When Kirstie Alley stepped into the lead female spot on the hit sitcom Cheers, her fearless, bawdy, neurotic energy thwarted all predictions that she'd never fill Shelley Long's shoes. She even earned an Emmy. Since then, Alley has continued to catch the world off guard by segueing into feature films, both arty and mainstream (Deconstructing Harry, the Look Who's Talking movies), headlining popular post-Cheers series Veronica's Closet and making a name for herself as one of the most unapologetic of Scientology's brethren. Then, when her weight ballooned at age 53, she used her indomitable spirit to turn her bathroom-scale struggles into a new branch of her career: She's been a Jenny Craig spokesperson; invented her own weight-loss program, Organic Liaison; starred in a semiautobiographical Showtime sitcom, Fat Actress; and to show what it's like to be an overweight celebrity single mom of two teenagers — William True and Lillie Price — she welcomed a reality-TV crew into her hectic home for A&E's Kirstie Alley's Big Life.
Now 60, Alley is adding yet another entry to her résumé — contestant on Season 12 of ABC's ratings juggernaut Dancing With the Stars — prompting the question: Will she be a mouthy train wreck or an inspirational dark horse? Recently, when we met with Alley in the kitchen of her rambling Italianate villa in the hills of Los Feliz, California, we started by asking her if she's ready. Her forthright answer? She's not sure. "I just came back from Philadelphia 48 hours ago," she said, admitting that being in Hollywood made her looming contestant-hood seem very real. "And I suddenly felt like, 'Oh, Jesus. What have I done?'"
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TV Guide Magazine: You've been approached to be on the show every season since its inception. Why now?
Alley: I really want to do a Broadway musical. I'd like to do Mame. I thought this would be a good first audition.
TV Guide Magazine: What did your agents think of your plan?
Alley: I can't say that this job was necessarily the brainchild of my agents. [Laughs] They're like, "Just concentrate on your acting." Which sounds good to me, too. But I love to dance. Dancing makes me happy.
TV Guide Magazine: Are you a great dancer?
Alley: I'm an OK dancer. I dance at clubs, at parties, in my living room as exercise. I've done Zumba, which is sort of like Latin aerobics.
TV Guide Magazine: What do you excel at? Are you a quick learner? Really flexible?
Alley: I have good endurance. I don't think I'm too flexible. Last season, I saw Jennifer Grey gracefully lift her leg up and put her foot on her dance partner's shoulder. I was like, "Damn! I'm not flexible like that."
TV Guide Magazine: Are you ready to be critiqued on national television?
>Alley: Being judged, I think, will be hard. When you're doing a play or a sitcom, the audience laughs or doesn't laugh, but they don't usually yell things out like, "Oh, my God. You suck!" [Laughs] Also, you know when you're in the bottom two and you're standing there and the lights are bouncing back and forth? I don't know how I'll take that. I don't know if I'll be a bitch or something. But [the judges] aren't Simon Cowell-mean. Which I think is good.
TV Guide Magazine: What kind of prep have you done?
TV Guide Magazine: None?
Alley: I've gotten myself up to doing two hours on the treadmill or elliptical. I was told, "You really want to get your stamina up." It's a rigorous schedule.
TV Guide Magazine: Your partner is Maksim Chmerkovskiy, the legendarily intense Latin ballroom champ. Predict how you two will get along.
Alley: I think we'll be good together. I'm excited. That's who I would have chosen. I'm one of those girls who, as hard as I try, I still like a bit of the bad boy. Honestly, if I looked like him or could dance like him, I'd be a cocky dude. He's sweet, though, and has a good sense of humor. We were instantly bantering and playful.
TV Guide Magazine: Have you done any sleuthing about what it's like behind the scenes on DWTS?
Alley: Everybody I've talked to who has done the show — Jennifer Grey, Marlee Matlin, Denise Richards — has said it was a great experience. They raved about the hair, makeup and costume department. They also said you get totally addicted to spray tan, that at first you start out saying, "I don't want to be too dark." By the end you're a coffee bean — and you can't get dark enough.
TV Guide Magazine: Are you ready to be sewn into a glitzy, sequined, figure-hugging gown?
Alley: I'm a little modest, so I don't know how far I'll go. I'm not going comical. I'd probably like to be a bit classic. What I like is that each [costume] is designed just for you. You have input in color, style, the whole schmazolly.
For more with Alley, including which celebrity friends will be in her cheering section, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, March 10!