Interview: Margaret Cho from ‘Drop Dead Diva’

We had the chance to chat with Margaret Cho, who plays Teri Lee on Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva. She told us about what it’s like on the set, her favorite guest stars, and what it’s like filming in Georgia.

How did Teri get so snarky?

I think that the character was written—sometimes I think a lot of the characters developed between my conversations just with Josh Berman and hanging out and things that I’ve said and done, they wind up in script. I don’t find her particularly snarky. She’s kind of like, you know, in a sense what she reminds me of is kind of like an old, like an office crone. It’s real like kind of a character out of a Nine to Five or something, you know. She is just a fun gal who has been around that place forever, and she knows everything, and so I’m kind of the source for information, but I guess it comes with a price.
What keeps challenging you about this role?

Well, I keep finding out new things about the character as things develop. So this year, I find out that my character is a singer, which 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 that I wrote that didn’t make it on the album I put on the soundtrack record. So I made part of the soundtrack as well so that’s a lot of fun, too.

Okay, so what can you tell us about Teri’s journey in season two? Are we going to see maybe any love interests for her?

Well, we are about halfway through the season filming it. I haven’t seen a love interest so far, but there is still time. We never find out about our characters much like farther than another episode in, so I don’t know. Now we’re shooting I guess the ninth episode, so I can’t tell. We have about four more to go. I haven’t seen a love interest so far. There’s been a lot of talk about, but I’ve not seen it. So I can’t answer that.

Okay, so what’s been your favorite scene to shoot so far?

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 and so that’s kind of my new thing. So it’s fun to be able to do that on a TV show, and then to be dancing and doing it at the same time is really fabulous. So that was my favorite so far.

Since it’s summertime and nice outside, why should we come inside and watch Drop Dead Diva?

Melanoma. You don’t want to be getting skin cancer if you’re outside, and the sun is not good for us anymore. So it’s much better to sit in front of your TV, it’s like 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 and so you do best avoiding them altogether and staying in and watching your TV.

All right, that’s great. I wanted to ask you if you could talk about, what do you enjoy, like the differences between doing a TV show like this and doing your great live shows which the last time in Chicago we saw you and it was fun?

Oh, well that’s great, thank you. It’s a very different lifestyle. I mean, I feel like it’s a chance to stay in one place, which is very different for me. I’m quite a traveling person. It’s a different lifestyle. You know, I’ve come to really love Atlanta, and I have a lot of friends here and the crew and cast of Drop Dead Diva, we’ve become very, very close because we’re all transplanted from L.A. So we just are our own family, and we hang out all the time, which is really just so fun and beautiful. It’s fun to be able to work on a show that I really believe in, that I really love, and you know to just be able to see how it progresses and how it grows from week to week and how it changes, you know, and it’s really a lot of fun.

What are the main similarities and differences between you and the character, Teri?

I think the main similarities I think that she has, well she’s the oldest one, that I feel for sure. I’m the oldest one in the whole cast and the oldest character. I think, you know, we probably have the same sensibility here, the same sense of humor, and this season you get to meet my family. So you get to see my mother, who is also in my real life a very strong presence, so that’s really, really fun … into my character’s life. The differences are 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 we both type very, very quickly. So that I can say we both share that trait.

Throughout your career you’ve done sort of a little bit of everything, you know, the music, the standup, the film, the TV. Which have you enjoyed the most and why?

Well I enjoy standup comedy the most because it offers me the avenue to do everything that I want. In standup comedy there is quite a great freedom in that, you know basically you’re kind of given 90 minutes to sort of do everything. The important part of it is you have to get laughs, that is what I always want to do anyway. So even if I’m doing something like music, none of my music is ever serious. My heroes and inspirations when it comes to music are people like Weird Al Yankovic or even Bette Midler is somebody that I really look up to and somebody that I admire for combining humor and music in such a great way. So to me standup comedy is the most rewarding because it does offer me the avenue to do whatever I like.

Hypothetically if you’re in a spot like Jane, how would you handle that? Or what kind of fun would you have with that situation?

Well, I think that if I was in that kind of an amazing situation or amazing circumstance, I would really enjoy having this whole new brain and have this whole new area of expertise. What’s wonderful about the character and about the show is that she really is much better off as Jane than she was as Deb, because as Deb her world view was pretty limited and it was very selfish. But with Jane she is such a magnanimous character, you know she has a very big heart and a very big mission to save the world. So I think that is a really wonderful thing. So I would be enjoying all of the great expanse of that that I am.

What guest stars will we see this season?

Well, this season is really great. We open up the series with Paula Abdul in our fantastic dance sequence which is pretty phenomenal. What was really fun is that the whole rehearsal process, you know, we were dancing with the choreographer from…I think it’s such a great thing. We have all these dancers, like real dancers, surrounding you and you’re really like going for it. We were all in rehearsal with Paula, and it just felt like that video, Cold Hearted Snake. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that. It’s an old Paula Abdul video. It was really cool. So just kind of going into that world was so fun. I don’t know. That was my favorite guest star.
This week we have the fabulous Cybill Sheperd, who I absolutely adore. Ricki Lake came and joined us. We have just have had amazing, amazing people. Rosie O’Donnell is back as a regular, which is a lot of fun. So we’re very lucky.

Does everyone on set expect you to be the funny one who keeps everyone entertained between takes?

Well everybody’s really funny. I mean the whole cast is really, really hilarious. My favorite is probably Ben Feldman. Ben Feldman is so hilarious and adorable, and I look at him and I think that is the son that I would have if I was old enough to have him and I was inclined to have children and also was Jewish. He is really, really a fantastic guy and somebody who I really just, I am so just in admiration and in love with him. 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 has been your most memorable experience meeting a fan of Drop Dead Diva?

I think what’s so remarkable about the fans of the show they really, really identify with the character of Jane, and they really are in love with the story. I think my favorite experience so far with meeting fans and talking about the show was that we did a big screening of it and a Q&A for the Paley Center in Los Angeles, and it was a very prestigious event where they talked about the show and broke it down. The audience was all fans and it was so great to see people so excited to meet the cast and so excited about the show and hear Josh Berman, who is the show’s creator, talk about the genesis of the show, how he thought about it, and how he created it, and that. They were excited, you know, that was really, really cool. So I was really thrilled to be a part of that.

Sometimes the word diva can have a negative connotation. How would you define that word? How would you define diva?

Diva to me is always positive because I come from kind of a long line of divas and working with 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’s always positive. It always means somebody who is strong and grand and powerful and important. You know somebody that is the center and star of the show to the depth of their being. So I always look at diva as a good thing. It’s a good word.

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.

I don’t know, you know, maybe Kim Kardashian. That wouldn’t be so bad. I think that would be a pretty good life for me, as Kim Kardashian. I think I would be pretty happy. I don’t know. I like her.

What drew you to taking the role on the show and how you even heard about Drop Dead Diva in the first place?

Well, I was working on my album doing music stuff. I’ve been working on it for a couple of years now. One of the songwriters that I write with, his name is Jay Brannon, and I went to go see him after we had a long writing session. I went to go see him and he was performing. Josh Berman was in the audience. Josh Berman came up to me at the show and was telling me about his project Drop Dead Diva. I like Josh a lot and I wasn’t sure about the project. I hadn’t heard anything about it, and the next day my agent called me and sent me the script. Then I went in to meet with Josh the next day. I was immediately cast in the role of Teri. I was the first person cast in the show. He had envisioned the role for me in the first place, so it was kind of an amazing coincidence that we ran into at the show that night.

So it was a really great thing. So I made the pilot. I was just really in love with the whole project. I thought it was such a great show. I really thought Brooke was an incredible actor. So it just all kind of came together. It all happened because I was working on my album.

Are you working on any new material for touring or anything?

I am. I am going on a big tour starting in August, toward the end of August and through September and all through the rest of the year. It’s weird because my touring now kind of happens in between shooting seasons of this TV show. So it makes for a pretty busy year. So I’m working on new material here in Atlanta while I’m shooting the show. I’m also working on songs, and it’s going to be a big kind of multi-media tour, you know, doing some music and doing a lot of like new comedy stuff. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Because this is such a magnificent ensemble of characters, if there was something you feel like you have been able to contribute or bring to your character that was really unique that you thought made it more of a three-dimensional character, like a characteristic clothing choice, body posture, phrase, something like that.

I don’t know. I don’t really have—I probably have the luxury of having kind of the wildest clothes just because the character is kind of not as reined in by you know having to be professional looking or legal eagle looking, like I don’t necessarily have to be in court, so I can kind of dress the way that I please. So in a way my own style kind of comes in to play when we are talking about dressing the character. I don’t know. Like I don’t approach acting in any kind of a way of like developing my character or thinking about it. I just kind of go, where do I go? What do I say? Okay, let’s do it. Like I’m so matter of fact and practical about the whole job, I don’t have any of those sorts of things or acting things. I wish I had more of that. I need to learn that from the other people I work with who are such phenomenal actors.

is there maybe one of the scenes that you can describe that ended up being funny that wasn’t written that way?

Well, I think everything has been written pretty funny. I think things are enhanced certainly by the way things are shot, you know. But oftentimes the way that it’s written is so hilarious. So we’re pretty lucky that we have funny writers and funny people who play the scenes, so it’s good.

Has it been hard for you to adjust to filming in Georgia when you’re an L.A. girl?

Well, it’s a little bit tough because I’m away from my family, and I’m away from my husband, and away from my dogs. The dog business is the hardest part. But, I get to visit a lot, and a lot of back and forth. It’s just a life that I’m used to because I’m always on the road anyway. I’ve been on the road as a standup comic for 20 years. So it’s not unusual to be away from home, but it’s just unusual to sort of be away from home and living in one place for a long time. So it’s a little tough. But I have acclimated, and I have a lot of really good connections here. The cast and I, we’re all very close. So that’s really fun, but it is hard.

you were on one episode of Sex and the City. I wonder if you’ll be doing any guest appearances in the future movie?

I want to, I haven’t been asked to, but I would love to, that would be so fun. That was one of my favorite guest-starring roles or just work in general, was getting to be in Sex and the City, and I had such a fabulous time on that episode. I love that show. It’s so interesting when you’re an actor and then you’re like such a big fan of a show, and then you get to enter that world for however brief a time. It’s such an incredible feeling. So I really enjoyed that. It was beautiful for me because it was the last night that I got to hang out with the wonderful and of course now sadly gone Kevyn Aucoin who passed away after that. So it was a great chance for he and I to really be together for the last time. We didn’t even know it was going to be the last time. I always look back really strongly on that experience and think of him, and I think about how great that show is. So I would love to do a movie. We’ll see.

Could you describe what an average day on the set of the show is like? It looks like it would just be so much fun.

An average day, well it’s a lot of work. When you make a one-hour show it’s a pretty intense thing because you’re pretty much making almost like a movie in a week. So it’s long hours. You kind of get there and you sort of get into your character’s hair and make-up and wardrobe and then you just go on set. For me, I always eat pizza like all day, that’s my thing. …like the…makes me these pizzas that are made out of English muffins and Ragu. It’s kind of disgusting, but it’s kind of great. It’s like a real after-school kind of snack. That’s how I get through my day because I eat maybe about three or four seriously of these pizzas a day and that’s how I make it.

What’s the good part about filming in Georgia? What do you like about being down there?

Well, what I love is I really love hanging out with the cast and that’s really amazing. All of us go out a lot. We all live in, except for Brooke, who lives in Peachtree City, which is where the show is filmed, the rest of the cast and I, we all live in Atlanta which is about an hour away. So we’re up in the city, and we are out every night at all the different night spots and restaurants. We are all fruities, and Ben Feldman is actually a vintner. He makes wine. So we are all kind of the same mind. We all love to eat, we all love to drink, and we all have a very refined palate. Atlanta is a fabulous city if you like to eat. So that’s a big, big, big thing that we like to do. Also I go to the comedy club here called the Laughing Skull, which is in the Vortex which is a restaurant inside of Midtown which is also where we all live. So I’m there probably doing a lot of shows getting ready for my new tour for the next phase of this year in the fall. So I’m there like maybe six or seven times a week, which is a lot.


So there’s definitely, like we’ve created a home for ourselves. Then the cast come and see and my shows all the time. So we are always kind of out. In a way doing the show and living here away from my family and away from kind of familial responsibilities, I have kind of re-ignited my 20s. All of the cast are in their 20s, so I am acting like I used to act when I was a 20-year-old and hanging out at night and doing shows. So it’s given me a lot of youthfulness in a sense. In my L.A. life I live in the Valley and I’d never go out. Here all I do is go out, so it’s very different.

What’s your favorite episode from season one?

I think my favorite episode from season one was, the closer was so exciting. It was like, what’s going to happen? Then she has a husband. It was such a great cliffhanger like you had to, you know, just really hang on for so long to find out what happened. It’s resolved so beautifully this year. So it’s exciting.

I love Devon Gummersall who plays Ethan, Jane’s husband. He is actually somebody I worked with many, many years ago. Not only was he on My So Called Life, which I had another TV show at the time called All American Girl that was on the network and the same season on ABC, and we both ended up not surviving. But I became…that cast… and Devon, and Wilson Cruz of course. So that was a really wonderful thing to see him again on the set of Drop Dead Diva. My favorite was the last episode of last season.

How do you decide who you’re going to write songs about? Are they artists that you like? Are they artists that you kind of just want to make fun of? How does that work for you?

Well, I really love Lil Wayne. That song came about because I was recording and writing with one of my producers, who is just fabulous, Ben Lee, who is an incredible singer/songwriter. So he and I would get together for our writing sessions, and for several months every time we get together we would end up talking about Lil Wayne, who we are both big fans of. So when Lil Wayne was going to prison, I thought we should write a song about it. We should do something very romantic and beautiful and simple. So we put down the song, we recorded it very quickly, and then his wife, Ione Skye, and my husband, Al Ridenour, his wife shot the video, we made a video and she did all the camera work. Then my husband kind of, he did all the editing. So we kind of had this, you know, Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel kind of these couples working on this project. It was really, really fun. For my writing, I kind of, as a musician, I kind of approach it as I would as a comedian. If I want to write something about somebody or if something strikes me as funny, then I’ll write about and sometimes it’ll become a song or sometimes it’ll become a joke, but it’s a very similar writing process.

As you proved in your second appearance on the Ghost Whisperer, you know your comics pretty well. What kind of super hero would you like to be if given the chance to do something like that?

Wow. Well, I to me it’s a simple skill and it should be basic for a super hero is flying. I would like to fly just so that I could be away from any kind of, you know, airport delays. That to me would be so fabulous if you could just actually physically fly yourself to New York or L.A. or wherever you need to go. I would love to be able to do that.

If your character, Teri, had a deep, dark secret on the show that hasn’t been revealed yet, what would you want it to be?

I think that the best would be that she is a man. That would be my favorite. That would be the easiest. You know, that would be the greatest secret. You know, like actually, I’m a man.

How would you want to reveal that?

I think just a kind of weird bathtub sequence. Like a real NYPD blue-style shower scene. That would be a good way.

You always seem to push the limits with your standup. How do you try to do that with your character on the show?

Well, it’s a little different just because I’m not really writing my character on the show. The way the character is written, it’s pretty edgy for the show itself. For television itself, but for me it’s not. I think that it’s just the way that I push it, it sort of gets to try to play it in the edgiest way that I can possible I guess. You know, a lot of it is just the character is modifying my own personality to make it work for the show. So, I don’t know. It’s a different process when you’re writing for yourself as opposed to playing something that has to be part of a larger ensemble. So it’s a new thing for me and I really enjoy it.

Would you want them to push you a little further, with your character?

Oh, I would love it, but I think it’s a little different because the way that the show is written it is kind of light and it is kind of very much a romantic comedy. So it’s definitely, the way the character is, it’s the edginess of the whole show, but it definitely has to stick within the parameters of a romantic comedy. It’s fun, but definitely lighter than what I’m used to doing.

Drop Dead Diva is great in its acceptance of like curvy women and helping to empower women. Why do you think it’s so important to say to society for a show like this to be on air?

Well, I think that it’s important because we just don’t have any images of beautiful, full-figured women, that we don’t have role models out there that really look like real people. I think that that is so important, you know. If we have more representations of real-looking women on TV, you would have fewer problems with anorexia and bulimia and all of this that exists within the world today. I think in a lot of ways because of television, because you have these unnaturally thin ideals of beauty, you are really neglecting a very big section of society that needs to feel like they are important and that they matter, and I think this show really does that. So I am proud of what we are and 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.

You said that you liked Kim Kardashian. What would you want her and the other Kardashian sisters to take away from the show?

I hope that they know we are fans. I hope they will come.


Ask them to come on our show. They’re so great, so fabulous, they’re so beautiful.

What characters could they play on the show?

I don’t know, maybe themselves. That would be so hot.

You just gave away an answer because I was going to say who is your dream guest star for the show?

Yes, definitely Kim Kardashian. I think also Madonna, that would be hot. Also even Courtney Love. That would be fabulous. I just, I was at South by Southwest and I was asked by Skin magazine to introduce Hole, and I was so excited because I love them. So she was really phenomenal. She would be a fabulous guest star for us. I want Cher. That would be really fun, too. Any number of people would be great, great for our show.

Is there any message that you want to send out to anybody who is not watching Drop Dead Diva yet?

People need to watch it. I mean I think its just such a fun show, and I think it’s for everybody. It’s for the whole family, and I think it’s for people who just want to see something different and something real and I’m really proud of it.

What can women in Hollywood take away from watching the show, what moral values?

I think that they can just feel really comfortable with themselves and feel really good about who they are. The show is about celebrating beauty in all sizes and shapes and forms. That’s really powerful, and I feel like this is something that’s really 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?

I hope so. I think shows like this have a tremendous weight and power to effect people. Television is very powerful. If you can really just show like how beautiful somebody is who is larger, somebody who is plus size, but who is also gorgeous and also living a fabulous life and you see it’s not about the weight, like you don’t look at the weight as a problem. You look at it as an advantage or just another attribute of the beauty of a woman, and I think that’s really great.

Season Premiere Sunday, June 6 at 9/8c!