Cloris Leachman as Maw Maw "Raising Hope."

Cloris Leachman as Maw Maw "Raising Hope." Credit: FOX Photo

Asked her hobby, Cloris Leachman, briefly and rarely silent, rises. She makes her way over to a grand piano in a Beverly Hills hotel lobby and starts playing "Rhapsody in Blue."

That pretty much sums up the Oscar- and Emmy-winning actress. Leachman needs no sheet music, no direction. And really no one could corral her should they be so foolhardy.

Leachman is a far cry from the sometimes delusional Maw Maw she plays on Fox's Tuesday comedy "Raising Hope," but is just as outrageous in her own way. Perhaps it shouldn't seem strange when someone says precisely what comes to mind.

Most people fudge the truth if only to be polite. Leachman's clear blue eyes stare straight as she says levelly, "I don't lie."

If that rankles, it's not her problem. She makes jokes about Betty White: "I'm so sick of Betty White." And of Jennifer Lopez: "She's boring."

Say what you will about Leachman, but no one could accuse her of being boring.

Leachman is also a rarity in that she has acted - without breaks - since 1947. "I have to make money," she says. "I have a lot of kids." (She has five.)

Leachman, though, didn't always know she would become an actress. She decided on that path in college after considering careers in radio, social work, architecture and as a concert pianist. "Before that, I didn't want to do anything that would take me away from my family," she says.

Over the years she's turned in iconic performances. Say the words "Frau Blucher" to fans of 1974's "Young Frankenstein" and they will chuckle. She won a supporting actress Oscar as Ruth Popper in "The Last Picture Show" (1971).

She was so funny as overbearing neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" that a spinoff, "Phyllis," was created for her.

She's been in 11 Broadway productions and was the understudy for Mary Martin in the original production of "South Pacific."

When Leachman did go on for her, she recalls, with some pride, that Dorothy Hammerstein, wife of lyricist Oscar, visited her backstage. "She didn't say anything and lifted her lapel to show me where the tears had fallen, then said, 'Magnificent!' "

Leachman doesn't miss a beat when she says with conviction, "I would go back to Broadway."

In an industry where youth rules and plastic surgery is the norm for many over 40, Leachman has had no work done. She looks precisely like what she is - an 84-year-old grandmother who takes excellent care of herself.

By her own accounting, she's recognized most for her turn on "Dancing With the Stars." Yet she remains miffed at how she had to convince executives that she should be on the show.

For "Raising Hope," no one needed convincing. Though Leachman is clearly acting as she slips into the demented side of her character, when it comes to the actress who plays her granddaughter, Martha Plimpton, Leachman is being herself.

"Why is your hair up?" Leachman asks, touching Plimpton's hair. "It looks like crap."

Plimpton laughs. "I am doing an interview," she tells the unfazed Leachman.

"She's fearless," Plimpton says of Leachman. "She is absolutely exciting to be around."

Fearless is the perfect description of someone who will run around on camera in a bra and - shot from the back - topless.

"You don't care," Leachman says. "You can't. If it's funny, I'll do anything."

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