In my memory, the universal soundtrack to any ‘90s living room is Fran Drescher preaching questionable cosmetology maxims in a thick Queens accent on The Nanny. Her alter ego Fran Fine—which she came up with while babysitting Twiggy’s 12-year-old daughter (more on that below)—was iconically extra, from her large hair and loud wardrobe, to her staccato laugh and IDGAF attitude. It’s hard to believe that early on in her career, Drescher, now 60, took diction lessons to “fix” the voice that made her famous. Thankfully, it didn’t work.
When the sitcom ended in 1999, Drescher began using her voice—first quietly, now louder—to criticize Washington, espousing a host of radical (her words) stances and declaring herself anti-capitalist. “I don’t pray to the money god,” Drescher tells me. “I think there has to be an awakening in this 21st century, where we start recognizing that capitalism has run amok.” For that, she’s been entrepreneurial from a young age; while she never nannied, at 13, Drescher lied about her age to get a job at a supermarket. She later attended cosmetology school to become a hairdresser and used to cut Dennis Quaid’s hair.
Whether her political beliefs make you raise your eyebrows or trade your Bernie Bro pins for Drescher 2020 ones (she’s teased public office ambitions in the past), it’s hard not to admire her fired-up passion for social justice. She describes our government as “constipated with ego” and has been embraced as a fierce ally to the LGBTQ+ community. After her ex-husband/current BFF/The Nanny co-creator Peter Marc Jacobson came out as gay—the basis of their show Happily Divorced—Drescher became an ordained minister and officiated same-sex weddings. Long before the #MeToo movement, she spoke out about surviving a violent, sexual assault in her home in 1985, as well as the PTSD that followed, and became a State Department special envoy for women’s health.
Now, Drescher’s primary focus as an activist is on her foundation, Cancer Schmancer, born from her own battle with uterine cancer. After a two-year-long search for a diagnosis, she founded the organization—which held its second annual Cabaret Dinner Cruise fundraiser in New York City earlier this week—to change the way we think about cancer care and devote more resources to prevention and early detection. With recovery behind her, Drescher is also putting in more and more screen time, as a recurring character on Broad City (she’s Ilana’s eccentric aunt, and their chemistry is magical) and a star in this summer’s Hotel Transylvania 3. She's also writing a Broadway musical.
Here, Drescher opens up about the greatest money lesson she took away from her divorce, what an anti-capitalist splurges on, and the maybe-one-day Nanny reboot she and Jacobson have already started talking about.
On her financial upbringing… I come from a very provincial, practical background. My dad worked two jobs when I was growing up, and I’ve been working since I was 13 years old, when I forged my birthdate to work in a supermarket. I never wanted to be burden on my family. I worked in a chicken take-out store. I worked in a supermarket. I worked in clothing stores. I have a great respect for money, and I also like to share it.
On her famous voice… My parents were asked if I always sounded like this, and my mom—in almost the exact same voice—said, “We never knew she had a funny voice.” But I did have a teacher in high school that said, “You really have to learn how to speak less New York if you wanna make it.” I heard that again once I was starting to make it as a comedienne. At that point, I actually did take diction classes. But I wasn't able to mask it and keep my personality, plus I was established as a comic actress who’s pretty and funny with a funny voice.
On her first acting gig… Either a root beer commercial or a McDonald's commercial. I did those back to back. I worked as an extra prior to that. Then I got Saturday Night Fever.
On her brief career as a hairdresser… I finished cosmetology school with honors. I'd go in the evenings, so that it wouldn't interrupt my auditioning. I always liked doing hair. Even when I was in high school, I was cutting people’s hair. I thought if acting doesn’t work out, I could become the next Vidal Sassoon. I never thought about working in a local shop in Queens; I thought about building an empire. I worked weekends in Brooklyn, but then I moved to LA to shoot American Hot Wax and never left, so I just cut people's hair as favors. I cut Dennis Quaid’s hair, David Caruso’s hair. They would come to my house.
On returning to work after her assault… I was booked to shoot a comedy film shortly after, and I didn't feel like being funny, but I needed the money and we needed to get on with things. It turned out to be very therapeutic, but I remember I was quite nervous about being alone in the dressing room. It made me not comfortable being by myself. I started therapy in the years to follow, and that was a very positive journey.
On The Nanny’s crazy origin story… I was invited to visit a girlfriend in France. This was a huge milestone for me to go all the way to Europe without my husband, by myself. It was difficult to push myself, but I did. And the universe rewarded me by sitting next to the president of CBS at the time on the plane. I said, “You have to listen to my and Peter’s ideas.” He was a captive audience—where was he gonna go? Nine and a half hours later he said, “Okay. Give my office a call, and we’ll set up a meeting.” At my girlfriend’s, she had these two toddlers who never stopped screaming and crying. So [another] girlfriend in London, Twiggy, invited me to visit. While she was working, I was traveling around the city one day with her 12-year-old daughter. She wanted to go back to the house because her shoes were hurting, but I told her I’m not gonna do that. I said, “Step on the backs of them.” She said, “I'll break them.” And I said, “Break them in.” That relationship was very funny because I wasn't telling her what was good for her; I was telling her what was good for me. I called Peter that night and said, “I think I’ve got an idea for CBS; what do you think about about a spin on The Sound of Music, but instead of Julie Andrews, I come to the door?” We walked in with that one line and created it on the spot.
On what changed after The Nanny’s success… We didn’t have to be up at night, worrying about how to pay bills, and we used to do that a lot, figuring it out ‘til the last penny.
On investing… Growing up, my dad liked the stock market, so I was familiar, but The Nanny was where the money was coming in consistently, and it needed to be put somewhere, so that is when we set up our portfolio. I like real estate and art, and I like investing in city and state infrastructure and green companies.
On what she learned about money from divorce… Money can be a very toxic thing. When Peter and I split, we split everything 50/50. I try and do that with everything and everyone.
On a potential bid for office… I don't know if I will ever actually run because I think that the stress will be too much on my body, and that’s something I’ve learned to be mindful of. Using my celebrity and leveraging social media to help expose inequities may be a better forum for me, rather than trying to go through a broken system. I actually encourage people to circumvent Washington because that's not where we're really going to find change. It's too constipated with ego and souls that have been bought and sold.
On her most frequent splurges… Reflexology at least once a week. Travel. And I always keep my hot tub hot. Organic, healthy food and personal care items. I will spare no expense on being healthy.
On how she saves… I don’t waste food. I’m not a shopaholic at all, even though all my characters seem to be. I drive a 2001 car, and I love it.
On the business of medical care… At Cancer Schmancer, we transform patients into medical consumers and teach you to empower yourself, so you can become better partners with your physician. Women tend to ignore [health issues] because they put so many other things first, like family, and we try and reprogram them to know that it's in the best interest of their family [to care for themselves].