Whoopi Goldberg Bricklayer
March 26, 2012 by staff
Whoopi Goldberg Bricklayer, In the time-honoured tradition of treading the boards a period of ‘resting’ is almost a prerequisite for any self-respecting, aspiring young actor. Whoopi Goldberg was no exception. ‘Needs must,’ she says pragmatically. ‘I was young, homeless and addicted to heroin. I’d dropped out of high school and into drugs. Simple as that.
I was a child of the Sixties so I ingested as many mind-altering substances as I could. It was a rite of passage. And when I got clean I was convinced I wanted to be an actor. I just needed a bit of time to convince the acting profession. So, in between, I needed a job.’
A regal Whoopi Goldberg presenting the 1999 Academy Awards show
But a bricklayer? It isn’t exactly cachet laden. Think big dungarees, grubby nails, lots of sloppy cement and men showing wedges of builder’s bottom and beer belly. ‘Well, I needed money and I needed to work,’ she shrugs. ‘So I figured I would rather lay bricks than lay men for money,’ Goldberg grins.
Actually, she became quite good at it. So good that she was invited to join the bricklayer’s union. Something of an honour, she tells me, for a novice brickie building walls around the San Diego Zoo.
Can she still do it? If I wanted a wall could Whoopi build it? ‘Well, I could,’ she says, staring intently down her nose – the only way she can see out of her purple-framed glasses that seem to perch perpetually on the bridge of her nose. ‘But you wouldn’t want it. I’m kinda rusty now. But I was good then. And I could have been great. See that?’ she says, poking a polished finger nail into the cement between the bricks on the back wall of the London Palladium. (Should you be wondering why we are lounging against a wall, next to the wheelie bins, down an alleyway at the back of the theatre, it’s because we were both desperate for a cigarette.) ‘Good, even work,’ she says. ‘I notice these things.’
Wall building, though, wasn’t the only skill Goldberg acquired while she was waiting for the acting fraternity to discover her genius. ‘I did a course in beauty therapy, still have my beautician’s licence too.’ But, in typical Goldberg fashion, her work wasn’t quite conventional.
‘I did people’s make-up. Dead people’s, actually,’ she says diffidently. ‘I was good at that too. I learned the trade and the first job that came up was with a mortician.’
Crunching her Marlboro light beneath the sole of her black and white Converse sneakers (the only shoes she will wear) Goldberg giggles and says: ‘Here’s the story of my first day making up the dead. I got a call saying I was wanted in the boss’s office. Which just happened to be where the bodies were kept in drawers. I went down and there was no one there. So I sat down and waited. A few minutes later I heard sort of creaking. I turned round and one of the drawers was slowly opening. Then someone sat up and waved at me. Someone who should have been dead.
‘Man, I was totally freaked out. Turns out it was the boss. He jumped out and said: “That’s the worst thing that could ever happen to you here, and it won’t. So there’s nothing to be scared of. Just think of the bodies as big dolls whose face and hair you are going to fix.” I was fine after that.’
Back inside the Palladium Goldberg is still shaking with laughter as she settles down in a deep, velvet chair and pours a bottle of mineral water. ‘It wasn’t such a bad job,’ she shrugs. ‘And things could only get better.’
They did, of course. So much so that during the Nineties, after her Oscar-winning role as a psychic in Ghost, Goldberg was Hollywood’s highest paid woman actor. Though she hasn’t been setting the silver screen alight of late, her foray into political commentary and her success as host of The View, Hollywood’s rather po-faced version of British television’s Loose Women, have plunged her back into the limelight.
Today Goldberg – winner of not just an Oscar, but also a Golden Globe and an Emmy – is in town for rehearsals of Sister Act, the £7 million stage version of the 1992 film in which she plays Deloris, the brassy nightclub singer who witnesses a mob murder and is forced to hide out in a convent – transforming the nuns’ choir while she’s there and learning about life, love and loyalty when she isn’t falling foul of Mother Superior (Maggie Smith) and Monsignor Howard (Ian Lavender, Pike from Dad’s Army.)
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