EXCLUSIVE: Fran Drescher has long recognized her value to herself and what she could potentially offer the world ever since she was a teenager growing up in Flushing, Queens, N.Y.
The 62-year-old actress and comedian rose to fame in large part due to her role as the venerable and rambunctious Fran Fine on the iconic television series “The Nanny,” but since an early age, Drescher knew she’d be headed for success in whatever path she chose simply because she was unique in her own way – much of which has to do with her distinguishable voice but also the guidance her parents instilled in her as a kid.
“My mom said to me when I was in like middle school, ‘You don’t need to take typing because you’re going to have a secretary,’” Drescher quipped to Fox News of her mother, Sylvia Drescher. “And she was right!”
Drescher is once again set to be immortalized in television history, this time on “Fran Drescher: In My Own Words,” an in-depth special slated to premiere on Reelz that paints a vivid portrait of Drescher’s life amid the triumphs and low points of the American sitcom icon who saw for herself exactly what her Hollywood idol, the late great Lucille Ball, saw for women in television and comedy.
“It always blows my mind when I think about when things happen like this, or there’ll be some comedian that’ll tell a Fran Drescher joke and they know they’re going to get a laugh because most of the audience knows who I am,” said Drescher. “So it is kind of, if not a little mind-blowing because I’ve been me since I was a chubby kid in Queens. And here I am, internationally famous and successful. It’s been a long journey and I’ve traveled a far distance.”
Drescher’s parents, Sylvia, 86, and Morty Drescher, 90, remain married to this day and both appear in the Reelz special. Drescher said she marveled at the opportunity to have her parents included because “I’m not going to have them forever and they’ve been involved in my career all the way through.”
In watching the special, one can certainly identify from her parents’ banter where Drescher developed her witty chops and precision comedic timing.
In every episode of “The Nanny,” Drescher makes her presence felt from the get-go – telling the audience “I’m here” in a way reminiscent of legendary Lucille.
“I grew up watching ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns and it was on probably a couple of times a day – but definitely once a day from a very young age,” recalled Drescher. “And for some reason, I just was very enthralled with Lucille Ball. With her look, with her sense of style, with her physical comedy, with her voice – the way she modulated it – just everything. And I started to want to be like her, want to become an actress like her, want to be on TV like her.”
For its work, “The Nanny” enjoyed a six-season run from 1993 to 1999 and 146 episodes that Drescher said was heavily inspired by Ball’s blueprint of being the centerpiece of a show while still allowing others around her to come into their own as supporting characters.
“Even when we were in the writers’ room starting the show, we would always talk about ‘I Love Lucy,’” said Drescher. “We would always talk about the relationship between Lucy and Ricky and him being in show business like Mr. Sheffield and the physical comedy and using that long staircase and dressing well and looking beautiful, but being funny and making fun of the central clown was something that they really mastered on that show.”
“It’s really not easy to make the main character, the clown,” she continued. “Usually, they are more of the straight person and the voice of reason and everybody that dances around them are the clowns. But she figured out how to do it where she remained the centerpiece and the clown and yet everybody else had their opportunity to be funny too.”
But despite the unparalleled success, the two-time Primetime Emmy-winner would garner in her 30-year-plus career, Drescher wasn’t always the pick of the litter.
In fact, the “Beautician and the Beast” said she reached a point early in her career where even as an unknown performer she felt disrespected by Hollywood due to the roles she was being handed and felt she was much “smarter” than many of the executives making decisions at the top.
“I think that I’ve always been entrepreneurial to a certain degree,” she explained. “I mean, even when I was in high school and sometime after when I started going up on commercials and things as an actress during my freshman year of college and because I began working – I decided to drop out of college and then go to Beauty Culture school in case the acting didn’t work out, I could always get into the hairdressing business, but not working in a local, you know, beauty parlor in the neighborhood, but aspiring to become the Beverly [Adams] Sassoon of my time.”
“And when I was working as an actress, I wasn’t really happy with the work I was getting for the most part,” Drescher maintained, adding that early on she would be relegated to playing “the hooker with the heart of gold.”
“And I really felt like – the thing that I can’t do is kind of have my wings clipped. I can’t really be a ‘yes’ man. I can’t really just do what I’m told if I don’t think it’s right,” Drescher explained. “And so I made a promise to myself that I was either going to manifest getting on the inside of this business in a big way, so I have control over my destiny or get out and do something else because for me, even though I enjoy show business tremendously, if I have to feel like my wings are clipped, then there are other ways I can make money and be successful, you know.
“It’s too painful for me to have to commit to a project that I think is frankly beneath me and beneath my talent.”
The “Happily Divorced” series producer and alum credited her longtime love and ex-husband Peter Marc Jacobson – whom Drescher met in high school and was later married to from 1978 until 1999 – with helping her realize her potential as a front lead.
“I think that that takes a certain level of confidence to be able to feel that way, particularly when you’re an unknown, virtually,” she said of her decision to break away from the stereotypical box she was placed in as an actress. “But Peter [Marc Jacobson] always said I was like this in high school. I mean, I always felt like I knew my talent and I knew what I was about and I knew my gifts and I knew that I was a star and not a third banana.”
Drescher pressed: “And the business, because of my funny voice or whatever, just saw me as like a third banana, the nutty neighbor. And that wasn’t where I belonged. It wasn’t where I fit and it wasn’t where I wanted to stay and I didn’t trust that the business was going to do it for me. I was going to have to do it for myself.”
The cancer survivor and founder of the nonprofit Cancer Schmancer – an organization dedicated to raising awareness on the importance of early detection and prevention of the illness – said there is great value in being immensely different than her counterparts since it’s what helped Drescher reach icon status.
“I think finding projects that fit me hand-in-glove. When you’re unique or off-beat or not ordinary, not easily palatable, it’s going to be a fast yes or a fast pass. There’s really not a lot of wiggle room,” she explained. “And so I think that getting – you know, it’s interesting because the people that have been really creative and talented people have wanted to work with me. They saw what I was about.”
“It’s the mediocrity that really doesn’t know what kind of box to put me into,” added Drescher. “And that’s the majority of the industry.”
“Fran Drescher: In My Own Words” premieres Sunday, Aug. 16 at 10 p.m. ET on Reelz.