Exclusive: Carol Burnett Talks Glee, Dancing With the Stars and SNL
She is, quite possibly, our nation's most esteemed Gleek. Carol Burnett, queen of musical-comedy television, graces the November 23rd episode of Glee as former Nazi hunter Doris Sylvester, mother to track-suited Sue (Jane Lynch). And, as she tells us exclusively, she'll be back for more! We caught up with the 77-year-old Burnett — who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., with her husband, musician Brian Miller, 54 — just as she was wrapping up one of her periodic Q&A tours, during which she fields questions from live audience members (much like she did on The Carol Burnett Show). Here's a little Q&A session of our own.
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TV Guide Magazine: You've played a lot of mothers before, but probably not a lot of Nazi hunters.
Burnett: Let me think back now [laughs] — this must be a first. I knew I was going to play [Sue's] mother, but somebody said, "You have to go on the Internet and see about your character!" I looked it up on the Internet and that's when I found out I was a former Nazi hunter. I started to laugh. At least she was on our side!
TV Guide Magazine: Describe Doris Sylvester.
Burnett: She's retired. They caught the last Nazi. You get the idea where Sue got her temperament from. This mother makes Sue Sylvester look like Mother Teresa.
TV Guide Magazine: I'm going to guess that you don't know any real Nazi hunters — did you base the character on anyone you do know?
Burnett: I kept thinking about Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck in The Boys from Brazil [in which Olivier plays a Nazi hunter], but there'd be no way I could imitate Laurence Olivier. So I gave up and just tried to do it myself.
TV Guide Magazine: You and Jane Lynch sing "Ohio" from the musical Wonderful Town. Who's idea was that?
Burnett: My husband and I were having dinner and he said, "Why don't you do 'Ohio,' since your character's coming back to [the show's setting of] Ohio? You could sing, 'Why, oh why, oh why, oh — did I ever leave Ohio?'" I talked to [Glee co-creator] Ryan Murphy — and nobody [at the show] knew the song because they're all so young. I said, "Listen to it and see what you think." They thought it was great. It's funny, [later] they called my assistant and said, "We're going to send over the music. We don't know if Miss Burnett knows this song or not." [Laughs]
TV Guide Magazine: Tell me about working with Jane Lynch.
Burnett: I love locking eyeballs with her because she is a consummate comedian. She knows exactly how to say it and whether or not it will land — and it does every time. And Jane can really sing. In this duet she does the harmony, so it doesn't show off her voice the way it should. But I think they should give her major singing [scenes] because she's really musical.
TV Guide Magazine: And the other cast members?
Burnett: All of my scenes were with Jane. [But] during a break I watched them do a tribute to "Singin' in the Rain." I said, "My God, it really is like going back to the good old days with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire." All the kids were wonderful and Matt [Morrison] was dancing up a storm and [guest star] Gwyneth Paltrow was terrific.
TV Guide Magazine: Will you do just this one guest spot?
Burnett: I'm going back again for another episode. I have no idea what I'm going to be doing, but I trust them.
TV Guide Magazine: Might there be even more appearances?
Burnett: I don't know. I don't know where they want to go with this.
TV Guide Magazine: You've done other episodic work, including a 2009 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Anything else you'd like to do? Will we be seeing you on Dancing With the Stars?
Burnett: [Big laugh] No — you might first see me getting root canal before I would go on Dancing with the Stars.
TV Guide Magazine: Well, that's pretty emphatic.
Burnett: I'm very good friends with Florence [Henderson]. And she was so cute and good, but she said she never worked so hard in her life. They worked seven days a week.
TV Guide Magazine: Cloris Leachman did the show as well. So what do you think of —
Burnett: Of all the old broads! [laughs] I knew where you were going!
TV Guide Magazine: I was going to say, "...of the ongoing popularity of women who were TV staples in the '70s!" And then of course there was the recent Betty White mania.
Burnett: It's just terrific that people don't think you're not capable of doing anything because you might have gray roots. And Betty — I'm just so tickled for her. The Saturday Night Live thing just went through the roof.
TV Guide Magazine: I checked your Facebook page —
Burnett: Oh, I have a Facebook page?
TV Guide Magazine: You have a Facebook page, like Betty did, devoted to getting you to host Saturday Night Live. So far, 105,427 people have clicked the "Like" button in support.
Burnett: Oh, for heaven's sake. My view is, you can't top what Betty did. And I'm afraid of the competition, because you don't want people saying, "Well this one did that, and that one did this."
TV Guide Magazine: I also don't get the sense you use social media.
Burnett: No, no. I do use a computer, but I'm not into all of that. I think it would make me crazy. I have an iPhone, and I can text, and I can use the phone and I can even take pictures with it.
TV Guide Magazine: How is your Q&A tour going?
Burnett: I just did Des Moines last night, now we're in St. Louis, and then we go to Omaha. It's nice to get out here in the midwest and do these shows. I'm looking outside now — I have the most beautiful room here in St. Louis — and the view of the arch is out my front window, with the river there. The clouds are coming in and it looks like it might rain, which I love.... In fact, the last time I did a Q&A [tour], someone asked whether I would be on Glee. And the whole audience went, "Yeah, yeah, yeah!" So I had my agent call to see if they would ever be interested in my doing anything on Glee. Because I just love that they're bringing all kinds of music back. I'm just so happy it's a hit.
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