For most actors, scoring an Oscar nomination would be the highlight of their career. For Whoopi Goldberg, it was merely the beginning. When the 64-year-old movie star, comedian, author, producer, and longtime host of “The View” returned to the Stern Show, she opened up about everything from her thoughts on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to the origins of her wildly successful—if not completely improbable—entertainment career.
“I have one of the great lives on the planet because it’s all happening, always, in some crazy way that you think, ‘Come on!’” Whoopi told Howard on Tuesday. “If someone wrote this, it just wouldn’t happen. No one would believe it.”
“Because of where you grew up and your humble beginnings?” Howard asked.
“And what I look like … and all the things people keep telling me are against me that we seem to be breaking the barriers for,” she responded.
Whoopi transitioned from Broadway to Hollywood in the mid-1980s and hit the ground running. Her first major role was starring as Celie in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Color Purple.” The film earned 11 Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture, one for Best Actress (Goldberg), and two for Best Supporting Actress (Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery).
Howard was blown away that anyone, even someone so talented as Whoopi, could start their Hollywood career off with an Oscar-caliber part in a Spielberg movie. As she explained it, the iconic director heard good things about her stage work and offered to fly her from New York to Los Angeles to try out for the part.
“You get an invitation from somebody like that and it’s like, ‘Yeah, okay!’” Whoopi recounted.
The audition took place in a small performance space on the Universal Studios lot, but what she didn’t realize before taking the stage is that Steven had packed the audience with superstars like Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson.
“I peeked out from behind the curtain … and there are all kinds of [famous] people,” Whoopi said. “I just felt like, ‘I hope I’m good, I hope I’m good,’ because all those people there—including Steven—were people who I had always dreamed about.”
Landing the role soon led to Whoopi landing her first Academy Award nomination, but that year’s statue would go to veteran actress Geraldine Page (“The Trip to Bountiful”). Howard wondered if she was frustrated to lose to Page, who’d previously been nominated for seven Oscars but hadn’t yet eked out a win.
If anything, Whoopi was happy for her colleague. “Not only is she a great actress, but she’s a New York actress, so, you know, one of ours was up,” she said. “If you lose to someone who they nominated, nominated, nominated … you can’t feel bad.”
Thankfully, Whoopi didn’t need to wait too long for another chance. She scored a Best Supporting Actress nod in 1990 for her portrayal of a phony psychic who learns she actually can see dead people in “Ghost.” That year, Whoopi wasn’t destined to leave the awards ceremony empty handed. Howard heard Whoopi was high when she accepted her Oscar that night, but his guest neither confirmed nor denied the rumor.
“Kind of,” she said.
Howard assumed a celebrity might play it extra safe on a night that big, especially considering winning would mean speaking to a live audience of millions.
“You think most people have a cocktail before they go into the Oscars?” Whoopi told him. “I don’t drink alcohol, but, you know, other people do other things. It’s the same sort of groove, so it’s not really that shocking—if it were true.”
Whatever she was doing worked because the awards kept piling up. By 2002, she’d won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony award, making her one of the rarified few in history to earn the coveted “EGOT” distinction. She is the first African American to accomplish the feat and only the fourth woman. To this day, only Whoopi and 14 other entertainers can be called EGOT winners.
Howard was surprised to learn she kept all the physical trophies in a room upstairs instead of by her side in her office. “No, I know I have them,” she said with a laugh.
The twists and turns of Whoopi’s career included everything from charitable stand-up gigs with Robin Williams and Billy Crystal to playing an alien bartender on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” These days, she’s is best known as one of the fieriest personalities on ABC’s daytime talk show “The View.” Howard sometimes sensed on-air tension between the show’s co-hosts, including Whoopi and Megan McCain, and wondered if those feelings ever carried over into real life.
“The absolute truth is no,” Whoopi said. “You and I are a certain age, Howard, and there’s certain stuff that’s not gonna happen, you know? You’ll say what you have to say and you’ll take care of what needs to be taken care of … It’s not that deep. It’s just not that deep.”
In his 2019 bestseller “Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of The View,” Ramin Setoodeh suggested plenty of drama went on behind the scenes of the show, from infighting to secret crushes. The author reportedly interviewed 11 past and current hosts while researching his book but Whoopi declined to participate.
“One of the things that you can take to the bank with me … if you and I have a private conversation, nobody else is going to hear about it, ever,” she told Howard. “I don’t want to be worried about everybody that I’m standing around and I don’t want them to be worried about me.”
“Why do you think so many people who are involved with ‘The View’ agree to talk about what goes on behind the scenes?” Howard wondered.
“I don’t know,” Whoopi said, revealing she never even bothered to read the tell-all. “It’s not a book I’m interested in. I don’t care. My day ends with ‘The View’ at noon … and then the rest of my life happens,” she added.
Whoopi admitted her job can sometimes be hard but the COVID-19 crisis has helped her put things into perspective. “Listen, it’s a tough gig, you know? Sometimes you get a little heated, sometimes you just don’t want to be bothered,” she said. “And at this time, how pissed can I get with everything that’s going on? Because I disagree or, you know, I’m tired of listening? Really? Is it that heavy? No, people are dying.”
Whoopi currently has other projects in production, including CBS All Access’s adaptation of Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic pandemic novel “The Stand,” but considering how great she’s been on the big screen, Howard wondered why she isn’t starring in more films. “You’re masterful … and when you’re a master you should be doing what you do so well,” he said.
“You have to have people asking you to master things,” she pointed out with a laugh.
While Whoopi does expect to make more movies and documentaries in the future, she believes she’s better serving the world right now on “The View.” “I guess I’m supposed to be in this chair every day saying, ‘Listen, we do not need to buy into fear and panic. We can master this if we do it together.’ I feel like I’m better off doing this,” she said.
“Everything pre this pandemic seemed like a soft-light life,” Whoopi told Howard at one point. “Now, it’s really clear. Everything’s in sharp focus here.”
“I’m really lucky. I can go outside,” she continued. “People that are doing what they need to be doing, staying in and sort of sucking it up, my hat’s off to every one of these folks—every one of them—because this is a bitch.”
Howard wondered if the prospect of contracting COVID-19 scared her out of her mind.
“I’m not scared. I was scared last year. I already had the ‘oh my God, I’m looking into the light’ moment,” Whoopi said, explaining she overcame a severe respiratory infection in 2019 which she believes might have been a precursor to the coronavirus. “They thought that perhaps it came from a French person who had flown in to do something during Fashion Week,” she continued. “But I think I had a piece of this because the double pneumonia, the ventilators, all the stuff—I feel like this evolved.”
As a consequence, Whoopi has made some lifestyle changes after her doctor basically gave her a choice: weed or death. “Lungs do not allow for vaping or smoking, there’s nothing. I come to you right now as straight and clean as a newborn baby,” she told Howard.
Watch Whoopi Goldberg on “The View,” airing weekdays at 11 a.m. ET on ABC.