New York-based filmmaker Lisa D'Apolito directed and produced Magnolia Pictures’ “Love, Gilda,” a documentary on comedian Gilda Radner and her cancer journey. The movie opened this weekend and Lisa took a few minutes to answer our questions.
But first, a little bit about Gilda from Gilda's Club: Born on June 28, 1946 in Detroit, Michigan, Gilda is best known as one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live, where she won an Emmy Award for her work in 1978. Some of her most memorable characters were Roseanne Roseannadanna, Baba Wawa, Emily Litella and Lisa Loopner. In 1980, Gilda left SNL and married fellow comedian Gene Wilder.
Gilda’s ovarian cancer was diagnosed too late for effective treatment and she died in 1989. Before her death, Gilda’s dream was to develop a community where anyone with cancer would receive the kind of support she had found. Gene and many of Gilda’s friends founded Gilda’s Club in her memory and opened its signature red door in June 1995.
Humor Beats Cancer: How did you get involved in this project?
Lisa: I started making fundraising videos for Gilda’s Club about seven years ago in New York City. I just fell in love with Gilda’s Club and fell in love with the members. When I would interview members for fundraising efforts they talked about Gilda. Gilda had such a presence. Her legacy was so important. She really lives on as an inspiration for helping people.
It took me four a half years to make it. For the first two years, on and off, I worked to raise money and to get interviews. I was going to finish it as a short. But Gilda’s brother gave me her personal boxes and diaries and she and Gene made this short film. When I saw in her hospital gown with her hair all gone and she was making jokes, it started me down a road to what I thought would be a great film.
HBC: Were there any particular interviews you did that stand out?
Lisa: The interviews that really stand out are from the people who didn’t know Gilda like the modern day comedians. They talk about how impactful she was to their careers and how much they connected to her and her comedy. We did so many different interviews and they were all good because they gave me a different side. I loved Martin Short’s interview because he describes those early days of Gilda’s life as a young actress trying to make it.
HBC: How did Gilda use comedy to deal with cancer?
Lisa: It was her way to understand the world around her and she was just funny and just saw the funny in everything. When she was ill in the ’80s, people weren’t so open about talking about cancer. When she was on the Gary Shandling Show she made jokes about cancer. She was really was on a mission to write her book and bring awareness to cancer and take away the stigma.
She would be at a dinner party and she would talk about cancer. She tells the story of sitting next to someone who practiced Buddhism and they were trying to one-up each other with who could talk more about their subject. I think she really lived her life to the fullest and didn’t let cancer stop her. I don’t think anybody stopped her. That’s why I made the film -- I just felt so inspired by her.
HBC: What do you hope people get out of the film?
Lisa: I hope people enjoy the movie just for the sake of enjoying the movie and spending time with Gilda. She found hope in the darkest of times. She was happy with what she had.
HBC: Did you have any personal connections to Gilda or cancer?
Lisa: My dad and mom and grandmother all died within 18 months of each other when I was pregnant. They had HIV and my grandmother had brain cancer. I definitely have had experience with illness. It’s such an awful thing.
HBC: How will the film resonate with our readers?
Lisa: The film is resonating with younger people. There is something about Gilda in her hay day. Everybody loved her because she was approachable. She is like you and I and her story is our story. Awful things happened to her. But she is very inspiring and she is funny. Her whole being was about trying to deal cancer and love others. She believed in loving yourself and loving others. Her place in comedy history is so strong especially for a female comedian.