She's won more primetime Emmy Awards than any other performer — eight, including two in one year in 1975 — plus a Daytime Emmy and an Oscar. And while she hopes to add another Emmy nomination to her already stellar resumé this year for her role on "Raising Hope," Cloris Leachman has another item on her TV bucket list: She wants to hang out with the Crawleys on "Downton Abbey."
"I want to do everything!" Leachman tells Yahoo! TV. "I really want to do that English [series] that everybody loves, 'Downton Abbey.' I just did an English accent. I played Higgins's mother, Mrs. Higgins, in 'My Fair Lady' — 'Colonel Pickering! I don't understand! Do you mean that my son is coming to Ascot today? What a disagreeable surprise!' That was thrilling."
The actress is referring to her recent performance in the Kennedy Center's Spring Gala production of "My Fair Lady in Concert," which followed her third season on the Fox comedy "Raising Hope," which was renewed for another season this fall.
Leachman, best known for her role as Mary's neighbor and friend Phyllis Lindstrom on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and its spinoff, "Phyllis," plays the Chance family's grandmother Maw Maw on "Raising Hope." Maw Maw is an 84-year-old woman who's given to various stages of streaking, saying exactly what's on her mind, and spending lots of time in the bathroom. "It takes as long as it takes," she tells her impatient family members/housemates.
In the Season 3 finale, "Mother's Day," Leachman did double duty as Maw Maw and Maw Maw's mom, the 104-year-old Norma June, who was estranged from her daughter for years.
See Leachman in both "Raising Hope" roles:
"It was my idea," Leachman says. "I kept saying, 'Listen, everybody has a mother but me! I need a mother! I think Carol Channing should play my mother. I need a mother!' Then after about five or six weeks, I said again to ["Raising Hope" creator Greg Garcia], 'Greg, I need a mother! I do ... and Carol Channing should be my mother!' Finally, he said, 'Well, I agree you should have a mother, Cloris. But I think you should play your own mother!' That was the end of it. I didn't hear another word until we started working on [the episode].
"It just makes you laugh. Wasn't it funny when [Norma June] said she had to go the bathroom, and [tooted] the whole way? Then Maw Maw comes out of the bathroom and says, 'It smells like somebody died in there!'"
We'll skip the specifics of why that last line was so funny in deference to those who haven't seen the episode yet, but suffice it to say that Leachman's performance should earn her another Emmy nomination. Though, with so many already on her mantel, do Hollywood accolades still matter to the 87-year-old?
"Oh, yes, of course! It would be an even number. Wouldn't that be nice? Instead of nine, it would be 10. When you get this old, it's just nice that it's not all over," she says, laughing.
"It's fun, and it's wonderful. It's important, too, because ... it does advertise the industry and the show, and that's a nice thing."
As for Leachman's other upcoming projects, she joined her "Mary Tyler Moore" co-stars Moore, Georgia Engel, and Valerie Harper in a reunion for a September episode of "Hot in Cleveland," which stars another "MTM" Emmy winner, Betty White.
The "MTM" actresses play bowling teammates who are reunited by White's character, Elka, for the episode. It was an especially emotional experience for the women after Harper announced earlier this year that she has terminal brain cancer.
"It was ... sometimes in your life, you have experiences that you just set aside, you know?" Leachman says. "It's a special time in your life. You'll all remember it. It was wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful."
The star says it's also on her wish list to play Peter Pan, and after all the fun she had as the oldest contestant to compete on "Dancing With the Stars," she wouldn't rule out doing another reality show, either.
But unlike her friend Betty White, who celebrated her 90th birthday with a star-studded party special on NBC, Leachman has cozier ideas for celebrating her big 9-0.
"Oh, God. Of course, I want to be with my family, and I'd like to be in bed!" she says. "I love my bed! It's beyond words ... a down comforter and down pillows, and we have a TV and a phone and lots of books and lamps and comfort. It's perfect."
- Arts & Entertainment
- Cloris Leachman
- Raising Hope
- Maw Maw