Debi Mazar is known for her ability to play the tough girl with street smarts, from a mob mistress in Goodfellas to the brutally honest publicist Shauna in Entourage. (The NYC native's natural pluck is also an essential ingredient in Extra Virgin, the Cooking Channel show she cohosts with her real-life husband, Gabriele Corcos, with whom she has two young daughters.) This spring Mazar returns to scripted television in the comedy series Younger, produced by Sex and the City's Darren Star. Mazar plays the candid Maggie, who gives her best friend Liza (played by Sutton Foster) a makeover so she can pass as a 20-something working girl.
We talked to Mazar about her new show, living and shooting in Brooklyn and partying downtown in the 1980s.
Younger will premier on TV Land on March 31.
What can audiences look forward to with Younger? Younger is a fresh take on reinvention, ageism, friendship and self-acceptance. Darren Star's writing is so smart, and the casting is fantastic. Manhattan and Brooklyn play a big role in the texture of the piece.
What brought you to take on the role of Maggie? Are you similar to her in any respects? What brings actors to most roles is the need to be employed. I was especially excited to read for the role, because it was Darren Star, and I've always been a big fan. He writes so wonderfully for women. I am similar to Maggie in the sense that I am a great friend to have and will give you the shirt off my back. I am the oldest in the cast, and my character brings wisdom that you only get with age.
Maggie is a fun character—very outspoken. How did you prepare for the role? I'm very outspoken to begin with, so that part is a no-brainer. But I also spent time with a dear friend of mine named Yvonne Casas, who lived in Williamsburg, across the street from the studio where we filmed. She was a beautiful, Cuban lesbian who was an artist and the most incredible dresser. She had a huge loft there for 25 years. Sadly, she passed before we commenced production. I channeled her every morning on my way to the studio.
How do you think women will respond to the show? I think women and men alike will relate to this show, as its themes are part of the discussion that everyone experiences in the workplace or in relationships—especially these days.
Tell us more about filming in Brooklyn. Three years ago, I moved back home to Brooklyn after doing 20 years in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, you go from point A to point B by car. I missed the streets and people in New York City; my “cup” felt empty. I wanted my children transported into realness: public school, stoop life and taking the subway, which to me is the best theater of all! Shooting in the same borough as my home is the American dream. I feel like I'm living in a Berenice Abbott picture.
How does this experience differ from filming your cooking show, Extra Virgin? What's the best thing about having your whole family onscreen with you? Any challenges? Extra Virgin is a completely different animal than Younger, which is scripted. It's challenging and so much fun. I get to write comedy, showcase my husband's heritage (he's from Tuscany), produce, direct, cook and eat! Working with my kids is great, as I only use them if they are willing and excited to be a part of it.
One your first jobs in the 1980s was working at Fiorucci selling jewelry with Linda Ramone and Joey Arias. You also did makeup for the Village Voice and worked at the Mudd Club. What stands out about NYC during that time? Do you have any stories to share? That was a really special period in NYC. We were all so young and creative; no one was afraid of crazy fashion. Art was exploding; punk was colliding with new wave and hip-hop. It was probably the most diverse period in New York that I have experienced. I worked at Mudd Club doing the door to the VIP floor. I didn't know who anyone really was, and I was 16 years old! [Club owner] Steve Mass probably thought it was funny to have an underage kid deciding who was cool enough to come in. Everybody walked through those doors. I met everyone. I have a book in the works about this period.
You grew up in both Queens and Brooklyn. What do you love about the boroughs? How have you seen them change? How do you think New York City overall has changed? I am a proud New York “bridge and tunnel” girl. I have lived in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, Manhattan; everything has changed! So much old character is gone. Many of the old theaters and diners are gone, and “40 Deuce” [42nd Street] is an outdoor shopping mall, just like lower Broadway. It's good for the economy, but I do miss the mom-and-pop shops. Little Italy is gone; the Lower East Side is built up and cleaned up. But the subways have never been more efficient [and] they even have Wi-Fi in many stations. The High Line is one of the most exciting things to happen in NYC. Central Park and Prospect Park are as regal as ever. However, the boroughs are still my favorite! I returned to Brooklyn because it's closest to my heart, and I have history here, which I wanted to share with my children. Let's face it, the world has changed everywhere, but NYC is still the biggest melting pot in the world. The diversity in culture is unmatched.
Do you have an itinerary you like to do when guests visit from out of town? What do you recommend they see? Central Park, Prospect Park, the High Line, Coney Island, the New York Transit Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum, MoMA PS1 in Queens, the Guggenheim, Lincoln Center, BAM and the Brooklyn Museum. Shopping at Bergdorf Goodman and Macy's. Also, Governors Island, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and water taxis! The Cloisters, Fort Tryon Park, West Side Highway for biking, Chelsea Market, Eataly, the Flatiron District and Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
Are there recommendations you have for parents on kid-friendly activities in NYC? All of the above!!