We sit down with the skating legend to talk about his Manilow-riffic holiday special, his ''South Park'' legacy, and more
It’s the holiday season, which means it’s time to remember why ’88 Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano is one of our all-time favorite athletes. It could be because TV doesn’t get more dramatic than Calgary’s ”Battle of the Brians.” (Relive it — with Boitano’s commentary — here.) Or that at 44, he’s still throwing triples in TV specials like his annual Brian Boitano Skating Spectacular. (Tune in to NBC on Dec. 22 to see him skate to live music provided by Barry Manilow — on an ice rink constructed on the infield of San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Then catch him in NBC’s ”Music of Seal on Ice” on New Year’s Day.) Or because you’re still singing the song ”What Would Brian Boitano Do?” from South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut.
We recently sat down with Boitano in New York City to chat about all of the above — and to pose questions submitted by EW.com readers. Even the one about his ”fine” butt.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why Barry Manilow?
BRIAN BOITANO: Every year I have a different musical guest. I had met him before, and I thought Well, I’ll just ask him. So my people talked to his people and they said, ”He’s coming out with a new album, The Greatest Songs of the Seventies, and he would be willing to do four of the covers from his new album, and then four of his classics that he’s rerecording acoustically for the album.” So the hard part was picking four of the acoustic classic hits — they’re all my favorites. I chose ”Even Now.” Dorothy Hamill wanted really badly to skate to ”Weekend in New England.” Then as a tribute to my father, I skated to ”I Write the Songs.” Then Barry rerecorded a special dance mix of ”Could It Be Magic” for the end of the show. A dance mix of ”Could it Be Magic” — it’s incredible.
How has the market for skating specials changed over the years? I feel like there was a time when you’d see one a week. Now, not so much.
It’s true. The boom started in 1988, went through the Tonya-Nancy thing in 1994, until about 1998. So for 10 years, networks were literally snapping up every idea for ice-skating, and there were some stupid things. Like Battle of the Sexes, judged by the Playboy bunnies. So the market got oversaturated. And everything was prime-time. In 1996, we had 13 prime-time shows, and half of them were on network. It was outrageous. People stopped buying the stupid shows.
What’s your dream skating special?
On the lip of the Grand Canyon. I’ve always wanted to do that. My very first TV special out of the Olympics was on a glacier in Alaska. Right after that one, I went and pitched this idea to skate in three National Parks. Like Voyageurs National Park, because it freezes over and you have these little islands that you can skate around. [The networks] were like, ”Way too expensive.”
Do you ever watch your old performances on YouTube? I found your ”Missing You” chair number and was giddy.
I have. I was like, Maybe I should bring back ”Legends of the Fall” this year. I don’t have that videotape. [Simulates typing] ”Brian Boitano.” ”Legends of the Fall.” There it is! So I studied the choreography, but it didn’t fit into anything I was doing this year. One of my favorites on YouTube is the Disney thing with me and Katarina Witt doing ”Beauty and the Beast,” where I change into the prince in midair.
[Boitano’s publicist: ”You played the beast?”]
I played the foxy Beast.
That’s a nice segue into my first reader question: CEEGEE says, ”I love Brian. My sister-in-law insists that he wore a ‘pad’ to make his posterior look so fine. Is it true?”
No, and it still looks even finer than ever. A pad? I didn’t even wear a pad in the front; I would never wear a pad in the back. That’s all muscle, honey. Everywhere.
What is your workout regime? I read something about how you’ve worked with an Ultimate Fighter trainer?
I did. I was training with these Ultimate Fighters who beat the s— out of each other, and they’re like the most light-spoken little lambs — until they get on the mat. It’s amazing. My workout regime: I skate two hours a day, because nothing can replicate skating. And then three days a week I bike, do core, and stretch. And then on weekends, I don’t skate, but I go to the gym. I have one day of rest a week.
Of course you know EW readers want to talk about ”What Would Brian Boitano Do?” EP SATO asks, ”What was your reaction to the South Park song? Did you see the movie, or did fans point it out to you?”
I went by myself to see it.
Why go alone? Because you didn’t want anyone there to witness the—
[Shouts] ”Goddamn it!” [Laughs] I just wanted to go alone. I’m in this crowded movie theater, and I’m like, Oh my God, don’t trash me. Don’t trash me. Like I remember that moment when Stan just stops and goes, ”What Would Brian Boitano Do?” He’s talking about me, and everyone’s laughing. It was just surreal.
Have you ever met South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone?
Never. I still want to meet those guys. It’s funny: Brian Graden [now president of MTV Networks Music Group and LOGO] came up to me at the Torino Olympics. He’s like, ”I have a confession to make. I’m the one that commissioned ”The Spirit of Christmas“” [the video Christmas card that ultimately led to South Park]. I’m like, ”Youuuuu.” He’s friends with Matt and Trey, and he’s tried to arrange twice for us to have dinner together in L.A., and neither of our schedules worked out. But my manager couldn’t decide what to get me for Christmas two years ago. She has a relationship with their lawyer because I had to get their permission to use ”What Would Brian Do?” on T-shirts for charity. So then she asked, ”Hey, can you have the guys send a picture to Brian for Christmas?” So they sent me this really cool thing with my little character on it, and it said, ”South Park loves Brian Boitano.” And then Matt wrote, ”I love you!” and Trey wrote, ”We love you! Thank you so much!” ‘Cause I did [an interview] for VH1 Goes Inside: South Park. [Laughs] I think I’m probably the only well-known person who wanted to do it. If they’d ragged on me, I wouldn’t have.
NEXT PAGE: A video sneak peek of this year’s Brian Boitano Skating Spectacular!
Watch Boitano skate as Barry Manilow performs ”I Write the Songs”:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s move on to the Battle of the Brians. SOMEWHERE wants to know if you have any comment on Brian Orser’s recent retirement from professional skating.
BRIAN BOITANO: Good riddance. [Laughs] I know he’s not skating anymore. Some different TV shows have asked us if we’d do a number together next year for our 20th anniversary. I was willing to do it, but he says he’s hanging up the boots. He’s lazy. No, it’s sad that he’s retiring, ’cause we were always very friendly competitors. We weren’t friends, but we were friendly. The way I discovered the name ”Battle of the Brians” was reading the cover of Time magazine. I’m like, ”Ooooh, s—. Battle of the Brians. I know who that’s about.” I didn’t even pick it up off the newsstand. I sent Brian Orser this thing recently: Canada voted for the Top 10 sports moments in the century, and Battle of the Brians was No. 1. Can you believe that?
Another reader, ILLANA, would like to know if you’ll be following Orser into coaching.
No. I’ve been mentoring this year [U.S. skaters Ryan Bradley and Alissa Czisny]. I like that, but coaching is a full-time job. I don’t have the energy to do my own skating stuff and do that.
Here’s a question from SMOOCHIE, whom you’ve apparently brought to tears multiple times with your skating: ”I would like to voice my displeasure, and ask if he agrees, that all the ‘skating’ has gone out of figure skating. It is rarely beautiful and is more like ‘how many jumps can I fit in.”’
Yeah, but the amateur skating has always been about how many jumps you can fit in. The reason I won that night [in Calgary] is because I did more jumps than anybody else. I understand what they’re saying. We don’t have the Dorothy Hamills that are beautiful to watch, even in the simplest things. Kids don’t know the language of figure skating. If you ask them to do a compulsory figure, they don’t know how to, and that’s so important for the edge quality. I think that’s why the older skaters are still as popular as they are — because they have that quality that people are missing in this generation.
LYNN says she’d love to see you produce or judge a So You Think You Can Skate reality show. Thoughts?
I watch So You Think You Can Dance. Yeah, that would be okay.
What other TV do you watch?
I love The Amazing Race, 24, Prison Break, Ugly Betty. Things I don’t like: Dancing With the Stars. I just don’t like watching bad dancing.
Last question: When you were on the Blades of Glory set filming your cameo, Will Ferrell told you that skating was the hardest thing he’d ever tried to do. What did you think of Skating With Celebrities? Nightmare! They gave them like three weeks — they were marching around like beginners. But if they had more time, they still wouldn’t be able to anything. When [Fox] announced that they were doing the show, I read stuff like, ”First we have celebrities doing the rumba and the cha-cha on Dancing With the Stars. What a great idea for them to do ice skating. We can see them doing scratch spins and double axels.” I’m like, ”Double axels? You guys are crazy.”