Never mistake Fran Drescher for anyone else. The voice alone gives her away.
Drescher, of course, is the Emmy-nominated comedienne best known for her work on the sitcom The Nanny. The show became an international hit during its 1993-1999 run, and cemented Drescher as a celebrity. Her other TV credits include the sitcom Happily Divorced (based on Drescher’s own relationship with her ex-husband who came out as gay) and Living With Fran. She’s also proven herself an effective film actress, with roles in the Hotel Transylvania series, Saturday Night Fever, and This is Spinal Tap.
Besides her work on the screen, Drescher has championed various philanthropic causes. She co-founded CancerSchmancer.org, a cancer site after her own battle with uterine cancer. Drescher has also promoted queer rights, including marriage equality as well as support for victims of sex crimes, having discussed her own horrific 1985 rape. She’s taken her fight to Washington DC, earning a reputation as one of the most prominent celebrity lobbyists in American politics.
Her latest endeavor is the NBC sitcom Indebted. The show follows a young couple, Dave and Rebecca (played by Adam Palley & Abby Elliot) who get taken off guard when his parents (played by Drescher & Steven Weber), move in after they go broke. The show examines parental dynamics across generations, and how family has a habit of making us feel good and crazy.
Drescher greets us in her uncanny voice, a mixture of nasality and thick New York diphthongs. We chat just as the United States has begun its international policy of social distancing and quarantine due to the coronavirus. It seems fitting to talk to her. In dark times, we need some of her resilience and humor.
Indebted airs on NBC Thursdays.
Thanks so much for chatting. In these uncertain times, how are you feeling?
You know, I’m a Buddhist. I like to call myself a “Bu-Jew.” I feel like life presents itself, and there’s always a silver lining to the darkest cloud. There’s always an opportunity to see how I’m reacting to things. They show me where I still need to do work on myself on this journey.
Sure. How did the role of Debbie land in your lap?
I was about to go out and take meetings on a show that I developed. That’s normally the portal that I enter when I’m in the mood to do another TV show. Then my manager called and said there’s a pilot out there that NBC is very keen on. It’s greenlighted, and the character of the mom is described as a “Fran Drescher-type.”
Seems like you’d be well-suited.
So I read the script, and I said “I don’t know.” I don’t like working for other people. I like being the showrunner. But my Mom & Dad were so excited at the idea of me being on a network like NBC. My gay ex-husband, who is my confidant and partner in life, my soulmate also said “Don’t swim upstream. You can always turn it down, but why not take a meeting?” So I did that, and I read with Adam Palley, who was already cast. And they offered me the part.
Then I screen-tested with several actors to play my husband, and I was very thrilled with Steven Weber.
He’s a wonderful actor, actually.
A wonderful actor and great at sitcoms. And very experienced at multicam/live audience. It’s a lovely group of people. I love my fellow cast. I’ve been very impressed by the network, and how they’ve managed to leverage my celebrity to get better numbers every single week. I love that my parents and friends can easily find it.
Is that a nerve-wracking thing, to embody a type?
It’s definitely a compliment. I’m a pop culture icon. I come from a very humble beginning. The fact that comedians can make jokes about me and the audience gets it, that SNL can do a skit and imitate me, that casting can put out a “Fran Drescher-type,” that means I made it!
I’m a girl from Queens. To be able to say that and live the way I live and be in a position to leverage international fame for good, I have no complaints. Life for me has always been a classroom of learning. Listen, I gave up wanting Meryl Streep’s career a long time ago. I’m a bestselling author. I’m a public diplomacy envoy. I’m one of the top five celebrity lobbyists in Washington. I keep going back to get the job done. I survived cancer. I survived rape. I survived two divorces. Somehow, I made my way through it all—very high highs and very low lows.
No kidding. Good lord.
I couldn’t care less about the kinds of characters I play, or the number of people that imitate me. I’m on this journey. I got famous. I got cancer. And I lived to tell about it. I’m just on a journey like everyone else. That’s what life is about.
Indebted returns to the three-camera format. What is it you find rewarding about doing that classic style of sitcom, versus a single camera, which seems to be the trend at the moment?
First of all, it’s written to have bigger “yuks.” It’s more joke driven. I like that. I think if you’re gathering around a box in your home with your family, we don’t need to make it too intellectual. Let’s just have some laugh-out-loud comedy. That’s my brand. It’s a different tone. I like the immediacy of doing a show which is multi-cam because I grew up adoring I Love Lucy. And they were the founders of that format.
You know how to make an entrance like few actors I’ve ever seen. You explode into a scene. What’s your secret?
Of course I’m conscious of it. There’s such a thing as a star entrance. I know how to make one unapologetically. It works for my character, and that’s the way I am. If you see John Travolta in a movie, he always makes a star entrance. Brad Pitt too. It just works for some people.
True. You’re someone who has demonstrated incredible resilience. You’ve survived assault, cancer, cancellation, Donald Trump, Les Moonves. Where do you find your strength? How can we be as resilient as you?
Well, first of all, you have to allow yourself the opportunity to sit with pain. And that takes a lot of courage. I don’t let things roll off my back like water on a duck. I’ve gone into despair. I’ve had a lot of really bad things happen. I had my manager of 15 years drop dead suddenly at lunch one day. She was like a mentor, a mother figure to me. And I never saw her again. That was the first human being that I was very close to that I actually lost. I was in my 50s, so I consider myself lucky to not have had that level of loss when I was younger. I’ve never grieved for someone like I grieved for Elaine.
I was already in therapy for a long time. I knew that I had to honor her by not worrying about how my grieving was going to make other people feel. Normally, that would be my MO. I would hide myself to cry quietly but put on a strong face for the world. I did that when I was raped. The cancer was my opportunity to get in touch with my vulnerability. Elaine’s death was my opportunity to let it all hang out and grieve openly with everyone. F*ck ‘em if they don’t feel comfortable. That’s not my problem. I’m the one with the problem. You’re there to help me, or there’s the door.
That was a very liberating experience for me. Everything becomes a lesson in this life journey of refinement. My dog died suddenly two weeks ago. I have been beyond sad. I’ve been anxious. It’s triggered all kinds of stuff in me. I always try and think of myself as everyone else’s caregiver and fixer and savior. Actually, I have to go to therapy to figure it our and dial it back and put myself more in the equation so I’m not constantly sacrificing to other people’s needs. So when my dog died it really triggered a lot of painful issues. That shows me that as much as I’ve dialed it back, as much as I’ve learned to tell people “I love you, but no,” I still have more work to do. This dog died in my arms, and it leveled me.
I’m so sorry.
You know I found myself praying to God one night to help me out of this pain. Then I found myself on my computer looking at PetFinder.com. And I found this young Huskey with one blue eye and one brown eye. She’s all white. I called the next day, and [the shelter] had just posted her picture. She was recovering from shoulder surgery after getting hit by a car. She’s had her own journey.
Oh dear lord.
I went to the shelter to see her that day. On my way, I got a text from a woman I hardly knew, a psychic. She wanted to give her condolences to me, and to share that she thought I should get a new dog right away, and that I should ask my last dog to guide me.
As I stopped at a red light, and at a bus stop off to my left was a poster that said: “Adopt a Pet.” Then I went for coffee on the way, and the barista gave me my order for free. He told me “You deserve it, you’re the best.” As I was walking out there was a woman with a broken leg walking a cute dog. I stopped her to ask what breed it was, and she didn’t know because it was a rescue. I told her I was going to a rescue to look at a dog, and she said “I have a good feeling about it.”
When I got to the place, there was this dog that I had picked out the night before that was recovering from a broken leg. I met her, and she pushed me down on my back and started kissing my face all over. It was like meeting a long lost friend.
I had to wait until she got signed off from her surgery and spayed. This past Friday was the day I took her home, and I didn’t know everything was about to be canceled. It’s so amazing and miraculous. The whole weekend it was just her and me getting to know each other. Then everyone went into self-imposed isolation. That was divine intervention. Now I have a good stretch of time to be with her. I’m staying home with Angel Grace.
Sometimes, it’s not for us to ask why. Life just unfolds.
So for our readers, when times get scary, what do we do?
I need to take action. In my own survival mode, I reached to look for another dog because I know I would rescue a dog, that I’m going to give a little someone a home. And then I’m going to reach out and ask a therapist for help. It’s a good time to look within. There are a couple things to do when you’re in pain. One is to feel the pain. But, start to look for the opportunities to pull yourself out of it. Very slowly, but intentionally, make strategic steps. That’s very important. See what opens up inside you. Open yourself wider. See where the work needs to be done.
That’s beautiful. So last question. What’s the status of The Nanny musical that’s being written by Rachel Bloom?
Isn’t that wonderful?
She’s so underrated. So talented.
She’s incredible. She’s a phenom. A creator, a producer. She’s brilliant. We could not be more thrilled.
Is there a premiere date?
We’re a ways off from that. I’m going to guess, between writing all the music, rewriting parts of the book, casting, taking it out of town before opening on Broadway, I would imagine it will probably be two years. But who knows. It takes much longer than doing a sitcom.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Everyone should join CancerSchmancer.org. The things we talk about, the things we encourage you to change in your lifestyle, the doctors we expose you to who are cutting edge, is very important, especially in these pandemic times. Understand how your body works and what compromises your immune system is key to staying healthy. That’s what it’s all about. The LGBTQ community is in the same boat as much as anyone else. It’s very important. Take care of your health. Change the things you buy, the things you eat, the way you live so your immune system operates with vibrancy.
Indebted airs on NBC Thursdays.