in conversation

In Conversation: Whoopi Goldberg

From her Oscar win to getting iced out of Hollywood, Whoopi has never lost sight of herself.

Photo: Micaiah Carter for New York Magazine
Photo: Micaiah Carter for New York Magazine

Early on in her career, she went by Whoopi Cushion, and later, Whoopi Kushon — pronounced the French way, with a silent N. The name Whoopi made her laugh: direct and vital, like farting. Her mom suggested the last name Goldberg, to lend some gravity. The 1984 Broadway debut of her one-woman show was simply titled Whoopi Goldberg, and since then she has achieved one-name status as Whoopi, or, to some, Whoop.

True to her name, her career has been strange and singular: The Broadway show led to a leading role in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple, for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress as Celie. She often took movie roles that were passed on by white actors — Shelley Long (Jumpin’ Jack Flash), Bruce Willis (Burglar), Bette Midler (Sister Act). She did TV during a time when it was considered beneath movie stars. After she won an Oscar for Ghost — the first Black woman to do so since Hattie McDaniel for Gone With the Wind in 1940 — she hosted her own late-night talk show, The Whoopi Goldberg Show, that lasted one season. “Most people who win Oscars will tell you, ‘You’re going to get so much work.’ No, it’s like crickets,” she says. “I have the career that I have because I created it.”

The real silence came during the 2004 election, when she joked at a John Kerry fundraiser that “we should keep Bush where he belongs and not in the White House.” She lost a sponsorship deal with SlimFast and became persona non grata. She lay low, wrote children’s books, and did voicework until Barbara Walters asked her if she would join The View in 2007, turning the show into a watercooler-discourse generator over the past decade. In part because of the constant churn of The View, her public image has become that of a curmudgeonly statesperson. Google her name for controversies and a dozen will show up — everything from chiding rising political stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for not respecting her elders to defending the character of Mel Gibson. Over the course of two conversations, including one on-camera for Vulture Festival, a Whoopi emerged who is closer to someone who would host you for dinner: She is happy to have you as you are, as long as you do the same.

Whoopi Goldberg: What does your shirt say?

“No comment.” I thought it was funny if I wore this. Just as a reminder to anybody talking to me.
That’s right. But people are desperate to talk, and they just want to say what’s happening with them. So they may not listen to that.

That’s okay.
I love the shirt on you. I got a sweatshirt that said “All right, 2020, it’s enough.” Regardless who gets in, we still are going to have a huge fight on our hands to restore a woman’s right to choose, to restore the Voting Rights Act. I think they’re going to take that apart.

I was watching RuPaul’s Drag Race this past season, and it was a good reminder of your own origin story. The challenge was to do a one-woman show. In The Spook Show, which eventually evolved into the Broadway show Whoopi Goldberg, you play all of these different characters from this huge swath of life. Was that always your core as an actor? That you can be anybody, at any time, in any situation?
Well, it’s not just my belief — it’s what I know I am able to do. One of the good things about me is that I can play any being I need to play. I know how to pretend to be someone else. I’m lucky in that way. Other people are not so convinced all the time. What they see is the outward shell. They’re not looking and thinking, Oh can she bring this to life? Because Oh my God, she’s Black, so what does she know? As it turns out, quite a bit. I’ve had lots of experiences with different kinds of people. I don’t always like the people, but I accept their experience. I understand why they feel the way they feel. My faith in myself is much greater than other people’s faith in me.

Have you always had that tenacity and sense of self from the outset?
Yeah, my mom instilled that in me. Her thing was: You can run with the crowd — which is fine; lots of people do — but if you’re someone who thinks outside of where other people want you to think, you might have some trouble. Because not everybody is going to get it. Not everybody is going to like it. And you have to be prepared to be alone. If you’re okay with all of that, then you can have the life that you want.

You performed your one-woman show in a legendary audition for Steven Spielberg at his theater at Amblin, where there was an audience of people including Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. Did you do the entire show then?
Yeah, I did the whole show.

My understanding was that you also performed a character called Blee T — a play on his alien character from E.T. Can you tell me about that?
It’s the Black E.T., Blee T. So I have these characters that tell stories. Blee T is not like E.T., because he doesn’t land in a nice little neighborhood — he lands in rough Oakland in the early ’80s. He would like to call home, but none of the outdoor phones work in the neighborhood, and there are drugs around. He starts to hang with a rougher element than he did when he was in the other area, and he ends up running with a pimp who teaches him to get a Jheri curl and puts him in these amazing suits. So when Blee T’s people come to get him, he mows them down with his AK-47s because he doesn’t recognize them. To him, they are aliens and not like him.

It’s all about being careful with assimilation, because you don’t want to take people’s cores out of them as they become citizens. You want them to hold on to the values they grew up with and enhance them with American values. Everybody said, “Don’t do that for Spielberg, because it’s like you spitting on E.T.” But at the end of the show, they said, “More. We love it. Oh my God, more, more,” and I said, “Okay. Here’s the thing: They told me not to do the thing that’s left that I would do for you, so I’m not going to do it.” And Steven said, “What is it?” I said, “Well, if I tell you, you’re going to want to see it, and they’re going to be mad at me.” And he said, “No, no, I want to see it. I’ll make my own decision.”

And so I did it for him. And everybody was looking at him sideways to make sure everything was okay, but I think it was, because of the spirit in which I did it — coming from someplace else and trying to fit in and then fitting in so well that there’s no “you” left. He understood what I was doing and said I shouldn’t be afraid to do it for people. He said, “I want to offer you the part of Celie,” and I said, “I don’t think I could do that, because I don’t know anything about making movies. And I don’t want to mess you up.” And he’s like, “Why don’t you let me worry about you messing me up.” I was like, “Oh, okay.” I went and did it.

From Blee T to Celie. I can’t help but wonder if you felt similarly after The Color Purple gets nominated for a boatload of Oscars and you’re nominated for Best Actress. Entering Hollywood, did you feel like there were these forces trying to make you something different, and you were trying to hold on to who you were?
It took me a long time to understand what was happening, but I was so thrilled to be entering into the world of the movies. I always knew I was going to be an actor. It was all I ever thought I’d be — so much so that as a kid, I would give Academy Award speeches. But I didn’t realize my difference until people started to look at me and go, “Well, what are you, really? Are you a comic? Are you an actor? What’s that on your hair?” I got most of the films I’m in by saying, “Well, I know that so-and-so turned this down. Can I read it?” And so I got to do all kinds of different things that might not have come my way if I hadn’t said I’d like to try it. I didn’t realize there were things people felt I couldn’t do, not because I wasn’t talented but because I was Black. It’s like, What? What do you mean?

I started writing monologues for myself because I’d go on auditions and people would say, “Well, we can’t really use you as the nurse in Romeo and Juliet,” and I’d be like, “Why not? You’ve already decided I can’t do it, and I can.” I discovered people were very uncomfortable with any kind of love scene — that they took them out because they weren’t comfortable. And it was like, Okay, you guys know I have a very robust sex life, right?

Are you talking about Fatal Beauty?
Fatal Beauty or any of the movies I’ve done where there was a possibility of making out with somebody who was a different race or a different color. And realizing that my visual of the world was like this [makes a large gesture with her hands], and their visual of the world oftentimes was much smaller, I had to come to terms with that and act accordingly. So I did.

What does that mean?
Well, it means when people pick up your hair and go, “What do we do with this shit?,” you can’t punch them in the face, which is the first instinct. But you understand that no one has ever said to them, “It’s rude to pick up somebody’s hair and talk like that.” It’s not even that they don’t have manners, if they don’t know any better. They don’t know any Black people. Most of the folks hadn’t, except for people that were working in their houses maybe, but not on a relationship, friendship level. It took a while for me to understand that sometimes people didn’t realize what they were saying, and so my responses couldn’t be a flare always. I had to kind of say, “Now, look, I know you don’t get this, but kids play the same way everywhere.”

You have to find somebody who believes what you believe, who will take a chance. It’s like surfing: You have to know when to lean back and shift your weight and lean into it and make your turn. So you have people who say, “Well, why is your name Whoopi Goldberg? You just want to be a white woman.” It’s like: No. I’ve been Black the whole time. I’ve had 4,000 names. I liked names. With this one, my mom helped formulate it. It’s fun. And it goes well with Whoopi. Why wouldn’t we use that?

You mean the last name Goldberg?
Yeah, they say, “Oh, you’re just trying to get in with the right people.” If it was that easy, you think I would be the first one doing that? I’d get these cards and letters from people saying, “Why don’t you prove to us that you’re Black.” Your idea of what Black is and my idea of what Black is might be different because we’re coming at it from different places, but don’t tell me mine isn’t legit because you don’t like it.

It sounded like you would sometimes butt heads around that idea of Blackness with Spike Lee, for instance.
Well, yeah, we’ve come to terms with it, but he was upset with me because I didn’t have a whole lot of folks around me who were Black working for me. And I was like, “First of all, I can’t afford an entourage. I just can’t. If you’ve got ideas, show me what you’re doing. Who is taking care of you? Your idea of being Black and my idea of being Black are two totally different things if I listen to you.”

Listen to him in what way?
I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the way I was living my life and if there weren’t enough Black people in my life — according to him, that’s how he felt. But that was who he was at the time. And then one day, I ran into him and said, “Dude, what is wrong with you? What is the matter?” And he was like, “I’m just messing with you.” I was like, “Oh good, because this is getting tiring. I love your work, and we’ve never worked together, and you probably will never work with me because I’m not your kind of actor, I guess. I don’t have that thing. But lighten up.” And he was like, “We’re fine.” I was like, “Okay. That’s cool.”

So you’re cool?
Yeah. As you get older, the idea of dragging around a feud or a beef, it’s like, C’mon, I don’t want to carry this shit all of the time. Who wants it? I don’t want to beef with you — let’s do something that could be fun. And so I’ve gone the way I’ve gone; I’ve chosen all the movies I’ve done because I was interested in them.

People used to say, “Well, you’re always playing a maid.” I was like, “What does that tell you?” It tells you that the people who write these scripts, this is their life. They’re describing their lives and the people who raised them. These were the women who raised all these directors and producers, so this is their homage to the women who left their kids to take care of them. Don’t be mad at me — I’m working. You want me to do something, write it. Otherwise, get out the way.

You wrote the one-woman show as a way to showcase your talent. Did you ever want to write for film?
Yeah, but in those days, 30 years ago, they weren’t interested in that. If you were a guy, you could have all of that. You could be executive producer. It wasn’t because I wasn’t asking — it wasn’t available to me. I would have loved to have been in The Princess Bride, but nobody asked me. And I was cute, I’m just saying.

You were.
I was. I was very cute. I was different looking. There were myriad things I would have loved to have done, but no one was coming for me like that. Now, mind you, I got handheld into the business. I came in holding Mike Nichols and Steven Spielberg’s hands, and it still wasn’t enough to make people comfortable and believe in my abilities — to do many things, not just the things that they set out for me to do. So I’m not bitching — I’m just saying if I’d been born a guy, it would have been a lot easier. But maybe not. Maybe I’d have been too close to Eddie Murphy and there could only be one Eddie. Who can say?

Because the pool was very small when it came to people of color, and there weren’t a lot of women. There are a ton of women now, which is wonderful to say, but we slogged through and it was much better for me than it was for Hattie McDaniel. And she worked all the time too. So you do the best you can do, and you watch, and you say, “Okay, let me step over because it’s not my time. I’m not the newest, hottest thing anymore. Let me see what I can do.”

Did you feel like you had accrued enough power to kind of shape the roles you were getting after winning the Oscar for Ghost?
No. And most people who win Oscars will tell you, “You’re going to get so much work.” No, it’s like crickets. But it was okay because Ghost brought me Sister Act. So that was there when I was also doing Star Trek.

Doing Star Trek was particularly novel for a movie star at the time, whereas film actors regularly do TV now. How did that come about?
I was always ahead of my time. But what people don’t understand is you have to be a buff. I loved Star Trek as a kid. So LeVar Burton comes over to my house one day, and I said to him, “What are you doing?” He said, “Well, I’m doing a show called Star Trek: The Next Generation.” I was like, “Can you tell them I would like to be on it?” He said, “What?” I said, “Yeah, I love Star Trek.” He said, “Okay.”

A year goes by and I see him again. I said, “Did you ever tell them?” He said, “Yeah, but they actually didn’t believe me.” I said, “Can you get me Gene Roddenberry’s number?” I call the office and I said, “I would like to come in and talk to you about maybe being on the show because it’s important for me.” And he said, “Well, now I’m intrigued. Come in.” I went in and met him and Rick Berman, and he says, “What is this about?” I said, “Listen, I have watched science fiction my whole life, and Star Trek is the only time that I ever saw Black people in the future. Not only was it a Black woman in the future, but she was in charge of communications. She wasn’t serving coffee. So for some little girl, I would like to be what Nichelle [Nichols] was for me.”

Two days later, he sent me Guinan. And I said, “Yeah, I would do it.” So he wrote her for the second season, and he named her after a woman named Texas Guinan, who ran a joint in New York and used to greet her patrons with two six-guns. Bang, bang, she would shoot up and say, “Hello, suckers.” The greatest.

Guinan’s backstory was always very mysterious.
Yes, and it continues to be very mysterious. She’s very old and she makes her way around the universe. She’ll stay someplace for 100 years, or she’ll go someplace for a short amount of time. I think Picard is one of her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grands.

Something I wanted to pinpoint was what happened during Sister Act. It sounded like you were at odds with Disney and what you wanted the role to be.
There were a couple of things that were happening. I wasn’t sure what they wanted. Because we didn’t quite have a script, but we had a director, Emile Ardolino, who had an idea and was sort of forced into taking me because this was Bette Midler’s movie first. And so once I realized that he had had his heart set on somebody else, I said, “Well, here’s the thing: I can’t sing like Bette, so she can’t be a great singer and then have my voice — it’s not a good idea if you dub me.” They got Marc Shaiman in, and he taught me how to sing.

Once we were able to establish that she had been a one-hit wonder and she had just gone this far, it made it a lot easier to do, and everybody was okay. And then there were lots of things that had nothing to do with the film but how folks were being treated. I felt I should be more active, and so I created a little bit of a problem for Disney.

What happened?
Well, just the ladies, the nuns, hadn’t gotten everything I felt they should have gotten because they were older women. They weren’t looking out for everybody. They were women who I felt should be able to go and have dinner and not be worried about paying for hotels. What is it called when they pay you and you’re on the road? My brain is gone.

Your per diem?
Per diem, yeah. And that per diem should be enough to pay all of your hotel bills, and it should take care of the food. And we had a little glitch where it wasn’t the situation I thought they should be in, and so I made a little noise.

You went on a strike?
I got “sick.” I would never go on a strike. But my coughing and sneezing coincided with our brief problem. But they fixed it, and it was great. And my God, listen, I said to Maggie Smith, “You’re Maggie Smith. Why are you doing this movie?” And she said, “Because they’ve asked me.” And I said, “Wow.” And she said, “You get to a certain age now, and you’re too old for this, you’re not sexy enough for this, so this looked like fun and they asked me.” And I was like, “Well, I am really glad you did. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Because, as it turned out, she was brilliant and great to talk to about a career that goes up and down. She and Elizabeth Taylor instilled in me that you must find lots of things to do within your career because it moves in waves.

So what was the T-shirt about?
[Smiles] Nothing.

Does that mean you have no comment on it?
Actually, yes. Yes, it does.

Okay, fair enough. What happened with the Friars Club roast when your boyfriend at the time, Ted Danson, did his roast as you in blackface?
I don’t know. I think they fucked me, and they did it on purpose.

Who’s “they”?
The Friars. These roasts are generally done with friends and people who know you. And there weren’t a lot of friends on the dais — we were wide open to the general public. Nobody told me this. I don’t really talk much about it anymore, but I feel like they did not look out for me. Now, that happens. So, I don’t do anything with them anymore.

Something I just wanted to understand was: What was the concept behind it?
Well, if I tell you all that, that goes into a place I don’t really talk about anymore because it doesn’t just involve me. I don’t want to start that up for somebody else. But this, I will tell you: There was a reason I did it, but there was no reason for it to go off the rails the way it did. Except that these were all people on the dais — with the exception of RuPaul — that I did not know. So you’ve been to a roast before, right?

I’ve only seen them. I’ve never been to one.
Well, I didn’t know a lot of these people, so my humor didn’t translate for them. You suddenly are in the middle of something where you’re making a statement and they’re kind of freaking out. So, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I have so many follow-up questions, though.
I know you do. But, again, because it involves other people, I don’t want to open that door, because I don’t want them hassled.

You don’t talk shit about other people, I’ve noticed.
I don’t. I try not to. If I’m going to fight you, I’m not going to fight you in public. You and I are going to fight in my house or in your house. And also, I know a lot of people, so I don’t want to talk about them on the show. Or any show that I’m on.

You had a talk show that started back in 1992 …
I had a great talk show.

It only lasted for a season. What happened to it?
They wanted me to be a regular talk-show host, and I didn’t have jokes for them. I just wanted to talk to the people. So they said, “Well, you need to be doing a thing in front of it. You have to do this, and you have to do that.” I said, “I signed up to do this because I wanted to talk to people who I was interested in.” And I had a really nice roster of people.

And they said, “Well, if you’re not going to do it the way it’s supposed to be done, the way the men are doing it, then we don’t want to be bothered.” And I said, “Well, okay.”

Can you talk about the decision to have Tom Metzger on the show?
Yeah, thank you for asking about that. There had been a couple of weeks of Tom Metzger on different shows, and I could not understand why people wanted to talk to him. His son had just punched Geraldo [Rivera] and broke his nose or something.

So, I thought, Well, he’s not going to hit me, so let me invite him on, and he came. Now, he and I get on. He’s this little old guy; he’s like a grandfather. He said, “I think Black people are wonderful. They’ve done this and this, but I don’t want them to do it here. I want them to go back to where they came from.” Just as we went to break, I said, “Wow. Well, that’s interesting. And your last name is Metzger. You’re German, right? So maybe I’ll wait for you to go back before I do. We’ll be right back.”

I didn’t see that, actually, on the show.
Yeah, it should be there. It should be the last thing I ask him.

So, having him on the show, I’m trying to understand the logic and what …
I wanted to understand why people listen to him, and I got it. Because he was a little man, and he talked about all the things that he believed in, and that he wasn’t a racist, and he just didn’t want to spend time in town with people of color. And he would say something nice. He talked really well and then he’d say, “But they shouldn’t be living here with us.” And people would be listening and go, “Yeah, you’re right,” not realizing that he’s brought them along. I wanted to see, and so that’s why I had him on.

Well, do you feel like you were just giving him a platform?
I don’t think so, because I can’t remember any other Black people talking to him. And, for me, I don’t want you to tell me what he is — show me so I can make a decision. And that’s what he did. He said he wasn’t a racist.

Well, he does believe in white supremacy, right?
Yes. But he’s sitting with me, telling me that it’s not so. And I’m going, “Okay, okay.”

Okay, I don’t know if I want to get in the weeds on what he said exactly. I’m trying to parse the value of having him on. For instance, would you have an openly white-supremacist person on The View?
Well, they wouldn’t come on the show. Only the president’s son has come on the show. Listen, if you’re doing a talk show, you have to have them on. You just do. Because the whole idea of your show is that you have to present all sides, you have to show everything, and you want to let people make up their minds. You want them to hear what you’re hearing, maybe not the way you’re hearing it. But if I’m sitting in front of a white supremacist and he’s talking about how much he loves Black people and how good they are but he would rather have them living somewhere else, out of the country? It’s a little more meaningful when he’s saying it to me.

Because I’m Black and I’m sitting there. Do you think it’s different when supremacists speak to white people?

Yes. He’s probably speaking to a base that he would want to rally around his cause.

Do you think there are illegitimate or extremist views that need to be presented in a particular context or challenged if you are to stage that kind of conversation?
I’m not sure. I mean, I can’t really talk about The View much because there’s five people there. But when it’s one-on-one, I can ask the questions as I did — “What are you talking about? That doesn’t make sense to me.” I’m going to be as calm as you are: “I want to know. Tell me about this. Tell me about that” — because I need to know what it is people are glomming on to. Now, shortly after, I will say, he kind of disappeared, Tom Metzger. I don’t know whether he died. I don’t know what happened.

It’s the same, in many ways, with me having Ike Turner on. People are like, “How dare you.” It’s like, “Listen, I want to talk to Ike Turner. I want to know ‘Why’d you do it? What was the point?’”

Did you feel like you got what you needed in that conversation?
I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s “I get what I need,” but there are people for whom there are two different worlds. Ike Turner was a brilliant musician but a lousy man. And then you say, “Well, you couldn’t take the fact that she [Tina Turner] was more popular. You started out here and she ended up here, and you couldn’t handle it, because you’re a guy.” But I don’t want to put all that on him — I want to hear what he has to say. I think he said to me while we were sitting down, “Nobody has me on their shows.” I said, “Okay. Just don’t shit on the couch and we should be fine.”

I had Charlton Heston on the show because I was a fan of Charlton Heston, and I didn’t understand how you go from being somebody who walked with Martin Luther King to becoming the spokesguy from the NRA. He did great stuff, great sci-fi movies. What happened? He just felt the Democrats had been really shitty. And that was why he changed his allegiance and how he got to be that person. So I’ve managed to get for myself little pieces of understanding of who these folks are, and are they more than just a movie star.

Recently, it seems like you’ve bristled against younger leftists like AOC and Hasan Minhaj.
So when you start your conversation by saying, “The Democrats didn’t do anything, so we’re going to fix it,” you’re talking about John Lewis. Yeah, don’t do that. You’re on the shoulders of a lot of people. It’s not that I’m nice to some and not nice to others, but I felt that [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] was disrespectful and had been in the beginning. Because they talked about how old everybody was. Maxine Waters has put up with so much bullshit in 30 years — you will never know what she had to put up with. The same with Dianne Feinstein and —

Nancy Pelosi?
Yes, and Pelosi. They were there when nobody was there. The men didn’t give them any respect. So you can’t come in talking about how old they are and “they didn’t do this, and they didn’t do that.” That’s what they did. That’s what she did.

Well, a political critique is not necessarily a personal attack, and I think that is what people have been trying to articulate more, is that there has been a political failure with the Democratic Establishment.
Well, let me put it to you this way: All the shit that’s disappearing, who do you think got that? Who do you think fought for all that shit? Who do you think went and marched and moved the fucking needle? Who do you think cleaned up the air and the water? People say, “Well, you just have to be woke.” No.

That’s not what I —
It doesn’t end because this schmuck gets out. We then have to readjust stuff and put it back. My pitch with AOC was, “Don’t talk about these people as being too old. You can’t do that.” Because without us, what are you? It’s like, “You don’t want them to step down, because you’re not ready for what you’re walking into. You think you are, but you’re not. You’re not walking into respect from these people on the other side.”

All I mean to say is that I think there is a legitimate critique to be made of, like, the Crime Bill from ’94 or DOMA, for instance, and these things that did happen under a Democratic president and —
But this is the thing: The bitch about our process is nobody gets everything they want. Nobody. “So you get the water bill, but you don’t get this bill. You get this, but you don’t get that.” Listen, when I was a kid, there was nothing but white people as far as the eye could see. So I just feel like, “Yeah. Okay, y’all stepped in shit, but you made the adjustment. You copped to it. You said, ‘Yes, we know we fucked up.’” You can’t be pissed off that somebody fucked up if they’ve acknowledged it and said, “You know what? I see this was a mistake. I thought I was doing this, but this is what it turned out to be.” Because that’s the only way you’re going to learn. And because I step into shit all the time, I’m a little more forgiving of people.

In 2004, you told a joke about Bush that barely even ticks the meter on offensiveness.
It was nothing. But it cost me five years. No one would hire me, and it literally was a nothing joke. So nothing that it took several years for them to write down what they think I said. Not what I said, but what they think I said, because all you needed with me was an innuendo. All of the people I was doing stuff with, like SlimFast, they all disappeared. And then I couldn’t get any work. I went to radio. I did morning radio, which was fun and I liked it. And then Barbara Walters asked me if I would consider coming to work on The View, and I said yes. She said, “It’s between you and Rosie [O’Donnell].” And Rosie got it. And then a year after that, she said, “You still interested?” And I was like, “Yeah, I am.” Because in that five-year period, my — because I’m 105 now, you know — I’ve got to look to the future and make sure everything is where it should be.

The way you talk about The View has struck me as seeing it as a job. What do you see as the job?
Well, nowadays, it’s just to remind people that everyone is entitled to their opinion. You don’t have to agree with it, but it doesn’t give you the right to say, “I’m going to kill you,” or send death threats to people. Life is too short for this. I still believe it’s important for people to know that none of us is one thing — we’re always shifting and changing and learning and moving. So what I’m trying to promote is the idea that you’re entitled to your opinion. Everybody doesn’t have to dig it, but you are entitled to have it.

In September of 2016, right before the election, it sort of sounded like you were ready to be done with The View.
Yeah, I was.

Did Trump’s election change your perspective?
It did. And my kid, also. My daughter said, “Go when it’s over, but not now.” I was like, “But come on, what more can I do? There’s nothing more I can do.” And she was like, “Ma, you can’t go now.” And so I had to go back to them and say, “Okay, I’m interested in coming back.” I really was like, Ah, fuck!

Why was it important to you to stay in that seat during the Trump presidency?
I felt it would be important to talk about things he would do, like surrounding himself with people whose first priority really wasn’t the United States, where he was talking about people in the shittiest of ways. And I thought I needed to just keep talking about that — that that’s not what we do in this country. Listen, America has got lots of issues, but we’re a fairly decent group of people. Just fairly decent. You’re for Bush, you’re not for Bush. You’re for Clinton, you’re not for Clinton. But those guys were always about America and trying to make it better. I don’t know that they always did, but they tried. This is different. It’s not the country I grew up in. The whole point of us getting older was to make shit better and then here comes this man who basically becomes everything your mother told you wasn’t acceptable. Lying? Not acceptable. Cheating? Not acceptable. And people were trying to figure out why they were going insane. Well, it’s because everything you were told seems to be untrue. Because this person, with the help of all those other folks, have begun to strip this nation of her dignity. And I thought I might be able to help and maybe keep folks abreast of what was going on.

If Biden wins the election, you would move on from The View?
I have two more years.

I see.
Yeah. Because nobody will ever just give you a year. You have to fucking take two years. Listen, The View has always allowed me to go do other stuff if I was interested, like The Stand, so I was lucky. They’ve been really good to me. So I feel all right staying with them. I feel like I’ve been there a long time.

You have been there a long time.
I know, child. There’s all kinds of cobwebs. I’m just saying that they’re there.

Has a creative itch reemerged?
Actually, what’s happened is people are saying, “Hey, you want to come do this?” Because for a while there, people weren’t asking me. People are starting to ask. Fame is cyclical. You’re hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, then you cool off. And then you cool off and then get hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot again and then you cool off. I’ve been in a cooling period, and maybe this is a warmer period. It’s not burning up, but it’s warmer. And I’m still hoping somebody will write me a horror story. I would like to be evil, but like monster evil. I don’t want to be a serial killer. I want to be some manifestation of some bullshit, something under the ground, and then it turns out to be me. And then when they go to look for me, they discover I don’t have any paperwork and I have no fingerprints. Who knows how they get rid of me. Those are the things I love. Those are the things I haven’t done yet, and I look forward to it.

I realize I’ve left you with a lot of questions, but I am trying very hard to stay open. And some days, it’s hard. Some days, it’s tiring. But I’m trying not to be too upset about stuff. It’s not easy to keep your perspective heading forward. Because some days, you just want to lay down and go, I don’t fucking care anymore. Just fucking stop. Just don’t say another … But I realized that if everybody does that, none of us are going to get up. So I eat my way through my refrigerator, and I get up, and I sit in the seat, and I do the show and hope for the best. Try to be a better person. It doesn’t always work, but I do try.

Goldberg’s 1984 one-woman stage show, The Spook Show, was the basis for her Broadway show, Whoopi Goldberg, which debuted with the help of Mike Nichols later that year. Her specialty was playing various characters — a philosopher junkie, a “surfer chick,” a disabled woman, and a little girl who imagines herself white. The show ran from October 24, 1984, to March 10, 1985. Spielberg asked Goldberg to audition for him at his theater in Los Angeles after hearing about her from Alice Walker, author of the novel The Color Purple, to whom she had written earlier. When Goldberg peeked out from behind the curtain before taking the stage, she saw Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson in the audience, waiting to watch her performance. A sex scene between Whoopi Goldberg and Sam Elliott that was called “sizzling” and “explicit” by the New York Daily News was cut. When discussing the scene with Jet Magazine in 1990, Goldberg said, “Color shouldn’t matter. If Sam Elliott had put some money on the table after the love-making scene, it would still have been there.” In a 1987 New York Times article, Spike Lee criticized Black celebrities who ”have a vicious crossover mentality.” He said, ”They want to get on the cover of Rolling Stone. That’s when you start seeing the symptoms — the nose jobs, the cleft chins, the blue and green contact lenses.” On her 1986 cover of Rolling Stone, Goldberg famously wears blue contacts. This was the beginning of a publicized friction between Goldberg and Lee. Goldberg was a member of the 1991 Cannes jury, when Lee’s film Jungle Fever was in competition. Samuel L. Jackson won Best Actor, but the film didn’t win the Palme d’Or, for which Lee specifically singled out Goldberg, saying, “She`s not necessarily allied because she`s Black.” Goldberg later said, “It didn’t win because it just wasn’t a good movie. Spike hurt my feelings … saying he didn’t get any support from me.” She continued, “Spike’s the master at getting attention. But sometimes, when he’s in the attack mode, he doesn’t realize he’s attacking those who are also forging through the tundra.” On Star Trek: The Next Generation, Goldberg played a recurring character named Guinan, a mysterious bartender that Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) would often turn to for advice. She appeared over the course of four seasons as well as two films. During an appearance on The View in January of 2020, Patrick Stewart asked Goldberg if she would reprise her character on Picard. In the interview, Goldberg confirmed it would still be happening “if we’re able to get it together.” When screenwriter Paul Rudnick first pitched Sister Act to producer Scott Rudin, he wanted Bette Midler to take on the lead role. According to Rudnick, Midler ended up turning down the role because “My fans don’t want to see me in a wimple.” On the set of Sister Act, Goldberg passed out T-shirts that said “Nigga-teer” on them to the cast and crew. Read generously, the performance appears to be mocking expectations people had of their relationship. After his performance, Goldberg took to the stage and said, “It takes a whole lot of [courage] to come out in blackface … I don’t care if you don’t like it. I do.″ Mayor David Dinkins said he felt “embarrassed” for Goldberg, and talk-show host Montel Williams walked out, later saying he felt the event was like “a meeting of the Klan.” One of Goldberg’s early guests for her talk show was white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon Tom Metzger. At the time Goldberg says that she was trying to answer the question: “Is a bigot born?” You can watch the interview here. In November 1988, Tom Metzger’s son John appeared on an episode of Geraldo Rivera’s talk show Geraldo. During the show, a fight broke out between John, then the national leader of the White Aryan Resistance Youth movement, and civil rights leader Roy Innis. It quickly morphed into an all-out brawl onstage, during which Rivera broke his nose. The broadcasted interview ends with Metzger saying that Black women should be allowed state-sponsored abortions, whereas white women should be “encouraged but not forced” to have children. Goldberg ends the exchange with, “Something to think about.” Ike Turner appeared on the October 5, 1992 episode of The Whoopi Goldberg Show. Turner spoke to various news outlets and talk shows around this time, leading up to the 1993 Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It. Goldberg made the joke during a Democratic fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall for John Kerry. “We should keep Bush where he belongs,” she said while gesturing at her crotch. “And not in the White House.” The New York Post’s headline for the story was, “Jerky jokester Whoopi in dirty diss at Dubya.” The Stand is a post-apocalyptic miniseries, based on the 1978 Stephen King novel of the same name, which is set to release on December 17, 2020, on CBS All Access. Goldberg plays Mother Abagail Freemantle, an elderly woman from Boulder, Colorado, who is tasked with psychically calling the survivors of the Captain Trips virus to join her in a fight against Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård), a.k.a. the “Dark Man.”
In Conversation: Whoopi Goldberg