Cloris Leachman is living proof that, like fine wine--cheese, too?--age just makes everything a bit more delicious.
At 87, Leachman has, to date, garnered nine Emmy Awards--including two for her portrayal of Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show back in the '70s, two for her guest stints on Malcolm in the Middle, and even a Daytime Emmy Award for 1983's The Woman Who Willed a Miracle, among others. That's more Emmys than any other performer. She's collected a total of 21 Emmy nods and also holds an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1971 film The Last Picture Show. (And who could forget her hilarious turn as Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein?)
But with the June 28 deadline for Emmy ballots fast approaching, there's increased buzz over Leachman's performance on the Fox hit Raising Hope. Particularly, her laugh-out-loud, dual portrayal of Maw Maw and Maw Maw's Maw Maw on Raising Hope's Mother's Day episode.
Could Leachman nab another Emmy nomination, and, well, another win when the Emmy Awards air in September? Perhaps. That would push Leachman's grand Emmy total to a whopping 10.
I recently caught up with the icon via phone to talk about her legacy and other fodder--including potato chips. She couldn't stop eating them during our chat. (No biggie!) Let the crunching begin ...
Greg Archer: Greetings to the one and only Cloris Leachman.
Cloris Leachman: Is this the only Greg?
Greg Archer: It is. Although I have many personalities, so ...
Cloris Leachman: [Laughs] Oh my!
Greg Archer: Yeah, but right now, it's just me. Singular.
Cloris Leachman: You're singular, eh? Does that mean you're married, you're gay, or what?
Greg Archer: Gay. But I'm married to myself. How about that?
Cloris Leachman: Well, that's pretty common.
Greg Archer: Is it?
Cloris Leachman: Yes. We all are. [Chews potato chips.] Well, I am just lying here enjoying myself. My daughter bought a big bag of potato chips and they are really good. The dogs are here and we're all eating.
Greg Archer: Good for you. Well, there's talk about you possibly getting nominated for another Emmy. The deadline for nominations is coming up ...
Cloris Leachman: Oh my--who's talking? What are they saying?
Greg Archer: Well, people have noticed that your performance in the season finale of Raising Hope, where you play the dual role of Maw Maw and Maw Maw's Maw Maw ... That it was pretty good.
Cloris Leachman: Oh yes. Well, I asked Greg Garcia, the executive producer and creator--Mr. Big Shit--'Listen--everybody has a mother but me. I am the only one. I need a mother.' And I wanted Carol Channing to play my mother. Five or six weeks later, I asked him again. He said, 'Well, I agree with you. I think you should have a mother. But I think you should play your own mother.' [Laughs. Chews a potato chip.] Maw Maw's Maw Maw is supposed to be 104. Isn't that funny?
Greg Archer: What have you been enjoying most about playing Maw Maw on Raising Hope?
Cloris Leachman: I never know what they are going to do. [Chews a potato chip] And when I find out, I just laugh. So I go ahead and just do it.
Greg Archer: You are the record holder for the most Emmys.
Cloris Leachman: Oh ... I am so proud of it. You know, I hate it, each year when these come around because it's like you're going to loose it, of course.
Greg Archer: If you get another nom, and, say, another win, that would make 10.
Cloris Leachman: That's a really good, round number.
Greg Archer: Yes. So, you have experienced a lot in your entertainment career. What do you find interesting about TV now as opposed to back in the '70s? It's a different landscape in some respects.
Cloris Leachman: [Pause] Now ... what do you want to know?
Greg Archer: I don't know.
Cloris Leachman: [Laughs] The evolution?
Greg Archer: Yes.
Cloris Leachman: Do you think I think about that?
Greg Archer: Do you?
Cloris Leachman: I haven't thought about it. [Laughs]
Greg Archer: Tell me, then ... when did you know that you were going to be an actress; a performer?
Cloris Leachman: Well, I started taking piano lessons from Andy Williams' aunt when I was 7 and loved her very much. I got really good at it. I went to some state competition and got the highest grade. So when I was about 14, I made a career book, and so I thought, maybe I'd be a concert pianist. Or a child psychologist or something like that. Because I love children very much. And, you know ... I was very upset that I didn't get pregnant when I was 83 ...
Greg Archer: OK ... why 83?
Cloris Leachman: [Laughs. Loudly chews several potato chips.] It was in the fall when I was 83 and I thought, 'My God, I've gotta have a baby.' So then in the spring, when I was 84, I thought: 'Oh my God ... I was going to get pregnant last fall.' Oh, what a sadness. [Laughs] I forgot all about it.
Greg Archer: You didn't get to check that off of your list.
Cloris Leachman: My stomach hurt me and it just pushed out like I was pregnant and it's been like that ever since. [Laughs. Chews a few potato chips.]
Greg Archer: So, it's psychosomatic. Although, it could be a longer pregnancy ...
Cloris Leachman: [Laughs] Well, I'm 87 now, so it's already been four years. If I'm gonna have it, I'll have to have it by August or September.
Greg Archer: So ... the career book. Back when you were a teenager ... did you think you were going to be actress?
Cloris Leachman: A radio actress. Because I wanted to have time for my children. I knew I was going to have them. I didn't question that. I did radio and went to Northwestern.
Greg Archer: I'm from Chicago.
Cloris Leachman: I was Miss Chicago in 1946. Before you were born.
Greg Archer: Yes.
Cloris Leachman: When were you born? I've been alive since '26.
Greg Archer: My Polish aunt is the same age as you.
Cloris Leachman: Our mothers were pregnant at the same time. So, how old are you now?
Greg Archer: I'm in my forties.
Cloris Leachman: Yeah ... but how old are you? Why can't you answer the question? [Chews a potato chip.]
Greg Archer: 48.
Cloris Leachman: You're so young ...
Greg Archer: Yeah, but then I got to thinking--never a good thing--'My, in 18 months, I'll be 50.'
Cloris Leachman: Yeah, and then you'll be old. So, just know that. [Laughs. Chews a few potato chips.]
Greg Archer: Any tips? How do I push through the threshold and move through it with serenity?
Cloris Leachman: It moves you. You don't have to do anything!
Greg Archer: Hmm. I may need an IV-drip of you every day. I'd love to hear this daily. I'd be fine.
Cloris Leachman: I'm very fine. Except I go out and do something and then come back and go to bed. [Laughs]
Greg Archer: So, what's the secret to your success; to longevity in this business?
Cloris Leachman: Well, I stopped eating meat when I was 35. Thank God. If you gave me a million dollars and a piece of meat, I could not put it into my mouth now. Isn't that odd? It was so odd that my self built this ... [chews a potato chip] whatever you call it ...
Greg Archer: I want those chips.
Cloris Leachman: Kettle. They're delicious!
Greg Archer: Well, what about the entertainment business? What has got you through--besides the chips?
Cloris Leachman: My agents. They give me good things to do. I am very grateful. The reason I am a good actress, I think, is because the times when I didn't have a good part ... and you think: 'What the hell do you do with it?' You have to figure something out. [Chews a potato chip.] So part of it is like being a good detective. That's the fun part.
Greg Archer: Let's talk about your reunion with The Mary Tyler Moore Show posse--Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, Betty White--on Hot in Cleveland ...
Cloris Leachman: Yep. Sept. 4 it airs. I hope everybody sees it. It's really funny. For somebody to have the idea is brilliant. But then to write it--how do you do it?
Greg Archer: When you think back to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, what were some of the best things about it?
Cloris Leachman: Oh my--everything. The writing. The people. Everybody. The confidence--you go there knowing you are going to have a fantastic show.
Greg Archer: A few more questions and then I'll let you go. I know your time is important.
Cloris Leachman: You don't know anything. [Loudly chews several potato chips and laughs.]
Greg Archer: You know, you're so right.
Cloris Leachman: I'm on vacation.
Greg Archer: Great. I can talk to for a long while.
Cloris Leachman: Yeah. I don't give a shit. [Laughs.]
Greg Archer: Well, then you could give me some more advice about life?
Cloris Leachman: Well, take care of your children. Love them. It's crucial. It's everything. I had five of them. You just can't believe it. I have four boys and one girl, the baby. And her daughter's name is Hallelujah.
Greg Archer: So, you are a Maw Maw for sure? Well, can you tell me what you are finding funny these days?
Cloris Leachman: [Laughs] Well, I have my memory and everything, but the only thing I don't have [Laughs] ... is the word that is the subject you are talking about. It took me six weeks to remember that I was talking about geraniums. [Laughs] That was a couple of years ago. Geraniums! And also the trees that grow on the property ... oh, what are they called? [Laughs] Eu ... calyptus! And yesterday, I was trying to tell my son something about ... you know--that thing you do with animals. You wrap them in ... what do you do?
Greg Archer: Like stuffing animals? Taxidermy?
Cloris Leachman: Taxidermy! [Laughs]
Greg Archer: I guess your days are filled with a lot of laughter.
Cloris Leachman: Well, it used to be I saw my son a lot but ... I had been spending time with people who are, well, not so funny. [Laughs] Oh my--I am not giving you a good interview. [Chews several potato chips.]
Greg Archer: No, it's great. I just have one more question for you ...
Cloris Leachman: I have two more answers.
Greg Archer: Wonderful. Well, I still want to know the secret to a good life and good success?
Cloris Leachman: Don't drink soft drinks at all.
Greg Archer: I don't drink soft drinks.
Cloris Leachman: Well, then don't. [Laughs]
Greg Archer: Promise.
Cloris Leachman: Don't eat sugar. It's stupid.
Greg Archer: Well what about something philosophical?
Cloris Leachman: Well, you say it first and I'll either agree--or not.
Greg Archer: Hmm. Let's see. How about ... If the mood swings, sit on it!
Cloris Leachman: If the mood swings ... sit on it? What an interesting idea.
Greg Archer: Don't you think?
Cloris Leachman: Well, it depends on what else you're sitting on.
Greg Archer: It's better than avoiding your feelings. This way, you can get through them--and enjoy the scenary.
Cloris Leachman: I think the alcoholics' idea is very good.
Greg Archer: Which one is that?
Cloris Leachman: Oh ... grant me the ...
Greg Archer: Serenity ...
Cloris Leachman: Yeah.
Greg Archer: ... to accept the things that I cannot change.
Cloris Leachman: Yeah. That's really good.
Greg Archer: Courage to change the things I can.
Cloris Leachman: Yeah ... and the wisdom to know the difference.
Greg Archer: Absolutely.
Cloris Leachman: Well, I think you should have the life, largely, like a business. Decide about it. Don't put your 'feelings' into that. It leaves you free to have the feelings for all the other things--the fun, the family, the dinners, etc.
Greg Archer: Good thing to think about. I may have been taking things way too seriously lately.
Cloris Leachman: Oh--never!
Greg Archer: Well, I'm done with that. You've helped. Should I send you a check in the mail?
Cloris Leachman: Oh, I don't charge [Laughs. Chews several potato chips.] Ask me anything!
Grab a peek of Leachman playing Maw Maw and Maw Maw's Maw Maw on Raising Hope below. Check out her awards legacy in the slideshow: