From her feature film debut as a coke-snorting mistress in 1990’s Goodfellas to her recurring role as publicist Shauna on HBO’s Entourage, Debi Mazar has made a career out of playing strong, sassy women with Noo Yawk accents as thick as her eye makeup, but it was her enviable gig as gal pal Madonna’s makeup artist in the ’80s that first cultivated her gay following. The 45-year-old mom now brings her signature streetwise charm to ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, hoofing it alongside Maksim Chmerkovskiy to hawk her cooking show and new line of beauty products. Still recuperating from a minor neck injury she sustained during last week's fox-trot, Mazar takes a break from rehearsal to tell us about her heavenly gay fans and why she would’ve preferred a female partner.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: The picture of you in a neck brace that you posted on Twitter was reposted on PerezHilton.com last week. Are you hoping it wins you some sympathy votes?
Debi Mazar: I don’t think people are that sympathetic, quite frankly. My doctors asked me to leave the neck brace on for one night until I had my MRI, so it was doctor’s orders. It’s just a torn neck muscle. I’ve actually had other injuries during the process — I’ve twisted my ankle, Maksim bruises me everywhere — but I’m probably the one person who isn’t complaining. I just power through.
You tweeted about some of the disrespectful reader comments on Perez’s post. Don’t you know you’re not supposed to look at those?
Everybody says to me, “Don’t read the blogs,” but because I’m a curious person and I blog myself, I just scrolled down. I realize that half these people are just haters or 12 years old. I feel like saying, “Oh, go put a Disney movie on and leave me alone, you stupid kid.” They’re like, “Who’s Debi Mazar?” I don’t care if you know who I am or not, but if you really want to know, go check IMDB. I don’t write back, though.
Yeah, the comments on his site are notoriously negative.
But Perez himself is actually kind of cool. He knows not to fuck with me and I don’t fuck with him. We’ve actually talked before, and he’s not as bad as people think. He once read me on his website for being sweaty when I was at a cancer benefit. I was wearing a fabulous Gucci dress and it was about 500 degrees out, but I don’t wear antiperspirant because I don’t believe in it — if you’re going to sweat, you’re going to sweat — so I was sweating and he dissed me. I told him, “Hon, I came before you and I’m a diva, so there’s no reason to be mean to me.” [Laughs] We giggled about it and now it’s all good.
You pretty much know you’re going to get injured when you go on Dancing With the Stars, and it’s inevitable that jokes will be made about the debatable celebrity of certain contestants. Why did you take the gig?
I’d never watched Dancing With the Stars except for five minutes here or there. I’m doing this because I have a 600-year-old house in Tuscany and I’ve helped develop an incredible olive oil cream and a body scrub with olive oil, cypress oil, and finely ground olive pits. I’ve also got my cooking show with my husband at UndertheTuscanGun.com and a cookbook coming out, so I want to brand the next phase of my life. The pressure’s on to rock it out there, but I’m just struggling to stay on the show so I can get my olive oil shit out there [laughs].
Your earliest two IMDB credits are as club dancers in New York Beat Movie and the hip-hop TV pilot Graffiti Rock. Viewers sometimes get bent out of shape when a DWTS contestant has had previous dancing experience.
First of all, I was 17 when I was in the background of Graffiti Rock, and I was just shaking my tush. I’ve also been in several Madonna videos, but I wasn’t dancing in any of them except for “True Blue,” and it wasn’t really even choreography. The only time I auditioned for something choreographed was for Kenny Ortega, who I’d brought out dancing to a great club in New York City the night before. The acting part of the audition was great, but for the dancing part I had to dance in a lineup of professional dancers. When they went right, I went left, and Kenny was dumbfounded. People assume that because I have a dancer’s body visually that I’m going to be a fabulous dancer. When Maksim first met me, he looked up and down at all my body parts and said, “This is going to be a great season.” Meanwhile, I’ve never had a dance class, I’m spastic, I’ve had two kids, and I can’t even touch my toes.
Luckily, you have the show’s hottest professional dancer as your partner.
With the best butt, I might add. I’m staring at it as we speak. I chose Maksim because I saw a raw sensuality in him that I thought, as a strong woman, maybe I could bring out in him. I knew we could have a great time, but I also needed someone who would make me work hard because I can sometimes be lazy when it comes to physical activity. He’s relentlessly hard on me, and it’s the only way I’ll be able to continue in this. I get bored very easily, so without him I’d probably say, “Let me just rip the other side of my neck and get the fuck off this competition.” He’s such a tough, macho, passionate, sexy brute.
I’m sure he doubles your gay vote.
Yeah, he definitely has his following too. Knowing that I have a huge gay following, I actually tweeted when I first got the offer from Dancing With the Stars, “By the way, I’m thinking about who my partner should be. What do you guys think?” Everyone was like, “Maks! Maks! Maks!” I was like, “OK, well, that’s who I’m going to ask for.”
You also tweeted that you thought you looked like a drag queen when you watched your first performance. You’re not doing your own makeup?
I wanted to release control and allow myself to get into the full pageantry of the first week, so I just went for it with the fake tan and that Gleam stuff that makes you shiny like Goldfinger. But after I saw it, I was like, “Oh, my God, I look like Mommie Dearest in high-def.” It was too much. The tan looks good on the legs because it brings out your definition, but I’m going to go with body makeup from now on. The bad thing about a fake tan is that after two days it starts cracking and you look like the Mojave Desert or a diseased calico cat.
DWTS irked me when Lance Bass was a contestant on season 7. I think they missed a great opportunity to give him a same-sex partner.
That would’ve been genius. I only wish that I could’ve had Cheryl Burke as a partner, but she got Tom DeLay. She could’ve made me look really smooth, and it would’ve been so sexy. I did pitch a dance with Maksim where we would switch roles so I got to be the man, but the show plays to Middle America, so I can’t even show the fact that I have nipples underneath my leotard.
Growing up in New York in the late ’60s and ’70s, what was your earliest exposure to gay people?
Well, my mother had me at 15 and was divorced my father by the time I was two. After that, we were living with two Puerto Rican queens on the Lower East Side, so I’ve always been in the life. I’ve had gay uncles, lesbian aunties, and, quite frankly, it’s the queens that raised me. I didn’t get to go to ballet class or to acting school, but I did have queens who came to New York from Cuba and introduced me to Reinaldo Arenas. Intellectual gay men turned me into a lady and took me to museums, the theater, fashion shows, and turned me on to all the things I’m interested in. I’ve always been fighting for equality and for finding a cure — I just did the No H8 campaign — but who someone fucks is the least interesting thing about a person.
Your gossipy manicurist was the best thing about last year’s remake of The Women, but you’ve been stealing scenes for 20 years. Among your more memorable supporting roles, you camped it up in Batman Forever, scammed the Suarez family on Ugly Betty, appeared in Gregg Araki’s Nowhere, played an HIV-positive thief in Red Ribbon Blues, and even portrayed a transsexual in Things I Never Told You. To which role do your gay fans seem to respond the most?
Most people these days identify me with Entourage, which is kind of insane because I’m barely on it. My gay fans are always supportive of me no matter what, and they appreciate that I play strong women. They also appreciate the fact that I embrace fashion and glamour in my daily life. I hope I can continue to make my gay fans happy on Dancing With the Stars. In fact, my first salsa was probably the most important dance to me because my gay friends I lost in the ’80s used to take me to salsa clubs on a weekly basis. I wanted my salsa to be fabulous so all my queens in heaven would be like, “Yeah, Debi!” I felt bad because I messed up a lot of the footwork because of my nerves, but I hope they’re still happy.
Even though you have a husband and children, do you still have gay friends who take you out to clubs from time to time?
No. Now my friends come over and I cook for them, or I have one-on-one luncheons while the kids are at school. Life has definitely changed.
I read that Madonna recently gave you some advice about how to stay focused and be fabulous on the show. Are you ever annoyed when journalists ask you about her and your friendship?
I guess there was a period where it became annoying when I was trying to leave the makeup artist thing behind and put the attention on my acting career, but not anymore. I mean, she’s the most famous pop star of my generation, and I feel lucky that we have a friendship that has transcended almost three decades. We’re both ambitious Leos, we’ve both lived life, and we’ve both had many friends who have died. I’ve been to every wedding she’s had and I’ve seen the birth of her children, and she’s seen the birth of mine. She’s been like a big sister to me. People always want to know how and what she’s doing, but I’m probably her only friend who doesn’t speak to the press about her.
Well, I won’t say, “Break a leg,” but you’ll definitely get my vote this week.
Thank you! Hopefully I can do a good job and make y’all proud. It’s crazy — I had no idea how many people watch this show. I have this one friend, Robert, who goes by Constance. He e-mailed me and said, “Debi, I’ve never asked you for anything in the 25 years I’ve known you, but can I please come to Dancing With the Stars on one of your dance nights?” I don’t know if he’ll come in drag or not, but he’ll definitely be at the next show!
Advocate.com, September 2009.