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Ricki Lake is an American film actress and television host best known for her starring role as Tracy Turnblad in the original Hairspray.
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However, during her freshman year a remarkable twist of fate changed her life. Director John Waters, known for his “campy” films, happened to be looking for a young girl with a large girth and dancing skills to star in his offbeat comedy, Hairspray. Lake auditioned, got the part, and proceeded to light up the screen with her quirky and inspired performance as Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenage girl with shellacked hair who finds a loophole to the outside world and personal and political empowerment through a television dance show.
Her success with Hairspray prompted her to move to Los Angeles, where she continued to land some small roles in Cookie (1989), Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989), and another John Waters film, Cry-baby, alongside Johnny Depp. She also played Holly Pellegrino for one season on the ABC TV series China Beach. However, Lake was soon having a hard time finding roles, later telling Interview magazine, “in Hollywood, you need a gimmick, and my gimmick was that I was fat. And when I stopped getting roles because of that reason, it was really hard.” She found herself in need of a major personal and professional overhaul.
Lake then embarked on a strict diet and exercise regime, and by 1993 she had lost 40% of her original weight, trimming down to 150 pounds and a size ten. Control over her weight was accompanied by a new professional direction, and in 1993 she auditioned for a television talk show created by Garth Ancier and Gail Steinberg (former producer of Geraldo and Donahue). The producers wanted to create a talk show for young women, which would focus on dating and relationships (as opposed to marriage and families). As Ancier put it, “where Sally [Jessy Raphael] had done ‘My Daughter Dresses Like a Tramp,’ we did the same topic and called it ‘My Mom says I Dress Too Sexy for My Own Good.’” Lake, with her characteristic enthusiasm and spunk, blew past competitors Melissa Rivers and model Veronica Webb.
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