Julia Sweeney bought her Larchmont home for two reasons: It had a view of the Hollywood sign and, good Catholic that she was, she could hear the bells of Christ the King Church pealing from around the corner. Sixteen years later she recalls these facts with some irony. Although she’s written for Desperate Housewives and, before that, made a memorable splash with her androgynous character, Pat, on Saturday Night Live, she hasn’t made the jump to A-List Hollywood. And, a few years ago, she embraced atheism in a very public way by creating a one-woman show about her loss of faith. Letting Go of God created a sensation when it premiered at L.A.’s Hudson Backstage in 2004, and ever since, Sweeney’s been busy performing it on the road.
So busy, in fact, that she now wants to hang it up once she releases the DVD of her show this summer. Besides, she’s tired of talking about religion. “I’m in a postatheist point of view,” says Sweeney, an angelic presence with a 1950s voice. At 48, she’s an L.A. paradox — that rare person who is continually funny without being noticeably “on,” and a completely candid and loud soul, working in a city of whispering cynics. She runs against all expectations of what constitutes proper behavior in this company town.
“When did I go from the cool one who people envied,” she wonders in one of her stage routines, “to be the one who people were a little worried about?”
She adopted her daughter, Tara Mulan Sweeney, from a Chinese orphanage in 2001, and the shift to motherhood has, among other things, moved her writing sanctuary from a backyard cottage to her home’s kitchen. “My whole life is in the kitchen,” she says. “Being a mom, I can’t be that far away from the action.”
Still, as Sweeney prepares to let go of Letting Go of God, she’s been collaborating with singer Jill Sobule on a new project. “We’re going to try to raise money,” Sweeney says, “for a show in which she sings and I tell stories — mostly about love, mostly about bad relationships, of course.”
One relationship has worked out just fine and she’s getting married soon to a Chicago scientist whose gay brother, Sweeney claims, e-mailed her a marriage proposal on his brother’s behalf after hearing her discuss Letting Go of God on NPR’s This American Life. Even married, she’ll still be hearing those bells from up the street. Sweeney says she’s so over coming out as an atheist that she’s thinking of rejoining her old Santa Monica parish — as a nonbeliever.
“I’ve been meaning to go back to Saint Monica’s. It was so much fun, like going to a Godspell concert every Sunday. I haven’t been there in eight years, since I lost my faith and all that. I’d like to take Mulan and show her what a church is like.”
To a good Catholic this might sound like a leap of faith.
Photo by Kevin Scanlon