CBS.com: Would you please tell us about your work with making people aware of ageism in Hollywood? You were just on Capitol Hill to discuss this very issue.
Doris Roberts: That was great. I spoke to the Senate Committee on ageism, and there were other people: there were doctors explaining what was going on, there was someone from Madison Avenue–I guess the image makers, or whatever you want to call–showing awful commercials with older people in it in such a denigrating way it was shocking. There was a wonderful doctor, a woman doctor, who explained that she’d been on a research project for over twenty years and that they had proven that older people who have a good image about themselves live seven and a half years longer.
My argument was that it was the last bastion of bigotry: that sexism, racism, religious discrimination, all that is taken care of, protected by law, but nobody protects older people. And that the image-makers call us old coots, old codgers, over the hill, old farts. None of that should apply to us. Also, I did a lot of research, which was wonderful, in the last hundred years, the average age of a Nobel Prize winner is 65 years old. So why should they deny us the ability to grow and flourish and to accomplish things that we set out to do in our lives, because we’re older people?
I quoted my late husband, who was an author, his name was William Goyen, and he wrote that when we see people who are infirm or older people we tend to turn away and shun them and we take away their light. I say, the image-makers have taken away our light, and I urge you, “bring it back!”
CBS.com: How were you received on Capitol Hill?
Doris Roberts: Fabulously well. And the coverage in the press was enormous, including the BBC. CNN showed it all day long, ABC showed it, CBS showed it, it was in the Daily Reporter, it was in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, it was in the LA Times, the Washington Post, USA TODAY; it had tremendous coverage! What I think needs to be done…it has to be a political movement. We’re the ones who vote. And we’re also in charge of 77% of the money in this country.
CBS.com: I remember when “Murder, She Wrote” was cancelled there was a big outcry. One of the arguments for cancellation was that the sponsors believed that older people don’t change products that often, that younger people will try different kinds of toothpaste, but older people will only stick to the same brand because they’re very set in their ways.
Doris Roberts: You can change my mind, but you gotta work harder at it. Tell me why that toothpaste is better than the one I’ve been using. Tell me why that soap is better. Tell me why. You have to work harder at it. And they’re foolish; this is an enormous market! There’s a large amount of money, which they’re slowly becoming aware of. And Madison Avenue really has to wake up and realize that we control a lot of money. We’re the ones who buy all the appliances for our children. The kids don’t have the money for it; we do! I’m very passionate about it: I think it’s wrong. Nowhere do you see older people in a good image. There’s no magazine you open, unless its AARP (formerly known as “American Association of Retired Persons.”), that shows a woman over the age of 45 in any other light, other than having to buy Depends or Viagra.
CBS.com: Or with osteoporosis?
Doris Roberts: Right. Right. I mean, if we’re vital people…I’m 71 years old, and I couldn’t be more vital, I don’t think. My brain is functioning full-time, my body is good. Sure, I have pains, but so does a twenty-year-old. We cannot be dismissed and discharged like that. They cannot airbrush us out of history, they just can’t, and we need to do this politically.
CBS.com: Sounds like you’re speaking more generally, rather than specifically about acting.
Doris Roberts: Absolutely, absolutely! Across the board. Why are young girls in the twenties having Botox put in their faces for fear that they will show any kind of a line? Or in their thirties, having tummy-tucks and new breast implants and doing everything, being terrified of becoming forty? This is terrible, to have that kind of fear. I didn’t begin to really live fully until I was forty. You know, in those first years you’re taking care of the kids and the house, and it’s hard to do it all when you don’t have the money for the luxury of having someone to help you clean or take care of a child; you’re doing it all. By the time you’re forty, the kids are grown and out of the house or on their way out, and you have your whole life again.
CBS.com: What about in Hollywood? Do you think that the situation is improving incrementally at all, with people like you in really meaty roles?
Doris Roberts: I think the only time it will improve is when it hits their pocketbooks. My son came up with this idea. My son Michael said, “Let’s say that all members of AARP, the second Tuesday of each month, let’s all go out and buy a packet of Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum.” In one day, 34 million packets of Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum will be bought. Oh, they’d pay attention to that! And the next month, let’s go out and buy a can of tomato soup. Give it to the poor if necessary. But we all can afford to buy these items I’m talking about. And then get a group of very well-known people together and let them view movies that are coming out and suggest to AARP members to go see that movie on opening night or opening day. We will make a blockbuster out of that movie!
I went to AARP and gave them the idea. So far, they have not moved on it and they had better because they had better be in this to help us all.
CBS.com: It’s a fantastic idea.
Doris Roberts: It’s a fantastic idea, because we’re not boycotting, we’re helping. We’re showing our power, our money, and that’s what they understand. When it gets to their pocketbooks, they’ll pay attention.
CBS.com: It’s the opposite of a boycott.
Doris Roberts: Absolutely. And the wild thing is that there is an enormous market for people over the age of forty. We have the bread! Pay attention!
CBS.com: Why have you not run for any kind of political office?
Doris Roberts: That actually was asked of me by a senator in Washington the other day. He said, “We need you. We need that voice.” Well, between working on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND and writing a book which will come out for Mother’s Day…it’s called Are You Hungry, Dear?
CBS.com: It’s not a cookbook, is it?
Doris Roberts: No, it’s not a cookbook. I think it’s life, laughter and lasagna. That’s the way to look at it. The opening sentence is “It all began when Eve gave Adam the apple, and we’ve been feeding them ever since.” It’s a funny book, but it has some wisdom to it, things that I’ve learned in my life. I think it’s going to be a good book.
CBS.com: So between the acting and the book, you don’t have time to run for office?
Doris Roberts: I have very little time because I am also the chairperson for an organization called Children Affected By AIDS Foundation, and I’m also involved in Puppies Behind Bars. And then I have three grandchildren, so there’s very little time.
CBS.com: And you still go to your acting classes once a week, correct?
Doris Roberts: I go every Saturday morning I went this morning! I keep learning. See, the important thing about getting older is not to settle. The minute you settle, it’s like a disease: if you give into it, become a victim, then you’re dished. So I don’t settle. I don’t consider myself old at all. In fact, that’s the word I want deleted from our population and vocabulary. I want the word “older” put in, because the minute you’re born, you’re getting older. You can call me an older woman–I don’t mind that at all–just don’t call me an old one, because I’m not.
I didn’t begin to live until I was forty, in a full sense. I really mean that. I did a lot of things and raised a son and had the house and all that to worry about. But I didn’t really begin to become a complete adult until I was forty and had the freedom to accept who I am and keep growing. And I keep growing. I’m learning something all the time. That’s the way I want it to go, and that’s the way I’ll go until I am no longer on this planet.
CBS.com: That’ll keep you young, always.
Doris Roberts: Does every day of my life. Keeps me young!
CBS.com: Besides Marie Barone, which of all the roles you’ve ever played in your acting career have been your favorite?
Doris Roberts: On Broadway my favorite was “Bad Habits” by Terrence McNally. I won the Outer Critics Award for that, in film, “Hester Street” was my favorite; in television it has to be Marie. I just adore her. She’s a hoot.
CBS.com: Do you ever yearn to do a serious role these days?
Doris Roberts: I beg to do a serious role. I won an Emmy playing a bag lady on St. Elsewhere. But because I’m in a comedy now, most people think of me as comedic. They’ll give me the opportunity to do a serious role. I did TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL last year, and I loved what I did. But nobody watched it. It was a very dramatic role: it was a woman who was dying. Now, we’re on RAYMOND’s seventh year. In seven years I have not had any opportunity to do a dramatic role except TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL. That’s wrong.
CBS.com: Well it’s really a testament to your Marie, that you’re so identified with her.
Doris Roberts: I’m an actress, so I need to do all those things you see. But I’m hoping that that will come along. I really do.
CBS.com: Being Marie, do you bring parts of your own life into your role? Are you like Marie as a mom?
Doris Roberts: No, no. I’m much too smart for that; I would not do that. My son is very happy that I’m getting rid of all that with Raymond and not him, and I’m sure my daughter-in-law is even happier that I don’t treat her the way I treat Debra on the show. But I’m a combination of Ray Romano’s mother, an Italian woman, and a German Jew. And there’s a dichotomy between the two, but I find an even-well, a really thin–line that I walk on of the two. But what I think is my contribution–I mean the writing is superb–but I think my contribution is my concept of the woman. As I speak and you hear my voice, it’s a very deep voice, that’s not Marie Barone. Marie Barone says, [higher-pitched voice] “Are you hungry, dear?” It’s a whole other person. It doesn’t have the strength and fortitude of Doris Roberts. It has another attitude, another concept, and I’ve done that because I think if I used Doris’ voice, you’d be afraid. She’s too formidable at saying the things that she says. But as Marie, I’m not a scatterbrain, but she’s–it’s naivety–she has no idea that she’s intrusive; she has no idea that she’s a control freak. She comes from love and she says, “I don’t want you to make mistakes and I want the house to be cleaner and to play games with your children and do the things that I have done. Cause I don’t want you to make mistakes and I don’t want you to have any pain.” It comes from love. Now, what she does is horrendous.
CBS.com: But funny!
Doris Roberts: But funny! And if you can laugh at me in that character, you can laugh at your own mother or mother-in-law, and you need to do that sometime in life; you really do.