Jane Leeves Interview: Actress Hits the Mark in New Series 'Hot in Cleveland'
British actress Jane Leeves began her career on the sketch comedy show Benny Hill, then moved to the United States where, after performing in small roles, she secured a recurring part in the CBS television sitcom Murphy Brown.
Leeves also appeared as the troublesome Marla the Virgin in four episodes of Seinfeld (originally airing on NBC) and in 1993 joined the cast of the NBC television series Frasier. Receiving an Emmy nomination for the role, the talented actress played the part of eccentric and allegedly psychic Mancunian Daphne Moon.
"That was a big surprise for me. I didn’t know I had a son. That’s the great thing about going to work everyday, you find out new things about yourself you didn’t know … like Joy actually had a son when she was 15."
During the last season of the ABC comedy drama Desperate Housewives, Leeves guest starred in two episodes portraying Lynette and Tom’s therapist.
Leeves is currently starring in the new TV Land hit comedy Hot in Cleveland with film and television legend Betty White, Valerie Bertinelli, and Wendie Malick (also a Frasier alum).
The show revolves around three fabulous LA women of a certain age whose lives are changed forever when their plane (headed to Paris) unexpectedly lands in Cleveland. Loving their new home, the best friends find themselves living under one roof and battling the sassy caretaker (Betty White) of the property they have rented.
Hot in Cleveland has averaged 4.7 million viewers each week since its June 16 premiere and is being picked up for a second season and 20 more episodes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jane, are you filming today?
Jane Leeves: Yes we are.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Congratulations on being renewed for a second season!
Jane Leeves: Yes, oh, we’re so excited! We’re all having such a good time. It’s really fun!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s a hilarious show.
Jane Leeves: Thank you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve previously worked with Suzanne Martin, executive producer, when you were on Frasier, correct?
Jane Leeves: Yes, we also have Chuck and Ann (Chuck Ranberg and Anne Flett) and two I just call Sam and Chris (Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil) who were also on Frasier. It’s quite a little reunion.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did you become involved with Hot in Cleveland?
Jane Leeves: I was sent the script by my agent and they said they’d love to meet me. I read the script and I loved it. I went in and met with Suzanne and our producers, Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner. We sat down and talked about it and they said, “Which character interests you the most?”
They were thinking that I’d say Melanie because that’s the sort of character I played before, you know. I said, “Oh. no no … Joy!” I love Joy. I love her cynicism and the fact that she’s so damaged. That was the one I was most interested in. I also wanted to do something different, you know, to play a different shade.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Joy is the eyebrow queen of Hollywood.
Jane Leeves: That’s right, yes (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you drawing from any personal experiences to play her?
Jane Leeves: Well, I actually have a gal who does my eyebrows. All of these new things come up when you start working … you know, all of these new maintenance issues. First of all, there’s the hair, the dying of the hair, then the facials. Somebody said, “I’ve got this great eyebrow person.” I thought, “Oh well, I should probably do that.”
I just recently got my first spray tan because I wear very short skirts on the show. They were forever putting body makeup on my legs because I’m as white as a sheet. They finally said, “Please get a spray tan.” So that was another thing to add to the maintenance list. I’m going to spend my entire life in salons (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What is it like to work with Betty White?
Jane Leeves: It’s inspirational really. I mean, this is a woman who (as she likes to say) is 88 and a half years old. You have to keep up with her. She nails every line. She can memorize dialogue quicker than anybody else. Sometimes we have to do promos and they put up cue cards for us and because Betty can’t read them she has to memorize them, which she does in two seconds flat. So, I mean, it’s just such an inspiration.
We can only hope … I’d love to be still enjoying myself and working as hard as she does at her age. I think that’s part of what keeps her so young and vibrant. She just loves what she does and she just continues to do it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The girls sitting around the kitchen table brings back memories of The Golden Girls. Does Betty bring some of that to the show?
Jane Leeves: Oh absolutely. She always says that the experience of working on this show is a little like working on The Golden Girls. She said that when they first sat down to do the first table read of The Golden Girls’ script, she had exactly the same feeling as she did when we all sat down and read this. It was just like, “My goodness, the chemistry here!” We all got that sort of tickly feeling in the stomach … like this is really good. So she’s always saying that it’s sort of that experience and the camaraderie as well.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In the second episode, it was so funny when Joy thought she might be dating her own son.
Jane Leeves: Yes (laughs). That was a big surprise for me. I didn’t know I had a son. That’s the great thing about going to work everyday, you find out new things about yourself you didn’t know … like Joy actually had a son when she was 15. You can see why she’s so damaged and has sort of difficult relationships with men. I’m sure there are women out there you have been in that situation.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): John Schneider and Carl Reiner have guest starred so far this season. Who’s next?
Jane Leeves: We have Tim Conway. I was in my car one day listening to NPR. He was on just talking about his life and everything and it was so funny. I told him when I met him, “You made me late for an appointment because I couldn’t get out of my car until you finished!” He is hysterical so it was just like, “Pull up your chair and watch that week!”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): He is a comedy genius. Jane, isn’t it fairly rare nowadays for a sitcom to have a live studio audience?
Jane Leeves: It is. Most shows now, even if they’re four camera shows like ours, just shoot without an audience or a lot of them are single camera shows now. So this is one of those rare opportunities. I just love the energy you get with a live studio audience. It really does elevate everybody’s performance and also they become a part of the show. You can tell what’s working and what’s not. It’s wonderful.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did Frasier have a studio audience?
Jane Leeves: Oh yes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you keep in touch with anyone from the Frasier cast?
Jane Leeves: With everyone. I just talked to John (Mahoney) yesterday. I see him often. He’s in Chicago but he’s going to be out here for a movie premiere and asked me to go with him. Peri (Gilpin) and I live next door to each other now. We have kids the same age that go to the same school and two of them are in the same class. I just went to New York and saw Kelsey (Grammer) in La Cage aux Follies. I’m going to see David (Hyde Pierce) in August. He is in London doing a play and I’m going over to see my family and see him also. So yeah, we all keep in touch.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I also remember you on Murphy Brown playing Miles Silverberg’s girlfriend,
Jane Leeves: That was so much fun.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That show was early in your career. Did you learn about comedy on Murphy Brown?
Jane Leeves: You know what, I’ve been so lucky along the way. I mean, I’ve worked with all the great comedians/comediennes. I really learned about the four camera live studio audience shows from Jimmy Burrows. He’s the master of it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were interested in ballet before becoming an actor.
Jane Leeves: I loved ballet and I loved performing. I always thought in the back of my head, “Well when I’m done with ballet (because that’s a short career) I’ll slide into acting.” But, I had an ankle injury, which wouldn’t have stopped my career as a dancer, but I would never have been the prima ballerina. So I thought, “Well, I’m not going to stand in the back, I want to be in the front, so I’ll try acting now.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Specifically comedy, too. But, you did guest star on Desperate Housewives and that is a comedy drama.
Jane Leeves: But, actually, my part was more comedy … you know, being a bad Shakespearean actor (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I know, that was a funny character. Is there any chance of returning as Lynette and Tom’s therapist?
Jane Leeves: I don’t think there are any plans. I think they sort of lost confidence in me when they saw me (my character) perform and thought, “This woman is a bit clueless.” (laughs)
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you still own a production company?
Jane Leeves: No I don’t. It just became too many jobs and once I had the kids, I really wanted to concentrate on that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jane, what’s next for you in addition to starring on a hit show?
Jane Leeves: In September I’m actually launching a line of natural skin care and baby products. It’s part of a foundation that will donate money to various charities, the main one being Doctors Without Borders. The line is called Tellurian. You can find information about it on my website (janeleeves.com) and the line will be launched in September. I’m rather excited about that.
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