She was born Caryn Johnson, but the world knows her as Whoopi Goldberg. Whoopi was a nickname that came from her early days in theater. It started as Whoopi Cushion because backstage, well, sometimes she sounded like one. Her mother encouraged her to use the name and she did, adding Goldberg, a family name. She is one of the few who can claim the coveted EGOT, winning an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. The 58-year-old has one daughter and three grandchildren and recently became a great-grandmother. She has been married and divorced three times. She is a host on "The View" and can be seen starring in the Lifetime original movie "A Day Late and a Dollar Short," an adaption of Terry McMillan's best-selling novel. It airs Saturday at 8 p.m.
Congratulations on being a great-grandmother. Does that make you reflect on all those generations?
No, no, I'm not that deep [laughs]. But it's the circle of life. My grandkids had my mother up until three years ago, and they are all grown -- (ages) 15, 18 and 25. They had her for a very long time so it's kind of a great thing.
"A Day Late and a Dollar Short" covers a lot of ground, including teen pregnancy, substance abuse, cheating, sibling rivalry, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
You can blame it on the writer! It's what Terry wrote. She wrote this crazy book, and it's all in there.
You have experienced some of what is in the movie. Do you call on that or have you been doing it so long that it is just acting?
Yeah, that's kind of how I've always dealt with stuff because you can have your experience and understand it, but it may not fall into place with what is going on in the piece. It's acting now.
What is the source of your personal power and confidence?
How I was raised, actually. My mom knew she had strange kids because she was a strange lady. So she said to us, "You guys are not like everybody. You are a little different, a little strange. Your tastes are different, so if you are OK with not everybody understanding or getting you and that doesn't bother you, then you can be an individual. If you are going to have trouble with not conforming, then you will be a follower and that is fine, too."
So how was she strange? She seems pretty great.
Yeah, she was pretty great. But at the time nobody was talking to their kids like that, you know? That's why she was strange [laughs]. She understood that you can give kids information that works for them and let them make their mistakes and do the things that you want to go, "Oh, I wouldn't do that." In the long run, they will come to you and say, "You know what? I shouldn't have done that. That was dumb." That's the relationship you want with your kids.
You didn't finish school. I was going to ask if you had any regrets, but I'm getting the feeling maybe not.
None. No, I don't actually regret anything. I've made some pretty sizable mistakes in my life, but that's what life is about. It is about learning. It's about making mistakes and finding things out and having to stand up for what you believe in. If you are given the opportunity to say what you believe in or how you feel from an early age and have someone listen to you, you learn when it is appropriate and when it is not. You learn how to talk to people and how to express yourself. This was important to my mother. She didn't want mumblers. She didn't want people who couldn't explain where they were coming from.
So what was it you needed that stand-up comedy and acting provided?
I just liked it. I always thought it was a wonderful thing. You can be anybody when you're an actor. Comedy, not so much. Comedy, I didn't know anything about comedy. I just know I told stories. I'm a monologist. I do monologues. That's what I do. I don't necessarily do stand-up, but I tell crazy, long, wonderful stories that you laugh in and out of. To be able to tell a story is a great thing to me. I love stories. I love hearing them. I love being told them. I love telling them.
It wasn't about getting attention?
I had all the attention I could possibly want [laughs]. I had a lot of attention. But I always loved to pretend to be other folk.
As an actor you inhabit another person. Is it like learning a language once you see through the character's eyes? And do you hold onto all of them like an arsenal for future use?
No. What happens with me -- I have only had one character that wouldn't get out -- I toss them all out as soon as I'm done. I will go into a character and as soon as the director says "Cut," I am out of the character. I don't like staying in a character because it gets crowded!
Which one didn't leave right away?
The character from "Colored Girls." She was the deepest, really darkest character. Just a black soul. Getting her vibe out -- it's not like I was being dark or anything, but her energy didn't go as quickly as I wanted it to. I didn't really like her.
You could have just enjoyed your fame and your EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony), but you are an activist. You speak out.
I don't know if this will make sense, but my mom used to say to my brother and I, "If you have a crust of bread, you cut the crust and share with the people next door. Then they will cut the crust and share with the people next door. You do what you can. You may not have the whole piece of bread, but you share what you got."
Do you believe in destiny?
I do. But I think I believe in the fickle finger of fate much more than I believe in destiny. Because you know, [stuff] changes on a dime.
Last question, Whoopi: Does anyone still call you Caryn?
A couple of people do. Old friends, yeah [laughs].