TRACEY ULLMAN 'You can be anything' Tracey Ullman plays a host of offbeat characters on Tracey Takes On ... The HBO comedy series' second season starts next Saturday, 11 p.m. ET. C OMIC SPARK PLUG Tracey Ullman seems to be hopping back and forth across the Atlantic, barely taking a breath. In dead-on accents both British and American, she's Prince Charles one minute, a "hippy-dippy" housewife the next. The Emmy-winning Ullman, who next Saturday begins her second season of her acclaimed HBO sketch series, Tracey Takes On ..., is explaining what she has learned about America since she left England in 1985. "You're a young country," she says, "so you analyze yourselves all the time." In a beat, she's in character as an American in therapy. Then she's herself again, providing narration. "I'm at a dinner party, and in five minutes the lady next to me says she got divorced twice, had an abortion, just had a biopsy, and has kids living with her ex-husband. In England, it might take me 10 years to discover all that about someone." Self-analysis and group sharing is great, in moderation, says Ullman, 37. She advises Americans not to emulate "the inhibitions and class consciousness" that she says squash optimism and ambition in her home country. "In America, you're told you're special from birth." She turns on her Midwestern accent." 'You're special, pumpkin. You can be anything!' " Now her British voice returns. "Sometimes it's too much. You can't be special just for existing. But mostly, I think it's good. In the U.S. you're told, 'You grow up, do well — you can be president.' In England, you're never going to be prince, unless you're William." Ullman's dad died when she was 6, and her mom struggled to support the family. "In England, it's very hard to get out of the class you're born in." Ullman and her husband, British producer Allan McKeown, have raised their kids — Mabel, 10, and John, 5 — on both sides of the Atlantic. "My husband and I can't believe how far we've come for two working-class people. We talk about that a lot, and our kids are like: 'Here they go again.' " Show bic Had her own Fox TV show for four years; movies include P/enry and /Love You to Death. Has NWE Five Immys, three CableACE awards. •wilts Her urge to pick up her kids at school dressed as one of her male characters. "I try to control myself." Being English, Ullman says, she can't quite bring herself to tell her kids they're special. But she's making headway. "I'll say, 'Good job, Mabel. You're OK.' " ULLMAN'S WICKED ADVICE • Use what you have: Ullman says her looks dictated she would be a character actress, and that's fine. "I'll play the wicked stepsister. We all can't be Cinderella. Knowing that as a kid, I've not had disappointments, really." • Don't envy beautiful people: You never know their real story, Ullman says. "I'll look at a photo of a movie star from the '30s, all made up and glamorous, and I'll wonder if she had to go out with some guy from the mob that night." • Get a life (get a wife): Ullman has noticed that many male comics and talk- show hosts have hang-ups about "smart women" and have no wife or kids. "Their writing staffs are all men. You see them at awards shows with 18- year-old [female] aerobics instructors. There's a big part of their personalities missing. ... It's a fear of women. ... You wonder: If they had children and wives, would they have time to be so obsessed about certain parts of society [in their routines]?" • Don't import it: "America is the land of opportunity. You have more of a chance to succeed here, and people are more genuinely pleased when you do. In England, they hate you. Our biggest export is jealousy." • Question the monarchy: "Even as a kid, I never got why we pay people millions of pounds to be better than us. Prince Charles is so out of touch. I saw him on this documentary talking about why they shouldn't scrap the royal yacht. He said, 'We'd lose something terribly marvelous, really.' Well, who for? You! Not for us. We've never been on the bloody thing." C3 Ullman will write or call one reader who seeks advice on a particular topic. Write by Jan. 19 to "Straight Talk," P.O. Box 3455, Chicago, III. 60654 (e-mail: talk@usaweek- end.com; fax: 312-661-0375). Zastow Is an advice columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times Features Syndicate. 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