Shunning cynicism, Whoopi dons Santa suit

Whoopi Goldberg may be a grandmother, but by her own admission, she can be just as cynical as the childless, single career woman she plays in her new televised movie, "Call Me Claus," airing this Sunday on TNT (8-10 p.m.).

"That's how a lot of us are," says Ms. Goldberg, sitting comfortably sipping a latte, much as her on-screen character does.

"We're grumpy, you know," she says, discussing the project that took her seven years to complete. "We're a cynical bunch; that's why it took so long."

A desire to put that aside and create a bit of what she calls "necessary magic" for her own three grandchildren led to this effort, in which her character takes on the job of Santa Claus. The actress-turned-executive-producer says that while this is her own labor of love, she views it as a cautionary tale for all adults.

"[Christmas cheer] is a big old chore and a big bother," says Goldberg, who empathizes with the reasons why some adults forgo the effort altogether.

"What's the point in believing in anything magical, because reality is here, and we have to, you know, immerse ourselves in reality," she says.

But, she adds, "part of what we need, just for ourselves, is one little corner of imagination that says 'anything is possible; you know, anything is possible.' Even in the darkest days of our world, people did have some faith in something."

This message may have become even stronger in recent months, Goldberg suggests.

"We're more receptive to it since Sept. 11th," she says.

"But it's all about cynicism, you know. The idea that no magical things can possibly happen - I don't believe that. I believe magic can happen. And as adults sort of lost track of the wonder of the holidays, whatever it is you celebrate, then of course the children just sort of become consumers."

The actress who also has made a name for herself as a stand-up comic, says the times are different for today's children.

"We have to praise children for surviving," Goldberg says, "because they have wild thoughts that we never had. I have a 5-year-old granddaughter who at one point asked me [if] she was going to live through school. You know, who ever thought of stuff like that at 5?"

Children have a right to their imaginations, says Goldberg, who grew up in an urban apartment project. "It should be demanded of parents to allow children to have that fantasy, to believe in something like that, you know? It's important."

The New York City native says that even though times were hard during her childhood, her mother turned Christmas into a special experience.

"No one knows to this day how she did it, but there was nothing under the tree until Christmas morning," Goldberg says. "I don't know where she [hid the gifts]."

"Call Me Claus" features veteran British stage and film actor Nigel Hawthorne as a retiring Santa who must find his replacement. The perfect heir must believe in the magic of Christmas - something that the home-shopping network executive played by Goldberg does not.

While she views this as a story with heart, Goldberg does not view her casting as the next Santa as a politically correct gesture.

"I'm never politically correct," says Goldberg, who wears a large white wig once she adopts the role of Santa Claus but remains true to her identity as a black woman.

"[This film] is to encompass everybody. I've decided that in my life; it's too narrow to say this is just for 'this' group, you know. Because it eliminates so many other people.

"So, my thing is to just go ahead and be in it. And then let everybody come to their own conclusions, as I've always done."

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