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By the 1990s, Debra Winger had achieved legend status as an actress for her complex, fierce, vulnerable, touching performances in Urban Cowboy, An Officer and a Gentleman, Terms of Endearment, and Shadowlands, earning Best Actress Oscar nominations for the last three.
On May 5, she’s back on screen in The Lovers, an offbeat comedy about falling in love that just premiered to raves at the Tribeca Film Festival. The movie, a sweet throwback to the idiosyncratic comedies of the ’80s, is likely to put Winger, now 61, back in the public imagination as one of America’s great actors. And personalities.
In August 1993, she was a guest on David Letterman’s The Late Show to promote a movie called Wilder Napalm. The film is barely discussed, with Winger quipping, “Oh, it’s a fun film. Doing well for me? Heh, no.”
But the appearance is notable for Winger’s exit. She had known Letterman since the 1970s when both of them were trying their hands at stand-up comedy. “He was sort of the MC at the improv in the Comedy Store,” Winger tells EW. “In fact, he still owes me some money because I wrote him a line once in the green room.”
Their chemistry together is obvious — and take a look at how Winger departs the stage at the end of this clip. Then read below to hear her explain it.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I love how you and Letterman had somewhat of a sparring relationship but it felt like you both on each other’s wavelength. Like when you ran out of his show dressed as Wonder Girl.
DEBRA WINGER: I have to tell you the backstory on that. I had a friend who was working on the show at the time. And they called me and they said, “I could get fired for this Debra, but I know you’re coming on the show and I would die if I didn’t tell you this. Dave’s got something up his sleeve.” I’m like, “Oh, really?” They go, “Well, they found some footage of you as Wonder Girl and he’s going to spring it on you.”
And that changes the game a bit?
Yeah, you know, you talk to the show person before about what you’re going to chat about. Of course nothing like that was mentioned. We’re going to talk about this and I’ve got this funny story and that funny story, and we’re going to talk about our old friendship. So that was what we were going to talk about. So when I heard about Wonder Girl, I said, “Oh. Okay. Well, thanks for the heads up.”
But you had the idea to dress up underneath your clothes?
Yeah. And he knew nothing about that.
You’re kidding? He didn’t know.
No, no. What was planned was he was going to get me. That’s why he’s so, “Aha, Debra, we’ve got something to show you!” I worked it out with the band, that I was going to run out of there and the music would play. They were just so eager to get one over on Dave.
That is hilarious.
I can totally picture his face. If you look at him, he’s in total shock. Anyway. That was a lot of fun.
Winger will be back at the Ed Sullivan Theater to appear on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Thursday May 4 in promotion of The Lovers.