MF: Tell us about Drop Dead Gorgeous.
Alex Borstein: It started with me just doing some stand-up here and there, building up this material, and I took a look at what I had and realized this is all kind of about the same thing. I seem very focused (or obsessed, you might say) on how the package you come in predicates how your life is going to be: Whether you like it or not, what you look like says a lot, and it has started seeping into the world of TV and film, and that has changed so much in terms of packaging. People you used to see on TV, like Mary Tyler Moore and Natalie and Jo from Facts of Life-you had so many cool chicks and so many to choose from and now we have fuckin' Paris Hilton? What is happening and what does she even do? Even our heroines are dressed up, like Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer. You just don't have these kick-ass broads anymore, and I started exploring why, and it turned out to be really funny and a fun way to weave in and out of impersonations and pop culture . . . referring to Renee Zellweger as a pussy face and making fun of Charlize Theron's performance in Monster. Just the joke that someone that looks like me has a hard time getting any kind of a part and Charlize Theron puts goofy teeth on and doesn't wash her hair and wins an Oscar. You're like, "Come on!"
MF: So are you looking to pursue more dramatic acting?
AB: You know, I just like pretending, so whether it's comedy and making people laugh or something else, I'm just game for the ride. I've been really lucky so far to do MADtv and Family Guy, and then something like Good Night, and Good Luck, and I just did a little part in another serious film called The Lookout, and then kids' films like Lizzie McGuire and . . . bad films like Catwoman. [Laughs] So, honestly, this is perfect-I love getting to try a little bit of everything.
MF: Is it the challenge of it you like, or is it the fun?
AB: It's a little of both. It's kind of like when people mix up their exercise-this day they'll swim and this day they'll play tennis . . . it's really just a way to keep it interesting for me and fun and different. It's fun to flop back and forth. After Good Night, and Good Luck I can do Little Man-a Wayans brothers movie. I really like getting to try all of it, because all actors are is grown-ups with ADD. We have to keep moving.
MF: What role are you most proud of?
AB: The most thrilling was to be involved with an Academy Award-nominated film, Good Night, and Good Luck, and-this isn't blowing smoke-George Clooney, he's a real director. He's really good and it was a first for me to get to work with someone who just had this vision and knew what he was doing-so that was probably the most exhilarating. But the most proud . . . Family Guy is just one of the funniest things I've ever been involved in. Going back to what I was saying about female things, it's been a chance for me to break a lot of those molds. It's being a writer on it as well as a performer, getting a chance to steer some of the storylines for Meg and Lois, and making fun of what women are relegated to in sitcoms. We do a lot of that, really calling attention to the fact that Lois is going to be the wet blanket in most of the episodes. What's fun is we get to make fun of that and call attention to that, and at the same time we have her kicking ass, pulling her shirt up at Meg's spring break and getting arrested, becoming a model and smoking and getting bulimic. We have a lot of fun with her, so it's really fun for me. For some reason, being in an animated show allows you more freedom to say, "I'm a huge fan of it." I don't seem as obnoxious because it's not me onscreen. It's so much fun to be a fan of what you're doing, and it's rare.
MF: Which of your characters do you most identify with?
AB: I think Lois is similar to me in the regard that she can be raunchy and very bawdy and says what she thinks. But the whole side of being a mom and all that, I can't relate to at all, except my own mom. So she feels like me in the regard that she speaks her mind and has these big raucous moments, but I'd probably say Miss Swan is a dear favorite. She's based on my grandmother, and there's a lot of me and my grandmother in this character as well . . . being a little ball buster and deciding when and where she understands English.
MF: What does your family think of Miss Swan?
AB: Oh they love her. They know exactly where it's coming from. I saved a message on my answering machine for years, until we had a power outage and it was lost. Someone showed up at my grandmother's house to deliver one of those little Rascals, those three-wheel scooters. I bought it for her as a surprise so she could get around easier. The guy showed up to deliver it and buzzed her at the front door, and so we got the whole conversation on her answering-machine tape, and-I kid you not-I wouldn't have even had to change a word; it was just a Swan sketch start to finish. And this poor guy was cracking up at the end of it, but frustrated, and I had to call back several times because she kept hanging up on him. It was so funny, and moments like that, it's great. Whenever it would be translated onto the screen, we always had a blast recounting those memories. What's interesting is Miss Swan is something that's very dependent upon this generation, because so many people are first-, second-, maybe third-generation Americans. So many people have this grandmother or this mother or this uncle. That's what I would always hear from people: "Oh my God, that is my mom, that is my grandma." It doesn't matter ethnicity-it could be Greek, it could be Asian, Puerto Rican, anything. So many people have immigrants in their background, and they just relate to that, so it's really cool to have touched a nerve like that.
MF: Who would win in a fight between Lois and Miss Swan?
AB: Well, Swan is well versed in martial arts-Swan Fu-and then Lois did some martial arts . . . but Lois is taller and younger. She might have an advantage power-wise, but Swan might be able to talk herself out of the fight to begin with.
MF: Do you have a favorite episode of Family Guy? One that was more fun and/or memorable to work on than others?
AB: There's one that I wish I could do over. The one where Peter builds a bar in the basement, and Lois becomes the entertainment there-she sings. And it was so early on in the show and in my relationship with Seth MacFarlane that I was just really nervous and so unsure of myself [with the singing], and Seth is such a music aficionado that it made me more nervous, so now I wish I could just call a mulligan on it and have a whole do-over. I think I know Lois better now-she's definitely changed a lot and grown and become looser, and her voice has changed, so it would be fun to have another go at that. But in terms of my favorite . . . that's such a hard question, and I always think next time I'll be prepared for it, and I never am. We have one coming up that I'm very excited about that I wrote. It's called "It Takes a Village Idiot and I Married One." It's kind of my homage to Hillary Clinton-Lois runs for mayor and wins. So I really wanted to do it with the coming elections, and we also have a book that's gonna come out with it at the same time; it's a companion piece poking fun at Hillary's book, It Takes a Village. But it's really just fun. The episode makes a small comment about most politicians having good intentions at the start and how what happens from there is inexplicable. [Laughs] So that's kind of a new favorite; I guess I keep having new favorites.
MF: What are the writing sessions like for Family Guy? Is it just crazy spontaneity or is it more measured and deliberate?
AB: It's a little of both. The process of completing one episode is nine months. So it's constantly being done in a round-you start one, it gets shipped off to start the animatic and animation process, and then you start another one, and another; so you have these plates constantly spinning. It's so different from a live-action sitcom in that you spend a week writing [the sitcom], you shoot it, and then it's over-it's never revisited. But this haunts you for nine months. You break the story ideas as a group-there are 15 writers, and then it's assigned to one writer. You get a lot of help, too-the room comes up with areas and gag ideas and joke ideas, and then you're sent off and you have two weeks to write your first draft. Then you come back, and sometimes they have you do a second draft, but if not, it's just brought into the room and a big rewrite is done by the whole group. It's brutal-it's just like dogs tearing at a carcass.
MF: How much of the original survives at that point?
AB: It's interesting, it really depends. If the story is strong and everything works and the structure is good, sometimes a lot of it can stay. A lot of times it's really no fault of the writer but something's just not working, and we'll have to throw out a whole section or a whole idea. So you can have a page-one rewrite and sometimes 75% to 80% of someone's draft is gone. When it's Seth's draft, generally there's less to rewrite, because it's his world-it's in his head and he knows what he wants and he's the one that we're working to please, so usually we like it if he does a script assignment, because we know it'll be that much less work in the rewrite. But then it goes off to be animated in the black-and-white animatic version, which is almost like still shots of the scenes that are put together to give you an idea of what it would look like. Then we screen the animatic when it comes back from being sketched or drawn, and we do a rewrite based on that animatic, which is usually rather large-at that point, we can still throw out almost the entire story if need be. So we do a rewrite based on that and then it goes off and gets color animation, and we have a color screening a month later, and at that time we do another rewrite. And then right before it airs there's usually another rewrite based on censor standards, broadcasting issues, or some things that are no longer current. So it's one of the most difficult writing processes that most of the writers have ever experienced, because it never goes away, but I think it makes it so funny and so fast and so dense, and it makes it a great show.
MF: So it doesn't take the fun out of the process for you?
AB: Sometimes. Sometimes it's awful-late nights, sent out to do another TV gag that you can't possibly do again . . . there's nothing in the world that's even funny to you anymore. It can be really, really hard, but the great thing is that the group of people you're working with are awesome. It's me and one other woman and then a whole bunch of guys.
MF: And how's that?
AB: It's really cool-it's like insight into the locker room, seeing things that most women don't see and probably never should. They always say the writers' room is a really sacred place, and because of that, people are honest and tell truths that they would never even tell to their loved ones. It's a really interesting place to be.
MF: Do you ever find yourself unconsciously lapsing into Lois-speak?
AB: Not really. I'm from Chicago, and I have some relatives in New York, and her voice is kind of based on . . . I guess she's a cousin, but I always think of her as an aunt that lives in New York, that [as Lois] she lives in Long Island and she talks very slow [back to Alex], and it's a mishmash of her and growing up in Chicago. And it's kind of an Eastern/Midwest feeling, and I think sometimes that comes out in me naturally, being from the Midwest. But the nasality and stuff doesn't usually seep through.
MF: So can we talk to Lois?
AB: You sure can (In her Lois voice)...
MF: Peter's known for being a minuteman in the sack (more like a half-minute man).
LG: How do you deal with that? Give our readers a woman's perspective. Well what I do with Peter is I make sure that I'm always serviced first. That way, we can take our sweet time, and we make sure that Mama's pleased and gets everything she needs, and then I give him his half a second that he needs. And as a woman you have to be reassuring, because just with your words, you can cause erectile dysfunction.
MF: You're pretty much the only member of the Griffin family who isn't overweight (except Stewie, whose weight fluctuates).
LG: Stewie carries most of his body weight in his head. It was not pleasant coming out.
MF: So how do you stay so fit?
LG: You know, I'd like to say that I eat right and I exercise, but I'm just blessed with a fabulous metabolism. I'm like the Halle Berry of animation. And because of Peter's weight, I have to be on top a lot, so that burns a lot of calories - so maybe that's the secret.
MF: So who was really better: the old Peter or the lipo'd, plastic-surgery Peter with the tight butt?
LG: You know, I have to say I prefer the larger Peter. I just do - it's like a Mini Cooper versus a Lincoln Town Car, it's much more comfortable to ride.