The moment comes early in the premiere of Showtime’s highly anticipated sitcom Fat Actress: Kirstie Alley steps on her bathroom scale, screams, “Oh my God!” and drops to the floor crying. After her agent phones to say she’s got a job offer—”It’s with Jenny Craig”—Alley’s sobs turn to wails. Later, when she demands, “Why can’t I get a show first, and then lose the weight?” her agent slaps her with a bit of harsh reality: “That’s not how it works, sweetheart.” That is, of course, unless you’re Kirstie Alley. In March the former Cheers star is returning to prime time with a seven-episode reality-based comedy that showcases her comic prowess and, yes, commanding presence. “She’s having a blast,” says Showtime president Robert Greenblatt. “She’s getting a lot of friends and famous people she knows to come play with her.” (First up: Look Who’s Talking costar John Travolta, his wife, Kelly Preston, and NBC president Jeff Zucker.)
But once she began filming the show earlier this fall, Alley, 53, found herself confronting her own moment of truth. “I thought when everyone sees me they’ll go, yeah, she’s a little chubby, but no big deal,” says Alley. “Then I watched the first cut of the show and I went ‘Oh my God.’ To tell you the truth—and this is how sick it is—I didn’t really realize I was fat until I saw the first show.”
Now weighing in at about 192, Alley is no longer happy with her size. And she has embarked on a mission to lose the extra weight. Already down a few pounds from a high of 203 this summer (tabloid reports that had her topping 340 are wrong, she says; “They just arbitrarily pick a number”), the actress hopes to get back down to her Cheers-era. weight, somewhere between 118 and 139. “I want to get really skinny,” she says. “I’m being serious.” How exactly she’ll do it, she’s not sure. “I don’t know how I ever stayed skinny all that time,” she says. “This is going to be a real challenge to get thinner. I don’t know how the hell I’m going to do it. I mean, I do, but I don’t.” On Nov. 22 Alley spoke with West Coast Bureau Chief Todd Gold about what it really means to be a Fat Actress in Hollywood.
Did you ever have a moment like that in the premiere, when you got on the scale and then fell to the floor in tears?
I haven’t fallen to the floor, literally. But I have gotten on the scale and freaked. When I hit 200 pounds, I was like “Oh my God, oh my God. This is impossible.” I had just thought, I am going to weigh myself because I’d been getting some comments and seeing some things in magazines that I’m sort of fat. I thought I probably weighed about 165. [Back when I was on Cheers,] I so clearly remember that every time I would approach 140,I would panic, I would just freak out of my mind. So when I got up to 200, it was surreal.
Don’t you see yourself as a role model to larger people?
No. I don’t want to be the demigoddess to fat people. I just noticed that I was fat and now that I’ve noticed, that’s it. My goal is that in March, when my show is released, I’m skinny. It doesn’t wreck the show. The show is really about state of mind. It’s about can you ever be skinny enough? Can you be pretty enough? Rich enough? Can you be good enough in bed? Fat is just a metaphor for every single thing that women are introverted about, which is about every single thing.
How have you curtailed your diet?
Well, this summer, I cut out sugar and wheat. That made a huge difference. I started shrinking. I was more shrunken than I am now. I was doing the wheat and sugar thing at the end of the summer, and then I decided to start eating wheat and sugar again because it was holiday season. How do you not eat wheat and sugar? I think the biggest problem is, I stopped working out. I think if I work out, I’ll get skinny. I really do want to get skinny.
What do you think when you see yourself naked?
I don’t think fat is pretty. If I saw some big fat leopard walking through the jungle, I’d start laughing. Or if I was at the races, I saw some 150-lb. greyhound running against the other lean greyhounds, I’d start laughing too. It doesn’t seem very natural. It doesn’t look healthy. It doesn’t
look sleek or stealth. It looks funny. I think that’s why people through history laugh at fat people. They’re round and funny-looking. I’m funny-looking.
You are not very politically correct.
I never wanted to be the role model. I was just saying I had a great time getting fat. But now that I’m fat, I’m not having a great time looking at my fat. Now it’s time to lose it. When I was on Oprah, she said that at her heaviest she started to have heart palpitations. I thought maybe before I start having heart palpitations, I should lose the weight. Obesity is not a disease. But obesity can predispose you to diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. It can predispose you to things you don’t need. I was actually inspired when I was just on her show and I saw her. She looks like she’s 35 years old, and she’s skinny, and I just looked at her with a fine-toothed comb to see if she had done any surgery, and I don’t think that she has. I was really scrutinizing her and I thought, “Damn, buddy, you look good!” She really did inspire me. And I quit smoking, by the way. I thought that in my near future I am going to have to start working out really hard and be really active, so I quit. Actually, I did Oprah‘s show and stayed in Chicago for four days. The next day after Oprah‘s show, I stayed in bed in the hotel and quit smoking.
And you haven’t had a cigarette since?
No. That was three weeks ago
How much of the show is taken from your personal life?
Probably 20 percent. A low percentage. It’s more what’s taken from my mind. I think what I would’ve done if…
Are you having fun?
I’ve never had this much fun. To be able to improvise without having a tight rein around you. For each episode, we come up with a very detailed outline so we know where we’re going. But we deviate from there. We just go off.
What’s your shooting schedule?
We usually shoot one show and then have a week in between. Or two back-to-back and have two weeks in between. I get time at home with my children. It’s the best of all worlds. If I’d known it would be this easy to resurrect my career just by getting fat, I would have done it three years ago. I wonder what it will be after this. I wonder when I’m skinny what my next gimmick will be.
What was the worst insult you endured because of being fat?
The worst was when I pulled into the Four Seasons Hotel and the valet asked me when I was due. I did put that in the show. I said, 11 weeks. And then I went inside and freaked.
Is there any one insane binge that stands out?
No. Like I told Oprah, the holiday kept getting longer and longer. Girls always do this thing where they go, “Oh my God, I look fat.” But they don’t look fat. They want someone to go, “You don’t look fat.” Well, recently when I go, “I look fat,” everyone gets quiet. That’s when you know you really are. That’s when it was time to go, hmmm.
Did you have anyone in your life, friend or family member, who told you the truth?
My dad, actually. When I went home to Kansas about six months ago, he said, “Hey kid, you’re looking a little porky.” I was like, “Thanks, Dad.”
What are you doing for Thanksgiving?
I’m staying in town. It’s like this. I make these plans when I have like three weeks to live la vida loca or do all the bad things I’ve wanted to do before the change starts. That’s where I’m at now. I’m going to go on a diet in a few weeks. So what am I doing? I think I’m going to be giving thanks for all the food I’m going to eat that I’m not going to be eating in about three weeks.
Do you cook your own Thanksgiving?
Yes. I make all the regulars—turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy. I also make homemade chicken and noodles—the best in the world. Of course, those are really low calorie. I also make excellent apple and cherry pies. My favorite thing, which is so hokey, is that green-bean casserole with the cream of mushroom soup and onion rings. I make a bucket of that stuff.
Would you ever consider lipo or stomach stapling?
No. What are they going to do, lipo my entire body? I’d die of too much blood loss. And stomach stapling? No, no, no. I will never ever go there. Do we really have enough information to know if over the next 30 years there won’t be some incredible side effects to that? I know people who’ve had their stomachs stapled, and they do have incredibly weird things going on right now.
You did tell Oprah that you aren’t having sex. What’s with that?
That’s true. I’m not going to have sex while I am fat. That’s one thing you won’t see me doing ever while I’m fat. I’m sort of inhibited and shy anyway. I’m not the girl who comes out and does a pole dance for the dude. It’s probably not right. I should probably be happy with the way I look and happy with the way my body is and happy that someone would want to have sex with me, but I’m not. The next time I have sex, I’m going to tell you about it and I want it reported in the magazine, [laughs]
Are you dating anyone?
Sort of, maybe. No, I wouldn’t say dating. He doesn’t live in this country. He’s just an artist that I met in Italy.
What have you learned from this whole experience?
I’ve learned a couple of things; the most important thing is you can either create a beautiful life or you can be a victim. Here I am, I sort of stumbled into being fat. I’m not saying I’m totally responsible, but I sort of wasn’t paying attention. I can either be the victim of being fat, or I can say, “Okay, so you’re fat, what are you going to do? I just thought you don’t stop living, you keep living and create with what you’ve got. I created myself into this fat thing, I’ll create myself out of it.”