Fran Drescher, wrapped in a white bathrobe, pauses during our Alexa interview to save a bee that’s bumbled indoors. It’s overcast in Malibu, but there are bees aplenty in “The Nanny” actress’s terrace garden.
“I’m kind of an earth mother,” she says. A Zen music mix is piped through her all-white, art and memorabilia filled oceanfront home. Even Drescher’s famous Flushing rasp is smoothed to a purr. Since defeating uterine cancer two decades ago, the California coast has become her blissed-out sanctuary and a refuge for the insects and other wildlife who happen to find her. She scatters bowls of water and morsels of food outside for the ants, bees and birds.
“All living things need water,” explains Drescher, 63, a practicing Buddhist (or in her words, “Bu-Jew”). “I live amongst nature, not in spite of it. These four walls are an illusion. They protect us from weather, not wildlife.”
After creating one of TV’s most beloved characters — Queens fashion icon Fran Fine on “The Nanny,” a through-the-looking-glass satire of her own over-the-top personality — Drescher has spent decades using her one of a kind voice to promote education, love and wellness.
Her latest role is in Lifetime’s “The Christmas Setup” (premiering Dec. 12), which is the network’s first holiday rom-com with an LGBTQ primary storyline. She’s also co-writing a Broadway adaptation of “The Nanny,” a project that remains in development despite coronavirus shutdowns.
But her biggest splash this season may be on social media, where she’s using her platform to criticize consumerism, capitalism and America’s big-business health-care system — a subject she also explored on this year’s NBC comedy “Indebted.”
Drescher has become an unlikely role model for a new generation. Her outrageous leopard-print looks on “The Nanny” (which took three hours each week to plan) are today’s Insta inspo and beloved by celebs like Cardi B. Her empathetic, “Bernie-curious” politics — advocating for American manufacturing, a national health-care system and a robust social safety net — stand out from the more mainstream liberalism of Hollywood.
Her love life, too, remains thoroughly modern. She married her high school sweetheart, Peter Marc Jacobson, in 1978, and the pair co-created “The Nanny.” They divorced in 1999 (he later came out as gay), but remain close friends, even creating the sitcom “Happily Divorced” together. Drescher, now proudly single and empowered, says she enjoys the company of “a friend with benefits.”
She frequently speaks in the language of self-care, spelling out a holistic, detoxed approach to medicine in her popular “Cancer Schmancer” book and conference series.
More recently, Drescher has begun to openly discuss the trauma of being raped at gunpoint during a 1985 home robbery. It’s an experience she’s chosen to be vocal about in hopes of helping other women heal.
“It’s really hard. I felt like I was shattered in a million pieces,” Drescher said in a previous interview about the ordeal. “It took me at least a year before I even felt close to being myself.”
Through it all, her endearing, self-deprecating humor and warm-hearted worldview have resonated with a wide audience.
“Sometimes I’m asked if I would run for office because I bridge a lot of demographics,” she says. “I seriously entertained it at one point. But in the current climate I’d rather wield my influence among my loyal fans by supporting kindness and compassion.”
Drescher’s long road to pop-culture darling began at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens.
“It was a wonderful place to come from, but I always knew I was going to leave it and go on to presume my dream of living a larger life,” she recalls. “I identified with the glamor of Audrey Hepburn and Lucille Ball, who was [also] a writer and producer.”
Drescher was still a teenager when she scored a small role in the 1977 hit “Saturday Night Fever.” From there, she picked up roles in several other cult classics, including Miloš Forman’s “Ragtime,” Rob Reiner’s “This Is Spinal Tap” (with Christopher Guest) and “The Beautician and the Beast.”
“I was just there at the right time to be authentic,” she says. “But I have always had a sense of timing and I knew how to work it because I am a business woman. I’m in the business of Fran Drescher. I know how to leverage my strengths. I know how to write and produce, and I know how to make things happen for me.”
It took a decade of film and sitcom work, perseverance and hardship for the actress to finally create her breakout “Nanny” role. Sponsors and network execs initially doubted that an obviously Jewish lead character would click with a national audience; they suggested that Drescher rewrite Fran as an Italian woman. But Drescher knew the series could only succeed if her character felt authentic.
“The show has a unique, specific voice,” Jacobson argued at the time. “Many writers think they can do it, but they usually can’t. They’ll write in a bunch of Yiddish words, but rarely do we use them. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived with Fran so long that I know what jokes will come out of her mouth and be appealing to the public. She knows it, too.”
“The Nanny” debuted on CBS in 1993 and quickly became one of the highest-tested pilots at the network. Her Golden Globe-nominated performance helped CBS conquer Wednesday night ratings for the first time in 25 years.
But when it left the air in 1999 after a six-year run, Drescher’s marriage ended with it. A year later, Drescher (who had been suffering from health issues and was misdiagnosed by eight doctors over two years) was given the devastating news that she had cancer.
“I was persistent,” she says of her diagnosis. “Most people won’t try again and again when all the doctors are telling you that you are essentially well. I don’t give people that power and maybe that’s what saved my life.”
After her divorce and cancer treatment, Drescher needed a place to heal. She started house hunting far from New York (where she still keeps an apartment to be close to family), and soon found her Shangri-La on the California coast.
“I was still in a lot of pain from my marriage and I needed security,” she explains. “I needed the ions from the water. I needed a sanctuary. As soon as I walked into this house I felt it. It has a vortex that is magical.”
Even so, she says that buying her airy three-bedroom, two-story Malibu home was an emotional decision.
“This was my first major purchase on my own. It was quite scary but that was the journey I was on: to define myself independently of the marriage and to discover who I am without asking somebody else, ‘What do you think, honey?’”
Drescher’s house is filled with photos of people she loves and places she has traveled, along with handpicked antique furniture and bold artwork, ranging from contemporary abstractions to erotic drawings by Egon Schiele.
“It’s me,” she says simply. “I’m not uptight about refining my home. Sometimes that means clutter and tchotchkes. But it gives me a sense of peace.”
When she isn’t savoring the nest she’s created, Drescher is busy acting, producing, communing with friends at Nobu and showing off her flair for fashion.
“Living here by the beach, it’s a more casual life,” she says. “I like to slip on a fitted stretch dress with a pair of sandals. It has to show off my figure.”
By putting herself out in the world, and staying current, Drescher hopes to maximize her ability to spotlight the many causes close to her heart.
“At this point in my life, I want to be good and do good,” she says. “I feel very grateful that I have achieved and accomplished what I have, and that people like it. My job is to make people laugh. When people say to me ‘I love your voice’ or ‘I love your laugh,’ I know that the spell isn’t broken.”
Stylist: Ashley Pruitt at The Only Agency; Prop Stylist: Scott Horne at Big Leo Productions; Hair: Jon Lieckfelt; Makeup: Gregory Arlt at Forward Artists for MAC cosmetics; Manicure: Chantlynn Huynh