Leah Remini has certainly gotten her share of attention this year.
Following her very public split with the Church of Scientology, the actress now finds herself in a different kind of spotlight, on the ballroom floor each week on Dancing with the Stars. Remini and partner Tony Dovolani are one of the eight remaining couples on Season 17 of Dancing. The former King of Queens star chatted with TVGuide.com recently about her big turnaround last week, keeping her emotions in check during rehearsals, and which fellow cast member she describes as her "support system at work."
You had a big turnaround this week, but let's first go back to your "Most Memorable Year" dance. You seemed really disappointed with the judges' feedback and told Tom Bergeron you had to restrain yourself from saying something to the judges.
Remini: It was an emotional moment in time. Not only that, you've got your adrenaline going. I'd just finished dancing, I was trying to catch my breath and not have a heart attack. So I expected, "Oh, it was amazing," because it was filled with such emotion and Tony really took the time to choreograph something that really spoke to me. So I was a little disappointed. ... I wish I hadn't reacted, because I don't like to do that, but I am from New York. I am an emotional, passionate person. You could see my face. If that's the worst that I could do, then I was pretty happy with myself.
After that feedback, did you approach rehearsals for last week any differently?
Remini: Tony from the beginning has told me, "You don't dance for the judges. You dance for the audience, and the audience is behind us." He's been telling me that from the beginning, but you want them to love it, the judges. I don't always listen, but he's always right. And so, the following week I went into it not trying to prove anything, but more just trying to have fun and listen to my coach, or my partner. And it worked. It showed. You saw that I was having fun, and I was. I just think I put too much pressure on myself, and when I get out there I think it doesn't do me any good.
Last week, Carrie Ann said that you had demonstrated the biggest week-to-week turnaround. How did that feel?
Remini: That felt wonderful. It was really a validation of Tony again being right. ... I have to tell Tony every single day, "You were right about that, you were right about that, you were right about that." My husband would love to hear a little bit more of that at home. [Laughs] It was a wonderful validation to the work that we've put in, and to the advice that I've been given, not only by Tony, but by my mother, by my friends, by the fans. And the fans really see I'm trying hard, and they know that I have no dance experience, so they're really behind us. If it wasn't for the fans, I don't think I'd still be on the show.
Having no dance experience against competitors like Corbin Bleu andElizabeth Berkley may seem like it puts you at a disadvantage, but sometimes it can work to your favor. The audience seems more impressed by people who have no dance experience going out there every week.
Remini: I agree. I mean, I enjoy watching Corbin and Amber [Riley] and Elizabeth, but I can't really tell the difference between the pro and the celebrity. They're extremely talented. ... But I do love watching Bill [Engvall] and Jack [Osbourne] get better and better, and I have a smile on my face every time they're on the floor. And I think that's why people watch the show. They see themselves in us. I think most people love to dance. I think most people love the idea of people who have never done it before get out there and not only learn something new and fun for them, but actually perform it in front of a lot of people. So, they're kind of going on that journey with us. I get Tweeted all the time, "I started a dance class because of you and Bill." It's a cool thing if you can inspire someone to do something that maybe they weren't doing before.
They're continuing with the team dances this week. You briefly walked out of rehearsals last week for the "switch-up challenge." Was it as bad as you thought it was going to be?
Remini: Coming off of [the previous] Monday was difficult, and then hearing, [we're trying] a new thing ... you go back to bad habits. Immediately, Tony was supportive of me in that moment, but because he was supportive and because I knew deep down he was going to take care of me. That was a lesson to me. You've got to do things that you're not comfortable with. But ultimately, I think going back in made me stronger. ... I had my little pity party for two seconds. Tony was like, "Just have fun." Jack was texting me going, "Let's just have fun with it." And I was like, "You're right again." So, I actually really enjoyed it. It was really a lot of fun. I react to things, and then later I'm like, "Eh, idiot." I think too much of it. We all have emotions. Some people don't let it out. I let it out and then I'm like, "Sorry!"
How is it working with Tony?
Remini: We have great communication. He's from New York, so we have a very similar way we deal with things. We let it out. We don't have that weirdness between us, where it's like that social thing where we're trying to be nice. We're very much ourselves. We've become very close very quickly. My husband and him play golf. When his wife and kids are here, they come over. We do a lot of things together off the set, and it's been a beautiful thing. We already consider each other family, and I couldn't have asked for a better partner. It was just meant to be. He's tough. He's a tough teacher. But he says to me, "Okay, now I'm not a friend, I'm [in my] teacher hat now." It's real. It's very similar to what I had with Kevin [James, her King of Queens co-star] immediately when I met Kevin for the first time. ... [Tony] has to deal with a lot of my insecurities, of course, and he's been a champion. He's been my champion.
Your friend Jennifer Lopez also showed up at your rehearsal last week. What's the best advice she's given you?
Remini: Well, you can't just say to somebody, "Oh, do this move like this." Jennifer gives me advice that actually I can use. Which is, "Have fun. Your fans are behind you, clearly. So, all you need to do is go out there. You're not going to be perfect, because dancing takes years and years of training. So, just stop obsessing to be perfect. Go out there and do what Tony told you."
What's the biggest change you've noticed in yourself or your approach to rehearsals?
Remini: I just think my willingness to try things and not be weird about it. I've stopped saying, "I'm not a dancer." That seems to not help me. I just think my willingness to have fun and to change the way I think. That's been the biggest thing: not to expect perfection, but just go out there and have a good time, and do what I can do. Whatever the circumstances, you've just got to go out there.
There was some tension between you and Sharon Osbourne when you leftThe Talk, and now she's in the audience every week supporting Jack. Have you two spoken?
Remini: Of course. Jack and I have become very close. ... You've just got to let things go, especially considering what the Osbourne family has been dealing with. You can't hold grudges. You can't hold other people responsible for your life. I've had a lot of personal growth in that area, and there's other things that are important. Like I said, what they're dealing with, there's just no way that I'm going to ice anybody out at this point. Sharon's been so supportive and gracious, so has Kelly, and Jack has been my support system at work. We hang out after and we go to dinner. There's just no way that I could hold any grudge in place ever.
Why was it important for you to do a show like Dancing with the Stars?
Remini: Decisions I've made [in the past] really were fear-based. And having stepped out of being scared, I decided that all my decisions are going to be based on that -- on not doing things, and not not doing things, because I'm scared. Dancing with the Stars— of course I was petrified to do it. As soon as I said yes, I was calling my agent saying, "I don't know if I want to do it," because I immediately got scared. And I was like, "No, Leah, you need to do it because you're scared. You need to do it because it's unfamiliar to you." And I didn't really realize that I was going to get so much from the show. It's not just about the dancing. The support that has come from the show and the pros and the celebrities and the crew, it's been such a warm, lovely experience. I'm getting back so much more than what I thought I was going to get. The show has given me something to look forward to every day. I look forward to coming to work. I look forward to seeing my friends. So, it's been an amazing experience for me. It came at the exact right time.
You've definitely been in the news a lot this year.
Remini: I really do want to thank my fans who have supported us, because without them, I wouldn't be here. Honestly. And they have been so supportive on Twitter and social media. They got me through. They really did. When the news hit, on Twitter it was like, "We're here for you," and I want to thank them all for that.
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.