Q& A with Betty White: At 88, this dame's still game
By John Shearer, Getty Images for ATI
Betty White says of the SAG acronym: "It makes me nervous. I always want to put my arm under my boobs."
By Susan Wloszcznya, USA TODAY
Between celebrating her 88th birthday (she prefers a string of intimate dinners) and preparing to shoot a TV pilot, Betty White— who receives the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement award Saturday — found time to chat by phone, her trusty 5-year-old golden retriever snuggled at her side, with USA TODAY.
Q: People are making a big deal out of how Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock are enjoying such success at ages 60 and 45. But you're 88 and going strong. What is your secret?
A: I'm so pleasantly surprised when I get asked to do something, I always say yes. Retirement is not in my vocabulary. They aren't going to get rid of me that way.
MORE: White will be a SAG honoree
Q: Your dedication as an animal advocate is well-documented. I would think they instinctively flock to you, like they do with Snow White. When was your last encounter of the feathered or furry kind?
A: It kind of works that way. Animals read you like a book. I wish we could read them as well. I'm going to a zoo board meeting tomorrow. I'm never away from them. My golden retriever, a career-change guide dog named Pontiac, is right next to me. I didn't name him, but I like to think of the Indian chief, not the car. When the car company went out of business, I sat him down and said, "Honey, it's not anything you did."
Q: Somewhere you acquired this amusingly naughty comic persona that has served you well. Where did it come from?
A: I think from sitting around the Sunday morning breakfast table with Mom and Dad. Dad was a traveling salesman, and he would bring his jokes home. He would say, "Honey, you can take that joke to school, but I wouldn't take that one." That's where the double-entendres came from. What you don't say is funnier than what you do. Now they let it all hang out. It's all single-entendre.
Q: You have been involved with TV practically since it first started. What do you think of the medium now and how it has changed?
A: My husband (the late game-show host Allen Ludden) used to say he married a pioneer in silent television. I began in 1949. Back then, the audience treated it like a little miracle. Now, the minute a show starts, they know the entire story line. It's hard to surprise them. They keep hiring very young writers with no frame of reference. Older writers are more subtle. And subtlety is a rare commodity. My favorites are Two and a Half Men. And Frasier.
Q: You always seem game for anything, whether it's schmoozing with Kathy Griffin's mom on her D-List reality show or giving the finger to Ryan Reynolds in an online comedy video or doing an Ugly Betty White skit on an awards show. Is there anything you won't do?
A: I guess not. Last Friday, I did a Snickers commercial. I was playing football with these young guys, and one knocks me backward into a mud puddle. They had stunt women to do the actual fall. But I had to lie there for hours in the freezing muddy water.
Q: Has Robert Redford yet addressed your unrequited love?
A: My answer to the question "What haven't you done in your career" is always Robert Redford. I've never met him and I would be embarrassed if I did.
Q: You have another movie comedy, You Again, coming out this fall with Kristin Bell. What else are you up to?
A: I have a guest shot on a TV pilot in February. It's called Hot in Cleveland, about three gals who are on their way to Paris to get some action. The plane experiences mechanical difficulties and lands in Cleveland. All these guys start eyeing them, and they figure why go to Paris? I am doing it provisionally. If it gets picked up, I don't think I want to do another series. I love the work. But what if a movie comes along?
Q& A with Betty White: At 88, this dame's still game - USATODAY.com