This weekend, Cloris Leachman, Vulture’s favorite daffy old hoofer, will bring her considerable talents to the Laguardia High School for the Performing Arts, where she’ll be performing two shows on Saturday, one on Sunday, and three on Monday as part of the National Dance Institute’s benefit celebration of John Lennon. Additionally, in the past year or so, the 83-year-old has launched a clothing line, published a tell-all book, and starred in her own one-woman show. Next week she’ll be Grand Marshall at the San Francisco Gay Pride parade. Vulture spoke with her this morning about dancing, her scene that was cut from Inglourious Basterds, and her sex advice for young people.
What is this dance performance you’re doing?
Do you know Jacque d’Amboise? Well, he was a brilliant dancer and now he’s a brilliant person who teaches a thousand children a year in twenty boroughs. Every summer they put on a show. The theme is John Lennon, and I’m singing “When I’m 64,” except it’s going to be “When I’m 104.” There’s a little dance with it and my son George Englund Jr. is playing the sax. He’s one of the best sax players in the country, so it’s pretty exciting.
What kind of dancing will you do?
A very simple tap dance. It’s mostly moving with tap shoes. I think there will be some other seniors and a bunch of fourth-graders. It’s going to be adorable. He’s a brilliant man, Jacques d’Amboise. I would do anything thing he ever needs me for.
Will you pull out any of your skills from Dancing With the Stars?
Nobody’s going to swing me around their bodies eight times and get me all dead and crazy and scared.
That happened on the show?
On the show, Corky [Ballas] was supposed to grab my right arm and my right leg and throw me around himself eight times. I was so scared I wouldn’t rehearse it for him. I said, “I’ll do it on the night. I don’t need to rehearse it.” He called it the Death Spin.
I only spun around him twice. I guess I didn’t put my leg up close enough to him, so he couldn’t grab it. So then we missed about six turns, and finally he said, “Give me your leg!” So I did, and he swung me around him twice. Everyone was screaming and yelling and I was bowing all over the place when I was supposed to be going over to the judges. I was cuckoo with fear! Then they voted me off that night, and two days later I was on The View with Corky and we did our dance and this time I did it around him eight times, and when I finished, I thought I was dead. I really did! And I thought four feet in front of me was heaven.
Did you require medical attention?
No, but they brought me a chair.
Did you make up with Mel Brooks?
We’ve never been mad at each other. Never.
But he said he couldn’t cast you in Young Frankenstein on Broadway because he thought you’d die onstage.
I thought that was very terribly sweet! I only love Mel Brooks and he only loves me. And he wanted me to join the show and we had just settled the deal and then they had to close a week later.
You had a guest spot on Jada Pinkett Smith’s new television show, Hawthorne, right?
I was a patient. I threw a bedpan at her. It was a very emotional part. I used the bedpan to show my feelings. I made use of it. I didn’t USE it. Haha.
Did your part really get cut out of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds?
I have heard that, and I would suspect that that’s true, because it’s very long and my thing isn’t woven into the plot. It would be a very good scene to cut, in the sense that it wouldn’t hurt the picture. It’s a wonderful little scene. I love doing it and he loved it, too, but it’s not going to make or break the film.
What happens in the scene?
I’m an old Jewish woman in Brooklyn — we shot it in Berlin, but it’s supposed to be in Brooklyn — and I open the door and this young man [Eli Roth] is standing there and he asks me to sign his bat. He’s heard about these Germans, what they’re doing to Jews and he asks, “Is there anybody who’s been affected by the Nazis?” and I look at him and start signing my sister’s name. And you know that they’re just going to take the bat and just kill some Nazis.
We were hoping you’d reprise your role as the German grandma from Beerfest.
No. It’s a very serious movie. A thrilling script. Oh my goodness. I’m sorry. I wish it would be in because it’s a very good scene with a marvelous writer. But you can’t be upset about these things. It’s part of the business. I always think a better bus will come along that I’ll catch.
Have you heard from Gene Hackman since you wrote about having sex with him, in your memoir?
I haven’t heard a single word! And you know he must have heard by this time. I don’t know what he’d say, but I think he’d be happy.
What if he asks you for another go?
That was a long time ago. I don’t think it will happen.
You also made a deal with Ed Asner that you’d have sex with him if he lost 32 pounds, but he only made it to 29. Will you reconsider now that he’s revived his career with Up?
Well, I let him think so, anyway. Ha!
Have you said as much?
Well, I’ve seen him a few times since the original deal, but he’s always been so mad and yelling and screaming. He was on The Ellen DeGeneres Show when I was there and there were about 150 people on this huge set, and he started screaming and yelling about how “Cloris Leachman is a big liar!” and “Cloris Leachman can’t be trusted.” I was so mortified and embarrassed. I thought he was talking about his political things that he does and that I had let him down by not appearing with him. It turns out it was all about me not having an affair with him.
We hope you won’t be offended by this, but we recently named you one of our favorite daffy old people.
Fine! That’s lovely! Thank you!
Who’s your other favorite daffy old person?
I like Betty White. I had to do a movie that they wanted her for, but she had to go to Bulgaria, and she hates to travel and wouldn’t do it, so they got me, and I said I’d only do it if they made a little alter to her on set there. So we did lights all over the place and pictures of Betty White and gems and jewels and shells.
How old is old? If we’re talking ancient, then Eli Wallach. Sean Connery is cute. We went to a party and he was very friendly.
What do you mean?
Well, I think he’s friendly to everybody.
"Friendly," or just plain friendly.
Friendly. I don’t know what I’m saying these days.
What happened when you met him?
He was very friendly.
God, I'd love to find out.
What young person do you think will make the best daffy old person?
George Clooney. He was very young on Facts of Life with me. I think he’ll probably have a big career and get kind of daffy. Maybe Jack Black. He was an excellent kisser. Much better than he needed to be for our scene [on The Office]. It was a wonderful kiss. I think kissing is the most wonderful, intimate, sexy thing in the world. Much more than … what’s it called … fornicating!
Any sex advice for young people?
Don’t get pregnant! I’m going to get pregnant this fall. I’m 83. I think the world is ready for it.