talking like computers, like a bad episode of Star Trek?

Tracey Takes On... (1996–99) edit

  • I was never a child. I was always a menopausal woman within a child's body.
  • In 1976 I was sweet 16. Well, I was never sweet, but I was 16.
  • You see, most people with multiple personalities get therapy. I get my own HBO comedy series!
  • Hollywood to me, I never get the real glamour and romance. I look at an old picture of Veronica Lake, you know, looking glamorous, and I just look at her and think, "Maybe she had her period that day."
  • Oh, yeah, she's that snippy little Brit girl who takes all the parts so no one else gets a crack at it.
    • Rayleen Gibson (Tracey Takes On... character) on Tracey Ullman in "Tracey Takes On... Fame"

Tracey Ullman: Live and Exposed (2005) edit

  • I'd stand in front of the mirror and talk to myself until I fell asleep, you know. I'd interview myself as women with problems, you know, like, women in documentaries who had three kids and chainsmoked and husbands in prison that hit them! I'd be in the mirror going, [lowers voice] yeah well, you know, it's not easy since Derrin went into prison. My eyes aren't black anymore, but the twins, Tilly and Wayne, you know, they don't stop crying. SHUT UP TILLY SHUT UP TILLY!
  • My mum went and married a really horrible horrible man, who drove a taxi at night and had a sticky-fingered son and he smoked cigars in the toilet. Smelled terrible! Again, there's no therapy, there's no counseling over the whole situation! Just married the maniac. And there was a new person in her bed now, and I couldn't do my nightly performance anymore. I was nine years old and my show had been canceled!
  • I thought, is this what it's all about? Do you have to be blonde and girly and have freckles and a snub-nose and sort of act the coquette in show business? WELL YES!
  • Everybody's [in Berlin] gay!
  • As we twirled and snapped our fingers, I felt light and airy and fancy-free. Of course I did, I had no bloody panties on! And the cartwheel lift's coming up! And I'm a brunette!

Quotes about Ullman edit

  • I don't use the G-word often because it's so overused. But as far as genius is concerned, I know only two for sure–Orson Welles and Tracey Ullman. She can do so many characters with such perfection. She can be poignant. She can be bizarre. And she is always hysterically funny.
    • Mel Brooks in his 2021 memoir All About Me! My Life in Show Business
  • Tracey Ullman shot like a sparkler into my vision on the set of [1985 film] Plenty ... I thought I’d found my soulmate: a restless, silly, musical wild mimic, with a dark underlay of sangfroid. I loved her on sight. I was absolutely blackout-shocked to discover she was barely 23 years old (I was 33) and I still feel like her (slightly cowed and aspirant) little sister. She hasn’t changed in spirit or matter in all these years that we have remained close. I have no objectivity, clearly, but I am not alone in this assessment of her!
  • I've never met anyone who has less self-doubt than Tracey. She'll try anything in the world. She'll do anything you'll ask her to do. Anything. Because she's not protecting anything – she's not self-conscious, because her confidence in her ability to perform is extraordinary.
  • I don't think there's anybody like her, and that's a big deal. If you insist, there are parallels to Peter Sellers, an actor who did brilliant sketch comedy.
  • She's just brilliant–a bloodsucker of personalities. You walk away, and she's taken a little bit of your brain.
  • Her talent is so compelling. It's like the French flag – you have to stop and salute.
    • James L. Brooks quoted in Vanity Fair, March 1991, p. 88
  • I choreographed Tracey on Three Of A Kind back in England and I believe that her success in America inspired so many of us Brits to believe we could also make a career for ourselves in that wonderful country.
  • If Ruby [Wax] taught us how to write funny, then Tracey was a lesson in how to act funny. She was by far the most famous of us, having starred with Lenny Henry in Three of a Kind.
  • She was a lovely, very innocent, phenomenally talented girl ... She was not aware of the quality she had. Her performance was so special that it was devastating to watch.
  • Tracey Ullman was a huge turning point for me [...] It was so healing, because she ran a sane and wonderful room. She gave everything a shot and set an incredible example. She packed the room with old-school heavy hitters, and then we would go off and come back for one serious day of work per week. She had a wonderful family life and did everything right, and she’s just a stellar example and talent. My time with her was invaluable. I was the baby in the room, and they were lovely to me. I’ll always be grateful to Tracey.
  • Tracey has given me a terrible reputation (laughs). She's very clever [...] I think she knows I'm a huge fan of hers. She's absolutely amazing. I'll give her a good slap when I see her (laughs).
  • Meeting Tracey Ullman and David Copperfield was life-altering. I learned so much. Three of a Kind was a brilliant experience. I stole as much as I could from Tracey Ullman – her characters were always based on truth.
  • She had two little kids at home. There was trouble shooting that day and I remember her telling all of us 'I want to get home by or before dinner because otherwise, what’s the point?' [...] I watched her stop and price out how much it would cost to make a long catwalk or a roundabout for one scene. I watched her make all of these decisions. That was imprinted on me when I became a new mom. I watched Tracey write, direct, star, and showrun and do her character’s makeup and prosthetics, all in a one-day span. That was imprinted on me. I think she is the greatest.

External links edit

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