Fran Drescher may be celebrated for her comedic turn as Fran Fine on The Nanny, but the actress has recently shifted her focus towards taking on a more dramatic role in Safe Spaces, a dark comedy that just premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
In Safe Spaces, Justin Long plays Ben, an adjunct college professor in the creative writing department wrestling with the idea of what constitutes a “safe space” for sharing personal stories and how we define bad behavior. Alt comedy darling Kate Berlant plays his troubled sister who comes to stay in his apartment while their grandmother (played by Lynn Cohen) falls ill in the hospital; Drescher plays their mother. It’s refreshing to see Drescher take on an unconventional role for herself, but she wants to assure you that she has no plans to quit comedy any time soon.
As Fran Fine, Drescher became somewhat of a style maven, and she’s well aware of the Fran fandom online. Fran wore structured power-suit jackets, tight mini skirts, and never shied away from a leopard print or neon moment. Her closet was filled with looks designed Azzedine Alaïa, Todd Oldham, and Moschino. The character has even inspired Instagram accounts that are dedicated to archiving the couture looks she wore on The Nanny, and has also made an impact on contemporary style icons like Cardi B (who, by the way, was once the subject of a potential reboot).
On the phone, Drescher is as effervescent and loquacious as the iconic sitcom character she once portrayed in the ’90s, with her unmistakable Queens accent. In her Culture Diet, she told W all about the potential of a Nanny spin-off, her environmentalist pursuits, and the “religious experiences” she’s had while listening to live music.
It seems like you’ve had an especially busy spring, in addition to appearing at the Tribeca Film Festival for the premiere of Safe Spaces. What else are you working on at the moment?
My organization, the Cancer Shmancer movement, is launching a half-hour “Be the Change” video starring Jamie Foxx, myself, and Jeff Bridges. That’s a big deal for me. I’m working on a Broadway musical, and I’m going to be meeting directors when I’m in New York. I just finished a pilot for NBC and we’ll see if it got a pickup. I’m also negotiating with Bravo to do a nighttime talk show. There’s a lot going on!
What drew you to the story in Safe Spaces?
It was a small story about real people inspired by real people. It’s four generations within a family and the elder is very ill. How that trickles down to everybody and impacts our relationships is part of the journey of this movie. And I loved working with Justin Long and Kate Berlant! They’re both so good. I hadn’t worked with either of them before and I would relish the opportunity to work with them again. I’m going to do both of their podcasts.
You’re a comedian, but lately do you find yourself keen to take on more dramatic and somber roles like this one?
No! Most people do not want to stretch me. They want to exploit what’s money for them, and I’m fine with that. I have a standup special on Showtime called Funny Women of a Certain Age, and I just did a sitcom where Steven Weber plays my husband, and Adam Pally and Abby Elliot are my son and daughter-in-law. It’s a role reversal where the parents are more like the kids and the kids are more like the parents. That’s a lot of fun! I’m glad I had an opportunity to play a dramatic role. Twice on stage I did serious, more dramatic pieces. I wouldn’t want to do a heart wrenching series because I don’t like to dwell on that kind of negative angst all the time. I always have to reassure my body that we’re just making believe and not to get upset. I don’t like to reenact misery too much.
Most people recognize you from The Nanny, and recently there were some rumors that Cardi B might play Fran Fine in a reboot. Have you met her before?
I spoke to her representatives and she often links us up on her Instagram. Because she likes my style, particularly my Nanny days. I think she’s great! It’s something that’s on my frontal lobe, but right now I’m working on a Nanny-related project which is the priority, and not doing a reboot.
Are you a fan of Cardi B’s music?
You know, I listen to it sometimes and I’m a fan. I like rap music, all different kinds of music! I like pop and show tunes and opera. She’s not off my radar at all! I thought she came across well at the Grammys, and I am grateful that she linked us up on social media. I think it’s cool!
What are some of your favorite social media accounts to follow?
What podcasts do you listen to?
Health ones, for obvious reasons. Like Mark Hyman and the “Broken Brain.” “The Vibe Podcast” from Green Smoothie Girl. I’ve done a couple of female driven podcasts, “Clit Talk” and “Guys We’ve Fucked.” They’re all about women’s issues with provocative titles.
How do you get your news?
I don’t like watching the news typically, because it’s too fear-based. I try and create my own energy and not have it be dictated by clickbait, if you know what I mean. I’ll check in here and there. I love Sunday Morning on CBS with Jane Pauley because that has a positive energy to it. I like to hear what different sides are talking about, and not stay too insular or myopic. I think that is a gross mistake and the problem with 24-hour news basically because how do you fill 24 hours with news unless you create a lot of fear and be redundant. I like PBS.
What books are currently on your bedside table.
You won’t believe what I just started reading! The Alchemist. When I was a teenager my favorite book in the world was Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. I love tales like that, about finding yourself. I think Hemingway deserves every accolade he’s ever gotten. I remember reading a few years ago, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and I don’t even like war stories. Periodically, I had to put the book down because it was getting me too wound up and I had to stop, but then he would write something that was the most perfect choice of words. So poetic. So beautiful. Only he could have put those words together quite like that.
What television shows have been keeping you up at night?
I watch the Great British Baking Show on Netflix. I love Chef’s Table! I love talent competition shows, like American Idol, The Voice, World of Dance. I always watch Rachel Maddow.
What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?
It was a documentary called Free Solo. Very well made. It’s incredible to me that people can do those kinds of x-sports. I’m too much of a scaredy-cat. I don’t like taking risks. But I have a theory that people who are into extreme sports and put their life in jeopardy, maybe they’re numb to their feelings and that’s the only way they feel alive! I spend a lot of time being in touch with my feelings so I don’t think I need to do something so radical to feel alive.
What’s the last concert you went to?
I have tickets to two concerts coming up: Queen with Adam Lambert and Hugh Jackman at the Hollywood Bowl. I want to have a discussion with him about playing a part for something I’m working on as a writer. I’ve had religious experiences going to hear Jack White perform. Truly.
What’s the last song you had on repeat?
I was listening to “She Used to Be Mine” from Waitress by Sara Bareilles. Now that’s what I call an “eleven o’clock number!” My parents have 25 in their car so I was listening to that. I love Adele. I’m open to all different kinds of music! I like The Decemberists and Black Eyed Peas. I’ve gone to rap concerts. And Bruno Mars, I just adore him! I go see him in concert whenever he’s in town.
What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?
I mean, I’m really meticulous with my oral hygiene because I wear the Invisalign lately, but then I’ll get into bed and I take magnesium and I turn on the Great British Baking Show. I set the timer on the TV because that’ll put me to sleep in a really nice way. It’s the equivalent of twirling my hair and sucking my thumb in the fetal position.