Just fifteen seconds into a phone interview with Intel, nine-time Emmy winner Cloris Leachman promptly hangs up. For the record, this was before we inquired about tongue-kissing her grandson as Maw Maw on her new Fox hit sitcom “Raising Hope.”
Moments later, the 84-year-old’s granddaughter Skye Englund is back on her smart phone, explaining that her grandma isn’t quite used to the contraption’s touch screen just yet. Apologizing, she hands the phone back to the “Dancing With the Stars” alum who somehow manages to call us on a second line even as she’s disconnecting the call again.
On the fourth try, the Oscar winner who has caused generations of movie fans to roll helplessly in the aisles with her portrayals of Frau Blucher in Mel Brooks‘ “Young Frankenstein” and as Nurse Diesel in “High Anxiety” is overheard informing her granddaughter: “Of course, I have the phone next to my ear. Where did you think I had it? My crotch?!”
And a second later, Leachman coos, “Hello again, dear. Now, where were we?” Where we were was a frank and funny chat about “Cloris! A One Woman Show” that the comic legend will bring to The Buckhead Theatre Saturday night at 8.
Leachman says the show that the San Francisco Chronicle describes as “a canny mix of melancholy and mirth that holds you spellbound” originated three years ago. “I wanted to prove to my family that I hadn’t had a stroke and still had control of my faculties!” she says laughing. “‘Dancing With the Stars’ granted me exposure to a whole new audience and I wanted to not only show people that I was still alive but what wonderful career I’ve had.”
From Emmy nods as Phyllis Lindstrom, the nosy landlady on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to the spin-off “Phyllis” to guest shots on “Malcolm in the Middle,” a trio of Mel Brooks movies and an Supporting Actress Oscar win as the gym teacher’s wife who beds Timothy Bottoms in director Peter Bogdanovich‘s 1971 classic “The Last Picture Show,” the actress has had a career most people would kill for. Well, with one possible exception.
“Betty is probably still busier than I am!” Leachman cackles of her former “MTM” co-star, 89-year-old Betty White. “And I think I hate her for that!”
When we ask about the details she’s preparing for the Atlanta edition of “Cloris!” she laughs and coyly states: “Now, dear, if I told you that, why would anyone buy a ticket and come see me? I can tell you this: I’m having a blast doing this show. It’s wonderful to play in front of an audience who reacts differently to the material each time I do it.”
And the actress is also having fun rocking viewers’ worlds as the hilariously wrong matriarch Maw Maw on Fox’s “Raising Hope,” a sitcom already renewed for next season.
So what was Leachman’s reaction when she picked up the show’s pilot script and discovered it called for her delusional character to swap spit with her grandson played by 25-year-old actor Lucas Neff.
“Honestly?” she asks, “I got a little tingle of excitement! Oh my God, I’m having a wonderful time on that show. Wouldn’t you? The writing and the acting are just perfect. I love that it’s daring and yet there’s a sweetness about it. This family really does love each other despite the fact that everyone’s completely nuts! For all of her craziness, they haven’t written anything for Maw Maw that’s given me pause. I love being out there on the edge. I can’t wait to find out what she does next!”
“Cloris! A One Woman Show” plays The Buckhead Theatre for one perfomance Saturday, March 19 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30, $50 and a $75 VIP ticket includes a meet and greet with Leachman. For tickets, go to Ticketmaster’s website.