The actress, 47, first made a name for herself on ''In Living Color.'' Now she's turned her WASPy childhood, years on ''Oprah,'' and marriage to George Stephanopoulos into a book, ''Ali in Wonderland''
This isn’t a conventional memoir. It’s more like a collection of essays — some about your acting gigs, others about your life with George, still others about your childhood. But running through the whole thing are tales of your nutty blue-blooded mom, Muffie Cabot, who was a social secretary in the Reagan White House. How did the book actually come about?
HarperCollins came to me and said, ”We watched you on Oprah. Have you ever thought about writing a book?” And I said, ”Yes. I want to write about the advice my mother’s given me.” So they instantly loved the idea. I mean, thank God I actually pitched something I could manage to do.
People who know you as an Oprah correspondent or comic actress might be surprised by some of the raunchy humor in the book.
It’s more authentic to my sensibility. It’s not necessarily that I think of everything that I look at as a d— joke. I think it’s just more real. Though there were things that I wrote that we cut. I had a really funny story that my editor thought was too gross.
What did it involve?
It involved a proposal. Not George’s. An old boyfriend proposed to me and hid the ring in a disgusting place. I said yes because I thought that was the most creative way to propose. My editor was like, ”This is too gross.” And I said, ”Okay. I’m not trying to be Howard Stern.”
Has your mom read the book?
She read an early draft, just because I thought, ”If she hates this, what am I going to do?” And there were areas where she would say, ”This is your story, not mine,” and then she’d say, ”But just so you know, it wasn’t Nixon who did that, it was Kissinger.” She was very worried about liabilities and stuff. But she loved it. She laughed!
Even the part about your old nanny selling heroin from the family house?
She was like, ”Oh, I thought it was pot.” ”No, it was smack, Mom!”
Anything else that surprised her?
Yeah, the time I snorted all that cocaine. My mom said, ”Is this really something you want your daughters to read?” And I thought, ”Well, it’s true.” The story is that I tried it, I took too much, and I got really sick. I could have died. I wasn’t a coke whore at Studio 54 every night.
Actually, there’s a lot about your upbringing that wasn’t sunny. Your years at boarding school sound pretty grim.
Yeah, that’s the one thing I wrote about where I’m scared they’re gonna come get me. A horrible experience. Horrible! I actually forget that it was a very expensive education because I think of it as being in juvie for four years.
In contrast, though, the story of how you met, and married, your husband is one of the tenderest — and most surprising — parts of the book. If it were a romantic comedy, people would say the ending is too abrupt because you two fall in love so fast.
Yeah, people would be angry. But that’s how it happened. My editors kept saying, ”Could you expand on that? What do you mean, you just knew he was the one?” And I said, ”I wish I knew. Believe me, honey, if I could bottle it for you, I would.”
The kind of fame that comes with your marriage doesn’t sound very appealing, though.
When you watch TV and you see a premiere, you think, ”Oh, that’s so glamorous,” but when you go to the premiere and the zipper is broken on your dress and one of the photographers is screaming at you too much, you just realize it’s nothing. I don’t think it’s great to be famous in our world anymore. You get famous, and they tear you down. For George, fans cross the line. When it’s just me, it never gets offensive. Fans approach me, but no one ever goes, ”Will you sign my boob?”
So are you done with acting? You’ve had such an interesting career.
It’s been weird and erratic. My talent agent says, ”People are confused. Is she a comedian but she’ll do dramatic stuff — but she’s a writer?” I don’t care. I don’t need to be specific. After I had kids, I thought, ”I’m not gonna leave them to play John Stamos’ girlfriend in L.A.” And then the Oprah gig came along when we moved to D.C. It was the greatest job in the world.
Now I’m about to launch an online show in February called The Daily Shot. It’s five minutes of everything going on in the world told by me…that I do at my kitchen table. I have a whole crew that comes in. I’ve been lucky enough to tailor a career so I can be with my kids, especially because George works seven days a week. Every time I turn on ABC, he’s there. I say to him, ”Why don’t you get a recurring gig on Private Practice? Because I feel like people worry if they can’t see you at night, too.”
Of course, you could just turn this book into a show.
It’s really funny — a friend of ours who’s a producer said, ”There’s never been a talk show with a really smart political-news guy and his wacky comedian wife.” He kept saying, ”It’s TV gold.” We were like, ”We would be divorced.”
A couple of years ago when George was asked to anchor Good Morning America while he was doing his Sunday political show, he was conflicted because politics gets him excited, not cooking with some actress from When in Rome. Somehow my name got thrown into the hat as a correspondent on GMA too, and I remember saying to George, ”Did you ever think years ago when you were working for Bill Clinton and discussing huge political issues and wars and I was playing a hooker on In Living Color that we’d both end up in the same job?” He fell facedown onto the bed saying, ”That’s so depressing.”
Well, your life is certainly the stuff of a sitcom, too — although I wonder: Who could play you?
I have no idea!
Well, who should play George?
John Stamos. No, Michael J. Fox — he’s played George in everything else.
Ali’s Personal Must List
”Love the group, especially snarky Christa Miller.”
Law & Order: SVU
”The current arc on SVU: Harry Connick Jr. and Mariska Hargitay getting hot and heavy!”
The Best of Bardot
”Love hearing Brigitte Bardot singing ‘Je T’Aime.”’
”Hilarious facts, like before the 1880s earwax was used as lip balm. Bizarre and entertaining.”
Outtakes From a Marriage
”Great writing about a Hollywood actor and his wife dealing with his affair.”