So it looks like TVLand has a hit with “Happily Divorced,” [Wednesdays at 10:30 PM EST] in which Fran Drescher plays a woman still living with her husband after he comes out of the closet. You play Fran’s mom. How did that come about?
I did the traditional thing, I auditioned! Fran is very fussy about the people she works with, so I came in and she was there to read. The room was filled with writers and producers and they just laughed their buns off. But you know, this happens a lot when you’re a celebrity; they’re kind to you and laugh even if they don’t feel like it. But two hours later they called my agent and made an offer. It was a great pick-me-up. I had just lost my husband a few months before, so it was especially wonderful. He would be so proud. He was always saying, “You should be on TV!” I hope he’s someplace up there where he knows.
You also have a new one-woman show starting in September. Can you tell me about that?
It starts two days after shooting “Happily Divorced” ends! It’s called “Rita Moreno: Life Without Make-up” [at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre] and it’s the story of my life, from the beginning. Truly from the beginning: Arriving here by boat [from Puerto Rico]. A lot of it has to do with the Latino experience and the whole immigrant experience. I’m hoping to take it to Broadway. There’s a lot of humor, the successes, a lot of failures. I have a lot of them, being a Latina and having to live with those biases that people have. That’s still a struggle! It’s maddening. That’s why this is an important play.
Really? You’ve appeared in over 40 movies, won an Oscar, a Tony, a Grammy and two Emmys, been awarded a Presidential Medal of Honor—you still suffer from discrimination?
Yes! And now to make it even more difficult there’s the fact that I’m an older woman. It’s not easy not to be cast simply because you’re older. That’s why they loved me so much [at “Happily Divorced”]. I’m very much of this generation: I’m hip; I’m cool; I look pretty damn good. They told me that for this role, a lot of old chubby ladies were brought in but that’s not what they were looking for at all. Then they saw me and they said, “That’s it! She looks great; her figure looks great; she dresses so fabulously!”
So having achieved so much, what’s your next goal?
I’m living my goals! I’m doing what I love; I have a great family, great friends. I’m in a very good place, as they say. What else could I possibly want except my husband back?
Though your show is called “Happily Divorced,” you yourself were happily married for over 40 years, right?
At FNL, we’ve been obsessed and saddened by the recent announcement of the Jennifer Lopez-Marc Anthony split. What’s do you think the secret to a long, happy marriage is? What would your advice be?
The secret is when you understand that life without that other person would be seriously diminished. That despite those quirks that drive you crazy, this is just the best person in the world. People need to think, ‘Am I really going to be better off without this person?’ I think that’s what they don’t do. You know, my husband and I were very different: I’m spontaneous and emotional; I’m loud—he was exactly the opposite. But you need to be flexible.
Do you think it’s harder to stay together in Hollywood?
I think so. The part of my personality that most irritated my husband, some of our big, big disagreements were when I got what he called “showbiz.” He meant flamboyant or raucous. We had big blow-ups about that. And I’d always say, “Well, then you married the wrong person.” You can’t remake me. It’s that inflexibility, in that sense, that’s difficult. It’s not easy having a partnership in this business. Of course, he was a cardiologist who became my manager and lighting man, so that’s how we dealt with that. We were a real mom and pop operation.