Renee Taylor is a very funny lady known for such comedic roles as Eva Braun in Mel Brooks’ 1968 classic “The Producers,” Fran Drescher’s ultimate Jewish mother on “The Nanny” and Brian Benben’s ultimate Jewish mother on HBO’s “Dream On.”
But her career didn’t start out that way.
She was a serious dramatic actress in the 1950s, studying eight years with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York with the likes of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Martin Landau, Steve McQueen and Louis Gossett Jr.
“I loved it,” she said of her Actors Studio years. “I went three times a week and I sat there all day long. It was like church.”
She also got some beauty advice from Monroe.
“I was always asking Marilyn what she ate and what she did for her skin,” said Taylor, 80. “She told me she ate frozen grapes because she liked sweets and she would take a bath putting Vaseline over her body and that softened her skin. It was like a peach.”
But it was comedy where she found success.
“You know why I went into comedy?” she asks. “Because it was hard getting work in drama.”
Taylor provides comic relief – and a few dramatic moments – in Tyler Perry’s new cautionary melodrama “Temptation,” opening today, which revolves around a young married marriage counselor (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) whose affair with a volatile billionaire forever changes her life.
Taylor plays Ms. Waco Chapman, a neurotic but motherly owner of a Washington, D.C., drugstore who employs Smollett-Bell’s pharmacist husband (Lance Gross) and a clerk (Brandy Norwood) with a secret.
Gross, who was familiar with Taylor from “The Nanny,” described the actress in an email as “a beast when it comes to being likable and funny. I never knew what direction she was going to take in the scene. … Tyler allowed her to discover beats and new things on her own.”
Taylor had an immediate reaction to Perry’s script when she received it last year, calling it “sexy and very dramatic.” But it was Perry’s message of the consequences of infidelity that really struck a chord.
“People don’t know you hurt yourself when you have a moral breach like that,” she said.
Not that she’s had to deal with such a problem with her husband of 47 years, actor-writer-director Joseph Bologna. The two have starred in and written several plays, including “Lovers and Other Strangers” – for which they were Oscar-nominated for the screenplay of the 1970 film version – and one of the funniest cult films ever made, 1971’s “Made for Each Other.”
When they married in 1965, they vowed they would be faithful. And so far they have, she said.
She and Bologna used to hold marriage encounter groups at the Beverly Hills home where they have lived for 35 years.
“People came out who had trouble with their relationships and we let them share their problems,” Taylor said during a recent interview at the house, which boasts lush gardens.
And they are still in the relationship business.
“I am always introducing people to people, and people are calling me, saying, ‘Maybe you know someone like Joe?’ ” said Taylor. “When I meet men, I say, ‘Are you married?’ ”
Taylor also has launched a face serum company, Renee Taylor’s Face Love.
“This makeup artist asked me if I would ever have my face lifted,” she said, “and I said, ‘No, because when I get to heaven I don’t want God to go, ‘Who are you?’ ”
Though Taylor noted she’s not as career-obsessed as she once was, the actress is as busy as ever.
She just finished a new season of Drescher’s TV Land sitcom, “Happily Divorced,” playing the frenemy of Drescher’s mother (Rita Moreno). She and Bologna will perform in their comedy “If You Ever Leave Me … I’m Going With You!” at the Welk Theatre in Escondido, Calif., in May. And she’s written a one-woman show, “My Life on a Diet,” based on her book, which Bologna directed recently in Florida. Taylor, who is currently on a diet, says she has tried some 100 during her lifetime.
“We had a sell-out engagement – standing room only,” she said. Taylor will workshop the play at the Working Stage in Hollywood beginning May 26.