After a hugely successful hiatus in the US, the comedian is back on this side of the Atlantic with a new show, writes Gemma Dunn
1. The sketch show’s opening credits feature a version of ’little Tracey’, in homage to the actress’ days spent performing in her mother’s bedroom.
Speaking of her younger self, Ullman says: “I used to put my mum’s nightdresses on and be Judy Garland, and then I’d be our neighbour Mr Cox, and eventually she’d tell me to go to bed. I realised then you can do it all your life — it’s what I love to do and it gives me great joy.”
2. The series includes an eclectic mix of characters that Ullman has never before impersonated — from a delinquent Judi Dench to Karen, the former drugs mule returning after 28 years in a Thai jail.
The aim, she explains, was to illustrate a typical day in Britain.
“There’s a running story in episode one where it goes from dawn to dusk and keeps referring back to a particular story. It’s a juxtaposition of what’s going on in ordinary people’s lives and famous people’s lives; everyday we’re in this incredible global hub that is the UK, and I just wanted to show a 24-hour period.”
3. Ullman has also chosen to impersonate powerful women who haven’t been mimicked much before, stating: “I wanted to do a series of national treasures, which I think we have.
“I’m like a Trojan Horse with these impersonations; I can dress up like them and make them whoever I want them to be. I’m putting a personality within them. I mean, who knew Dench was a kleptomaniac?”
4. Of all the personalities featured — which include Angela Merkel — Ullman admits she found Maggie Smith the most difficult to perfect, at least physically.
“I don’t know that we quite got the look right, but the voice... I love listening to it. I adore her, and I hope that none of them the celebs she impersonates hate me for this!”
5. Sally Preston, a feminist MP whose election pledge is to remain topless throughout her term, isn’t based on a current figure, but the character was created to illustrate the shift in how people express political views in this day and age.
“We were talking about topless protests in Europe and we imagined one had been elected here and they happened to be topless.”
Despite donning prosthetic breasts for the part (“They production said, ’Do you want them to be your own breasts?’, and I thought, ’No, no, no!”’), Ullman maintains it was strange to be in front of the crew in a state of undress.
The real triumph, she says, came when the “BBC agreed I didn’t have to pixelate the nipples!”.
6. Getting camera-ready was a lengthy process — from the make-up and wigs to sculpting the faces and bodies that denoted each characters’ individual shape.
Speaking of her transformation into Dench, the 56-year-old says: “I had to put a bit of body padding on and I had to wear a cooling device — like a cooling vest —a lot of the time to cool me down. All those little bits, contact lenses and so on, you have to be patient and get it done.”
7. While it was “a fantastic feeling to be someone else”, Ullman had to make a conscious effort to remain relaxed while in costume: “When you’re in all that stuff, sometimes you can panic a bit.”
8. Despite her side-splittingly funny portrayals, even the seasoned actress owns up to finding some accents hard to perfect.
She’s fond of the challenge though, and concludes that the best way to accomplish it is to “find someone in the area of the accent I want to impersonate and talk to them”.
9. While filming at London’s Richmond Theatre, Ullman made such a convincing Dench that a passer-by mistook the sketch for a real film sequence, thinking it was the real Dench.
“It was great compliment to our make-up team.”
10. Each episode in the six-part series contains an original song written specifically for the show by Ullman and Richard Thomas; composer of the award-winning musical, Jerry Springer: The Opera.
A good friend and former colleague of her late husband Allan McKeown (who produced the British musical), Ullman admits she had a lot of fun penning the tracks, and loves singing and dancing within the context of her sketches.
“Anglea Merkel even gets to sing!” she reveals. “Why not?!”
Tracey Ullman’s Show starts on BBC One on Monday at 10.45pm
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved