In a recent conference call Q&A, Margaret Cho, who plays the role of legal assistant, Teri Lee, talked about her experiences from the first season and upcoming second season of the break-out dramedy sensation Drop Dead Diva.
Describing how she came to be a part of the Drop Dead Diva world, Margaret said that while she was at a performance for a friend, producer Josh Berman happened to be in the audience and he came up to her to tell her about his project Drop Dead Diva. While she liked Josh a lot, she was not sure about the project because she had not heard anything about it. Then the very next day her agent called and sent her the script, which was quickly followed by a meeting with Josh where she was immediately cast in the role of Teri. She was the first person cast in the show as Josh had envisioned the role for her from the first. Thus, as Margaret shared, “So it was kind of an amazing coincidence that we ran into each other at the show that night. . . It was a really great thing. . . . I was just really in love with the whole project. I thought it was such a great show. . . So it just all kind of came together.”
When asked about how her character Teri got to be so snarky, Margaret sheepishly admitted that some of the snarkiness may come from her conversations with Josh, who then just writes her own natural snarkiness into the script. She also explained that she sees Teri as an office crone, like a character out of the film Nine to Five — Teri has simply been around that place forever and knows everything, and so she is kind of the source for information and is a fun-loving gal.
As whether she wants to push the limits of her character on the show, Margaret explained that it is different because she is not really writing her character on the show and the way the character is written is already pretty edgy. So, while she would like to push her character’s limits farther, she is not certain it would work because the show is written in a kind of light tone and like a romantic comedy.
But she is given a lot of freedom with her character’s wardrobe and Margaret said she probably has the luxury of having the wildest clothes just because her character is not as reined in by having to be professional looking. Also, if her character had a deep, dark secret, Margaret thought it would be fun if she turned out to be man which could be revealed in a bathtub sequence. She would love the shock value of that.
Tot date, Margaret said that the biggest challenge she finds playing Teri is finding out new things about her. For example, this year, she found out that Teri is a singer. In fact, Margaret opens the second season with a big music and dance number. She also has an upcoming song on the show’s soundtrack which she is really excited about.
Another favorite was the last episode from Season One because it was so exciting. It left everyone wondering what was going to happen — because all of a sudden Jane has a husband. It was such a great cliffhanger. Margaret shared that she thought that storyline was beautifully resolved, which we will all see next season. Also, on a personal note, Margaret loves working with Devon Gummersall who plays Ethan, Jane’s husband, as they worked together on a few projects several years ago. Thus, it was really wonderful seeing him again on the set of Drop Dead Diva.
When asked how she would feel if she found herself in the same type of situation as Jane in Drop Dead Diva, Margaret said she would really enjoy having a whole new brain and area of expertise. In the show, she thought what was so wonderful about Jane is the fact 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 as Jane she is such a magnanimous character. Plus, Jane has a very big heart and a very big mission to save the world.
Describing an average day on Drop Dead Diva, Margaret said it was a lot of work as making a one-hour show is pretty intense because it feels like making a movie each week. Thus, it is long hours and she said, “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.” She also revealed that she makes it through the long hours by eating lots of pizza!
Asked how she would define “diva,” Margaret said, “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.” She feels very strongly that a “diva” is someone to be admired for their strength and creativity.
Talking a bit about the show’s acceptance of curvy women and its role in helping empower women, Margaret said that she felt that it is important for there to be a show like Drop Dead Diva because there just are not any images of beautiful, full-figured women — there are not role models out there that really look like real people. She explained, “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.”
As to what message that she wants to send out to those not yet watching Drop Dead Diva, Margaret said, “People need to watch it. I mean I think it’s 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.” She also felt that what women in Hollywood can take away from the show is that, “They can 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.” She also hopes that the show does decrease all the problems that are going on with young women with eating disorders. She said, “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.”
To date, Margaret’s most memorable experience meeting the fans of Drop Dead Diva was at last year’s Paley Center event where they hosted a special screening and Q&A. She recalled, “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 it.” She also shared that, “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. “
As far as upcoming guest stars this next season, they include Paula Abdul who has a fantastic dance sequence which opens the second season, Cybill Shepherd, Ricki Lake and Rosie O’Donnell, who will be back next season as a regular. Margaret elaborated by stating, “We have just had amazing, amazing people. . . So we’re very lucky.”
Revealing a bit of behind-the-scenes antics, Margaret said that she is not the only funny girl on set. She said that the whole cast is really, really hilarious, but her personal favorite is Ben Feldman, who plays Jane’s guardian angel Fred. She said, “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.”
Finally, sharing a bit about what she takes away from working on Drop Dead Diva, Margaret shared that she has really come to love Atlanta as she has a lot of friends there. Plus, the crew and cast of Drop Dead Diva have become so close as “transplants” from L.A. So, having all of them as her surrogate family, is really fun and beautiful. She also said that it is fun to be able to work on a show that she really believes in. She said, “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.”
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