In May, the hit comedy Bob Hearts Abishola ended its five-season run, leaving Christine Ebersole, who played matriarch Dorothy “Dottie” Wheeler, free to pursue new projects. “I’m so grateful that I had that opportunity to do a show with this incredible cast,” Christine, 71, tells Closer. “It’s comedy that came out of a culture clash, and then ultimately transcended that to show a common humanity. It was a positive model for the world.”

Comedy is just one of Christine’s talents. This Illinois native also has one of the strongest voices to ever belt it out on Broadway. In 2001, she won her first of two Tonys for her role in 42nd Street. After a season on Saturday Night Live, Christine turned her talents to screens both big and small. Closer caught up with this multitalented performer as she prepares for her next act.

What will you miss most about your Bob Hearts Abishola character Dottie?

“Telling it like it is. I appreciate that about her. I try to keep it zipped a little more.”

What have been the favorite roles of your career?

Bob Hearts Abishola certainly. It’s the longest-running show I’ve ever done. I did a sitcom from 1986 to ’89 called The Cavanaughs, and after that, Rachel Gunn, R.N. and Ink, with Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen. They lasted only short periods of time, but really, it’s all been one big bowl of cherries. I don’t know how these wonderful opportunities came about — they just did. I met my husband on The Cavanaughs, where he was doing the music. The other life-changing role for me was Grey Gardens [on Broadway]. That was a perfect storm, with all these forces that came together, from the writer and director and costumer to music and lyrics and more. It was quite an experience.”

Were your parents supportive of your decision to become a performer?

“Extremely. I went to a small liberal arts college near Jacksonville, Illinois, MacMurray College, which has since closed. I first thought I wanted to be a nurse. Then maybe a lawyer or a social worker. I just wanted to help people. But my mother advised me, ‘Get into music. Get into theater.’”

Did you come from an arty family?

“Yes, we all had to play an instrument. I played violin and piano. And mom taught us to sing harmony. My dad was like my first acting teacher, as a big lover of Shakespeare. He once told me, ‘I knew from the first day I laid eyes on you in the hospital that you were going to grow up to be a great dramatic actress.’”

How lovely!

“I called him when I was the understudy in On the Twentieth Century on Broadway. That night, I was going to go on. He got on the next plane from Chicago and was in the front row that night.”

Christine Ebersole Waited Tables After Big Break
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

Was that your big break?

“No. In 1975, I was 22 and was waiting tables at the Lion’s Rock in New York. I had gotten an agent. She sent me to audition for Angel Street, whose leading lady was leaving. I came home from a restaurant shift and got a call from my agent saying, “Darling, you’re on Broadway.” So I went into the show — and then three weeks later, the play closed and I was back to waiting tables! It was a humbling experience, but the producer bought my Equity card for me and that was huge.”

You were a regular on Saturday Night Live for a season. What was that like?

“It was such a freak experience. In 1980, I was doing Camelot on Broadway when I got the job on SNL. Imagine, I went from eight shows a week, playing Guenevere opposite Richard Burton and Richard Harris, to SNL. I didn’t come from stand-up or improv, but the producer Dick Ebersol [no relation] wanted to introduce a singer into the cast. I could still sing for you some of the songs they wrote for us. There was one, in a Christmas show, where I was singing about Reaganomics with Joe Piscopo. At one point, a piece of the plastic snow that was coming down got lodged in the back of my throat. We were live, so I couldn’t ask to cut or even cough. I had no choice but to sing through it. That’s when I realized that SNL was high-stakes and high pressure. It really was like being on a high wire.”

What are you proudest of in your life and career?

“It always ends up being the family. That’s what I think is my biggest achievement. I don’t know that I was as good at it as being onstage, but family is really where your strength comes from. And I think it’s probably what helps you persevere.”

What’s your secret to a happy marriage?

“He really makes me laugh. Even when we’re arguing, we laugh and break the spell.”

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were younger?

“Don’t worry about something you have no control over. Whether you get the job, or don’t, God has those things figured out, so just try to follow along and show up with a smile. Things work out. If my contract hadn’t been terminated at Saturday Night Live, I never would have gotten to do the movie Amadeus.”

What are you looking forward to next?

“Taking a break. I’ve been at this for 50 years, nonstop, sometimes doing two shows at once. There have been a lot of times I have been away from my home base in New Jersey. It’s where my husband and I moved in 1999 because we had three children and seven animals and needed a backyard. We still have eight animals: four dogs, three cats and a cockatiel. It’s veritable zookeeping.”

What do you like about being this age?

“Freedom. My kids are grown, but also now, I’m not as concerned about what people think of me. I think a lot of that came when I turned 70. For me, every decade has come with its own thing, and I think that turning 70 was much easier than the other decades — even though I lost my brother a couple of years ago, my fiercest ally, and that has made me more aware of my own mortality. But where I am in my career, I feel like I’ve done everything and don’t have anything to prove. I’m not chasing anything, so whatever comes my way now is gravy.”