Q&A With 'Drop Dead Diva's' Margaret Cho
Comedienne Margaret Cho has a lot to be thankful for. The San Francisco native who grew up among ex-hippies has transformed herself from budding stand-up opener to Jerry Seinfeld to cultural icon. At 41-years-old, Cho has become everything from best-selling author to a sex kitten on her own glitzy burlesque tour.
Having made thousands of fans laugh worldwide, as well as advocating human rights for women, Asians, and the LGBT community, Cho is a star in her own right. Just when one would expect her to step off the spotlight to relish her fame, she continues to get more bellies aching with her infectious wit.
On the hit Lifetime television series “Drop Dead Diva,” Cho plays Teri Lee, the legal assistant to shy attorney Jane Bingum who, thanks to a heavenly mix-up, has inherited the spirit of beauty queen Deb Dobson. As viewers prep for a star-studded season two premiering on Sunday, June 6th at 9PM EST, Starpulse participated in a telephone conference with Cho, who happily shared some secrets on what fans can expect from the show that’s out of this world.
Why should we come inside and watch 'Drop Dead Diva?'
Margaret Cho: Melanoma. You don't want to be getting skin cancer if you're outside, and the sun is not good for us anymore. It's much better to sit in front of your TV, it’s so much healthier for you than being out where there's holes in the ozone. It's dangerous outside. The sun's rays are just murderous. You’re better off avoiding them altogether, staying in, and watching your TV.
How did Teri get so snarky?
Margaret Cho: Sometimes I think a lot of the characters are developed between my conversations with Josh Berman. Things that I've said and done wind up in the script. I don't find her particularly snarky. She reminds me of an old office crone. It's kind of a character out of Nine to Five. She’s just a fun gal who has been around that place forever, and she knows everything. I'm the source for information, but it comes with a price.
What keeps challenging you about this role?
Margaret Cho: I keep finding out new things about the character as the story develops. This year, I find out that my character is a singer. I open the second season with a big music and dance number which is a lot of fun. I also have a soundtrack song. I made a record this year called Cho Dependent, which will be out in August, and one of the songs I wrote that didn't make it on the album, I put on the soundtrack record.
What can you tell us about Teri's journey in season two? Are we going to see any love interests for her?
Margaret Cho: We are about halfway through the season filming it. I haven't seen a love interest so far, but there is still time.
What are the main similarities and differences between you and Teri?
Margaret Cho: She's the oldest one, that I feel for sure. I'm the oldest one in the whole cast. We probably have the same sensibility and sense of humor. This season you get to meet my family. You’ll see my mother, who is also in my real life a very strong presence. The difference is I don't work in an office. I've never worked in an office. I don't even know how to work in an office, although my character and myself both type very quickly.
What has been your favorite scene to shoot so far?
Margaret Cho: I think my favorite scene was doing the big song and dance number just because it opens up season two in a very spectacular way. I love singing. That's my new thing.
How is performing in front of a camera different from a live audience?
Margaret Cho: It's a very different lifestyle. It's a chance to stay in one place, which is very new to me. I'm a traveling person. I've come to really love Atlanta and I have a lot of friends here. The cast and crew of 'Drop Dead Diva' have become very close to me because we're all transplanted from L.A. We are our own family and hang out all the time, which is just so beautiful. It's fun to work on a show that I really believe in and see how it grows from week to week.
Throughout your career you've done music, standup, films, and TV. Which one do you enjoy the most and why?
Margaret Cho: I enjoy standup comedy the most because it offers me the avenue to do everything that I want. In standup comedy there is a great freedom. You’re given 90 minutes to do everything. The important part of it is you have to get laughs, that is what I always want to do anyway. None of my music is ever serious. My heroes are people like Weird Al Yankovic and Bette Midler, who is somebody that I really look up to for combining humor and music in such a great way.
Has it been hard for you to adjust to filming in Georgia when you're an L.A. girl?
Margaret Cho: It's a little tough because I'm away from my family, my husband, and my dogs. The dog business is the hardest part, but I get to visit. There’s a lot of back and forth. It's just a life that I'm used to. I've been on the road as a standup comic for 20 years. It's not unusual to be away from home, but it's just unusual to be living in one place for a long time. It's a little tough, but the cast and I are very close.
If you're in a spot like Jane, how would you handle that? Or what kind of fun would you have with that situation?
Margaret Cho: I think that if I was in that kind of an amazing circumstance, I would really enjoy having a new brain and area of expertise. What's wonderful about the character is that she’s much better off as Jane. Deb’s world view was pretty limited and very selfish. Jane is such a magnanimous character. You know she has a very big heart and mission to save the world. I think that is a really wonderful thing.
If you were given another chance in life, what kind of person would you like to come back as, assuming that you couldn't come back as yourself.
Margaret Cho: Maybe Kim Kardashian. That wouldn't be so bad. I think I would be pretty happy. I like her.
What would you want her and the other Kardashian sisters to take away from the show?
Margaret Cho: I hope that they know we are fans. Ask them to come on our show. They're so fabulous and beautiful.
Who is your dream guest star for the show?
Margaret Cho: Definitely Kim Kardashian. I think also Madonna, that would be hot. Even Courtney Love. I was at South by Southwest and was asked by Skin Magazine to introduce Hole. I was so excited because I love them. Courtney was really phenomenal. She would be a fabulous guest star for us. I also want Cher.
Which guest stars will we see this season?
Margaret Cho: We open up the series with Paula Abdul in our fantastic dance sequence, which is pretty phenomenal. During the whole rehearsal process, we were dancing with the choreographer. We have all these real dancers surrounding and you're really going for it. We were all in rehearsal with Paula, and it just felt like that video, 'Cold Hearted Snake.' Just going into that world was so fun. She was my favorite guest star. This week we have the fabulous Cybill Sheperd, who I absolutely adore. Ricki Lake also came and joined us. Rosie O'Donnell is back as a regular, which is a lot of fun. We're very lucky.
If your character Teri had a deep, dark secret, what would you want it to be?
Margaret Cho: I think that the best secret would be that she’s a man. That would be my favorite and the easiest. I would reveal that in a weird bathtub sequence, like a real 'NYPD Blue'-style shower scene.
Are you expected to be the funny one who keeps everyone entertained between takes?
Margaret Cho: The whole cast is really funny. My favorite is probably Ben Feldman. He’s so hilarious and adorable. I look at him and I think he’s the son that I would have if I was old enough to have him, inclined to have children, and was also Jewish. He is really a fantastic guy and somebody who I am so in love with and filled with admiration for. He always makes me laugh like crazy. Everybody in the cast has really got a great sense of humor, and we have a lot of fun together.
What’s an average day like for you on set?
Margaret Cho: When you make a one-hour show it's pretty intense because you're almost making a movie in a week. It's long hours and a lot of work For me, I eat pizza all day. That’s my thing. I make these pizzas out of English muffins and Ragu. It's kind of disgusting, but great. It's like a real after-school snack. That's how I get through my day because I eat maybe about three or four of these pizzas.
Sometimes the word diva can have a negative connotation. How would you define that word?
Margaret Cho: Diva to me is always positive because I come from a long line of divas. I have worked with Cyndi Lauper, who is of course without question, a diva. I have worked with Rosie O'Donnell who is also a great diva. To me diva never has a negative connotation. It always means somebody who is strong, grand, powerful, and important. You know, somebody that is the star of the show to the depth of their being. I always look at diva as a good thing. It's a good word.
You were on one episode of Sex and the City. Will you be doing any guest appearances in the future movie?
Margaret Cho: I haven't been asked to, but I would love to. That was one of my favorite guest-starring roles or just work in general. I love the show and had such a fabulous time on that episode. It was beautiful for me because it was the last night that I got to hang out with the wonderful Kevyn Aucoin who passed away after that. It was a great chance for him and I to really be together for the last time. I always look back really strongly on that experience and think of him and how great that show is. We'll see.
Are you working on any new material?
Margaret Cho: I am going on a big tour starting in August all through the rest of the year. It's weird because my touring now happens in between shooting seasons of this TV show. It makes for a pretty busy year. I’m also working on new material here in Atlanta while I'm shooting the show. It's going to be a big kind of multi-media tour with music and lots of new comedy.
'Drop Dead Diva' is great in its acceptance of curvy women. Why do you think it's so important to have a show like this on the air?
Margaret Cho: I think it's important because we don't have any images of beautiful, full-figured women. We don't have role models out there that look like real people. If we have more representations of real-looking women on TV, you would have fewer problems with anorexia and bulimia. I think in a lot of ways because of television you have these unnaturally thin ideals of beauty. It’s neglecting a very big section of society that needs to feel like they are important and that they matter. I think this show really does that. I am proud of what we are to women. I am glad that this show is so successful because it's a very important message to have out there.
What can women in Hollywood take away from watching the show?
Margaret Cho: I think that they can feel really good about who they are. The show is about celebrating beauty in all sizes, shapes, and forms. That's really powerful, and I feel like this is something that's needed in Hollywood. It's needed everywhere.
Do you think that the show would help decrease all the problems that are going on with young women who are having eating disorders?
Margaret Cho: I hope so. I think shows like this have a tremendous weight that effects people. Television is very powerful. You can show how someone who’s plus size is still gorgeous and having a fabulous life. You can see it's not about the weight, that‘s not the problem. You can look at it as an advantage or just another attribute to the beauty of a woman, and I think that's really great.
Is there any message that you want to send out to anybody who is not watching 'Drop Dead Diva' yet?
Margaret Cho: People need to watch it. It's just such a fun show for the whole family, and people who just want to see something real.