Interview with "Raising Hope" star Cloris Leachman

Photo Credit: Photo by Steve Granitz – © – Image courtesy
April 13th, 2012

This week I had the unbelievable pleasure to talk on the phone with Hollywood royalty, Cloris Leachman. Many of you remember her as Phyllis on "The Mary Tyler Moore show" and since her start in the 40‘s she has done over sixty movies including: “Young Frankenstein,” “Spanglish,” “Prancer,” and her new film “The Fields.” She has appeared in well over a hundred TV shows including: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Gunsmoke,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” and currently stars as Maw Maw on “Raising Hope.” Cloris tells me about her role as Gladys in “The Fields," how she prepares for a role, and her childhood life in Des Moines.

Nick- Hi Cloris

Cloris- Hi, what city?

Nick- Toledo, Ohio

Cloris- Ohio huh, are you in Ohio now?

Nick- Yep, we are based here in Ohio. Close to Detroit and Cleveland.

Cloris- I think was I sitting outside having lunch in Cleveland hearing about the fire on the river. Do you remember that?

Nick- On the Cuyahoga?

Cloris- If that’s in Cleveland.

Nick- Yeah the Cuyahoga river.

Cloris- Did you ever hear about it being on fire?

Nick- Oh Yeah, I think it caught on fire a few times.

Cloris- Oh my god.

Nick- I love Cleveland but that’s definitely one thing about it that tarnishes it’s reputation.

Cloris- Why? It seems it would help. It burns all the bad stuff. (laughs)

Nick- My readers have seen you as Phyllis on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Phyllis Show.” You starred in Young Frankenstein. You played Ida in Malcolm in the Middle, and you were in an episode of The Simpsons. You currently star as Maw Maw on Raising Hope, which I saw last night by the way which was amazing.

Cloris- Was it?

Nick- It was great I love that show.

Nick- The Film we are here to talk about though is the drama called “The Fields” with Tara Reid. It hits shelves on April 24th. You play Gladys, this foul mouthed Grandmother, who her and her husband are asked to watch Steven while his parents work through their marital difficulties. Your role is so amazing in this film. You did such a great job. I don’t know about anyone else, but your character reminded me of so many ladies I know here in Ohio.

Cloris- Really? (laughs)

Nick- Oh my God, they keep you on pins and needles the entire time you are around them. They drive you nuts with their paranoia and their very stern ways. That’s what caught my attention.

Cloris- You can always depend on them. There’s a wall there. Something you can get your back against if you need to. They’re power, they’re strong, they’re comforting.

Nick- They are and I had a few aunts that were exactly like that. They would yell at me but it was all in good love.

Cloris- Yeah. You know who they are and you count on them and they never deviate.

Nick- They are the kind of people that if you called their house they would always answer.

Cloris- Haha! that’s important. My daughter never answers her phone and it drives me crazy.

Nick- What was it about the role that drew you to it?

Cloris- The money. (laughs) Cloris- Well I take everything. I’m a whore. (laughs)

Nick- You’ll take any role that comes your way huh?

Cloris- I always say, “If you feed me I’ll do it.” And they do. (laughs)

Nick- Did this role remind you of anyone you knew back in Des Moines when you were growing up?

Cloris- No I never knew any like this. I wouldn’t have anything to do with them if I did. (laughs)

Nick- Well sometimes you’re related and you can’t help it.

Cloris- Haha. No I wasn’t and I didn’t know anyone like that.

Nick- Do you do that with a lot of your roles, where you take someone you know and sort of create your role around them?

Cloris- I don’t do that. It’s backwards. I might realize, for instance, I did one thing and realized I played my second son Brian. In High Anxiety I realized I had played Ed Sullivan and Cheryl Crawford, who’s a big dyke. (laughs) That was my character in High Anxiety. I didn’t plan it ahead, I just planned to do what I did and then it turned out that that is what it was like.

Nick- In these roles do you improv on the set? Do you add your own humor to the film.

Cloris- Well I don’t know, I am just playing the scene and the circumstances. I don’t really get so mental about it. It’s just how I am feeling. I am finding out what the circumstances are and the characters around me also tell me who I am. The script tells you who you are and the clothes. You get information from all quarters and you kind of respond.

Nick- That scene where your husband brings home the birdcage is amazing.

Cloris- I know that’s my favorite scene. (laughs)

Nick- I was rolling on the ground laughing.

Cloris- I know isn’t that funny? (laughs)

Nick- I laughed so hard I couldn’t stand it. I feel like I have seen that scene before in my life with my grandparents.

Cloris- I know it. (laughs) “ I didn’t need a birdcage, I needed band aids you dumb shit.” (laughs)

Nick- Oh I laughed so hard. (laughs) Nick- How do you feel little Joshua did in the movie? Do you like working with kids? Does it get a little frustrating?

Cloris- Never.

Nick- I thought he did a great job and I get to talk with him tomorrow so I am excited about that.

Cloris- Oh that’ll be good.

Nick- I know this is one of his first films and he’s a young kid but I thought he did a really good job and you guys worked well together.

Cloris- Yeah. Excellent.

Nick- How do you feel that you have been able to adapt from doing movies like “The Last Picture Show” to roles like in “The Fields” and “Raising Hope?” Was it kind of a natural progression?

Cloris- I try to be different in every role. I definitely try not to be the same person. Doing live television in New York in the late 40‘s, one director just loved me and he used me every week. I was kind of his star for the series and it was called “Suspense.” I did one thing very well and a few weeks later I had another part that was exactly the same kind of part. I said to myself I’ve already done this part. I had to look around and find other ways to tell the story, be whoever I was, doing whatever I was doing, different not the same and that’s when I became a character actress. I did solve it and it was good news to me that I could do something like that. It’s not really a progression, you deal with each thing newly as it comes to you.

Nick- I feel like you’ve done such a great job over your career doing so many different characters. I really like your new show Raising Hope and I enjoyed the Mary Tyler Moore show. I am a younger guy in my thirties and I grew up with my mom watching the Mary Tyler Moore show and I remember watching it a lot. How do you feel that sitcoms have changed since the Mary Tyler Moore show now that you are currently doing Raising Hope with Martha, Garret, Lucas and those people?

Cloris- I don’t know that it has changed. Everybody Loves Raymond, All in the Family, all of those are sitcoms. Raising Hope is a one camera show. They might use two or three cameras but it’s not a sitcom with an audience. Sitcoms are still the same, you have an audience and they come and you do a performance for them. That’s the easiest kind. What I am doing now is a one camera show and they’re the hardest because the hours are so long.

Nick- You have nine Emmy’s and an Oscar and in your thank you speech you thanked your father for paying the bills and your mother for her sense of humor. Were your parents your biggest inspiration for what you’ve done?

Cloris- I lived a very singular life out in the country east of Des Moines on an acreage and that’s about all i did besides playing the piano. I studied classical piano and that was my friend till I went to college at Northwestern. I didn’t have any friends except at school. There was Arlene Buckingham. I skipped 2A and I met her. I didn’t understand what division was and I looked over at her desk and saw it and I understood it. (laughs) Jimmy Thompson was my first boyfriend but that was it and I never saw them outside of school. I had a little diary that would say, “Had a fight with Jimmy Thompson. Made up with Arlene Buckingham,” and the next day it would say, “Had a fight with Arlene Buckingham. Made up with Jimmy Thompson.” You know I would wait for somebody to pick me up, my father had the Leachman lumber company and I would have to wait outside till somebody would pick come and pick me up and then I would go home and play the piano.

Nick- You have had an incredible life and a wonderful career. I know so many people are such big fans of yours including myself and my family here in Ohio. I love the movie “The Fields” and I thank you for doing all the great work your doing and I hope you get to continue for a long time. I know you are doing the upcoming films “Adult World,” “Gambit,” “The Home,” “Timberwolf” and many more. So from us here at Movie Room Reviews, thank you again and we appreciate everything you’ve done.

Cloris- Thank you doll.