Sue Scott: Amazing Vocal Talent
Updated October 4, 2012
(Original interview: March 17, 2010)
A Prairie Home Companion cast member Sue Scott's connection with Minnesota Public Radio started in late 1988 when she was cast to perform multiple character roles for various local and national MPR broadcasts. When Garrison Keillor returned to St. Paul with A Prairie Home Companion in 1992, Sue joined the cast and has been there ever since. Sue has also performed on celebrated theater stages throughout the Twin Cities and the Midwest, is a veteran voice-over talent who can be heard frequently on radio and TV, and is featured in the Robert Altman movie A Prairie Home Companion as Donna, the make-up lady.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Tucson, Arizona. I know, I went the wrong way. Most people grow up here and then move to Arizona! I ended up in the Midwest in the mid-70's doing summer stock theatre in Garrison, Iowa. I followed some actor friends up here to the Twin Cities in the early 80's and never left!
How were you first drawn to becoming a performer?
I really didn't get interested in performing until high school. Well, I was in church choir while I was growing up, of course. That was the extent of my "performing" until I got totally turned on to theatre in high school and then majored in theatre at the University of Arizona.
What is your favorite sketch from Sue Scott - Seriously Silly?
Well, they're all my favorites, of course, which is why they're here, but I would have to say that I do enjoy the Mom and Duane phone call scripts. Those are tons of fun to do on the air!
When they first aired, did you get any feedback from fans about these particular sketches?
I've heard from a lot of folks about the Mom and Duane sketches. They say things like, "You obviously know my Irish Catholic mother", or "you are definitely channeling my Jewish mother". My favorite was the comment from a woman who has two sons away at college. She said to me after a show, "You people have ruined my communication with my sons! I am now completely paranoid every time I talk to one of them on the phone because I'm terrified that something passive aggressive is going to come out of my mouth!" I love that one.
Tell us what it's like to perform on APHC each week. What does a show week look like: when do you get the first script, when is the first rehearsal or read through, how much rehearsal is there, etc? Is it true that the scripts sometimes change at the last minute?
Well, for instance, for one of our shows on the road the actors typically fly out Friday morning and rehearse at the venue sometime Friday evening. (That's the first time we see the scripts.) Then we gather back at the venue late morning or early afternoon on Saturday for a rehearsal on stage. The scripts have usually changed quite bit between the Friday night and the Saturday afternoon rehearsals. They can often go through further re-writes between the Saturday afternoon rehearsal and the show that night. And yes, sometimes the scripts do change during the show. If Garrison decides to cut something while we're on stage performing the sketch, he might cross out part of a page and pass it on to me to share with the others. Hey, it's live, baby. Gotta stay on your toes.
How do you come up with the voice for each character every week?
I try to choose a voice that is appropriate to the character and the situation that character is in. That might mean age, attitude or regionalism. I also try to convince the listener that these are real people. Maybe kinda wacky people, but real nonetheless. Let's say we're doing a script that has 3 women characters in it and they're all from Minnesota. In this situation I might try to place those 3 characters in different parts of my voice. For instance one woman is a suburban mom, so I'll make her higher pitched and perky. Another one is an elderly farm woman so she might have a no- nonsense sound mixed with some loose dentures. The last one maybe is someone's sister who complains a lot so a nasally, heavy sighing sound might be good for her...
Prairie Home has quite a number of younger fans, who especially love the full-cast scripts such as Guy Noir and Dusty and Lefty. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become a radio actor or voice talent?
Go do theatre! Get involved in your high school plays. Audition at the local community theatre. Do anything that will help you to learn to interpret a script. The goal is to be able to pull it off the page and bring it to life. Getting involved in plays in high school or community theatre can also help you to feel comfortable performing in front of people. That's kind of crucial when we're talking Live radio.
My favorite comedy routine from the show is the first of the Linda Wertheimer scripts. I see that on this new CD it's listed as "Special Report."
That would be one of my all time favorites, too! Garrison wrote an amazing script for Tim and me. It was technically one of the hardest scripts to do. There were all these sections where we were speaking at the same time and then pausing... and then using our breath to signal each other as to when to start again. It demanded our full attention, but was tons of fun to do!
Do you play a recurring character that you are especially fond of? Why?
I love all my recurring characters equally! Barb from the Catchup Advisory Board and Guy Noir's ex-girlfriend, Sugar and Ruth Harrison, Reference Librarian and Berniece from the Bob scripts and of course Duane's mom and the weekly femme fatale on Guy Noir and the various waitresses in the Lives of the Cowboys and etc. etc. etc. Love them all!
Do you have a favorite sponsor ad?
All our sponsors are very appreciated, of course, but I've had fun over the years with the spokeswomen for the American Duct Tape Council. Marlene Brower was the first and then there was Super Model, Cynthia Maxwell.
You were in the cast of the A Prairie Home Companion movie directed by the late Robert Altman? How was working with Robert Altman and that talented cast?
I got to play Donna, the make-up lady in that film. It was a great experience. Before we ever started filming the movie, Robert Altman would come and hang out with us during show weekends. He obviously wanted to get a first hand look and feel of the show. Working with all these veteran actors in our business was great. A bit intimidating at first, of course, but everyone was so supportive and complimentary that we all felt comfortable very quickly.
Are there any funny anecdotes about the making of the movie?
There was the day where it rained so hard that they gave me this huge golf umbrella to hold over myself while I ran from the make-up trailer to the set (the Fitzgerald). This was fairly early in the shoot and the paparazzi were camped out hoping and praying to get a glimpse of Lindsay Lohan. So this rainy day, I come out of the make-up trailer covered down to my knees with this golf umbrella. All you can see is the bottom of my jeans and my cowboy boots. Well, I take two steps onto the sidewalk and all of a sudden two guys with cameras duck up inside the umbrella with me and are taking photos inches from my face. "Hey, not who you're looking for", is all I could think of to say while I'm trying not to trip all over them. Obviously they were hoping I was Lindsay. I would have loved to see their faces when they developed their film... "Who the hell is this?!"
Meryl Streep was part of the cast. Did she give you any sage advice about film acting during filming? And did you return the favor when she appeared on the live APHC radio program?
Meryl was a hoot to work with both on the movie and on the two radio shows she did with us! John C. Reilly was great too.
We had a blast with John and his wife Alison when they came to Iceland with us a couple of months before the movie opened. Some of the best advice during the movie shoot, however, was from Kevin Kline. I wasn't feeling very good about a particular scene that I shot late one night and after expressing that to Kevin, he regaled me with all these stories of various scenes in movies where he had felt that he had totally screwed up during filming and then at the premieres discovered that those very scenes had made the final cut and worked beautifully. Very sweet of him to do that.
I have noticed that you and Tim Russell have a very extensive website. For any PHC fan, it would be a wonderful insight into how the show is produced, what each of you do, insight into the filming of the PHC movie, and full of listening bits and sound bites and video from the show. Visit www.prairiehomevoices.com is this the best way for fans to keep up with all your activities and projects?
Yes! Thanks for asking.
Sue Scott's Selected Works
- Marcia Ball
- Suzy Bogguss
- Philip Brunelle
- Pat Donohue
- Pat Donohue
- Mike Dowling
- Archive Fun: Bob Dylan
- Archive Fun: Emmylou Harris
- The Hopeful Gospel Quartet
- Ledward Kaapana
- Tom Keith
- Laurie Lewis
- Patty Loveless
- Heather Masse
- Jay Ungar and Molly Mason
- Delbert McClinton
- The Nashville Bluegrass Band
- Tracy Nelson
- Mollie Obrien
- Peter Ostroushko
- Peter Ostroushko
- Paula Poundstone
- Tim Russell
- Sue Scott
- Jo Serrapera
- Ricky Skaggs
- Ralph Stanley II
- Jearlyn Steele
- Andra Suchy
- Andra Suchy
- Inga Swearingen
- Richard Thompson
- April Verch
- Rhonda Vincent
- Sara Watkins
- Archive Fun: Gillian Welch
- Robin & Linda Williams
- Robin & Linda Williams
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).