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Betty White on fame, longevity, and premiere of ‘Off Their Rockers’

Credit: NBC

Credit: NBC

Tonight is the season premiere of Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, and the legendary star took a moment to field questions in a conference call, ahead of tonight’s big two-episode event.

On what attitude she recommends for longevity in Hollywood:

Betty White: “Oh, honesty. Honesty I think is – you can fool everybody else maybe that you know, but you can’t fool that camera. That camera will know when you’re faking it every time.”

On why she hasn’t retired from acting:

Betty White: “Because why quit something you’re enjoying so much? … I know I do, and it’s such fun, and … who would ever expect at 91 to still get invited to do shows? I mean, that’s unheard of, so if they don’t want me to do it, don’t ask me. Because if they ask me, I’ll take it.”

On whether she was okay with the premise when asked to do the show:

Betty White: “No, I was not enthused about doing this. First of all, well, not so much for the show but because my schedule just didn’t tolerate it. So I thanked them very much and said, no thank you. But they kept coming back, and it’s a – it was a show that started in Belgium, and it was the most popular comedy show in Europe for a while, … and so when they invited me to do it, I said ‘That’s very nice, but I just can’t work it in.’ And they kept coming back, and of course, I had the backbone of a jellyfish, so … here I am doing it, but I’m having a good time.”

On what she feels are the biggest changes to television over the course of her 60 year career:

Betty White: “Well, I don’t think the television has changed nearly as much as the audience has changed. When I started out, television was just starting out, and everything was that miracle on the box in the corner of the room where people were actually moving around, and over the years, as television got to be such a major part of our lives, the audience has heard every joke. They know every storyline. They know where you’re going almost before the first line is out. That’s a hard audience to surprise and a hard audience to entertain, and it gets more difficult all the time. That’s why the real movers and shakers in the television business are the writers. They have a bigger challenge every day.”

On whether there’s anything in Hollywood she’s wanted to do that she hasn’t done:

Betty White: “Robert Redford. [Laughs] No, no, no, that – no, I think in – it’s been 65 years and I think in that time I’ve been the luckiest person on two feet, so I think I’ve done about as much as I can do. I’d just like to keep on doing the same thing.”

On constantly being surrounded by attractive men in Hollywood:

Betty White: “Well, in your 90s, my problem is all my life I’ve always wanted – I never was interested in younger men. He always had to be a little older than I, and my problem now at 90 is I can’t find anybody older than I.”

On where she gets her sense of comic timing:

Betty White: “Oh, that was my mother and father. I was an only child, and … we had the best time together. My dad was a salesman, so he would bring jokes home, but also he’d ask me how things went at school, and I would start telling him, and pretty soon we’d begin to make jokes about it, and it was a love of laughter at home that just was a precious commodity to have with your folks, and we really – Sunday morning breakfast … it would last two hours sometimes when we all giggled and scratched and talked. … I think … humor is like music. It’s a rhythm, and you just kind of get the rhythm of it, and you have to know not to let the beat go too long, but to leave a beat in there for it to gel, you know. It’s hard to explain.”

On the challenges of filming shows in today’s TV market:

Betty White: “The challenges are to try to keep it fresh, to try to keep any semblance of freshness going. Well, after this number of years of all the shows and all the jokes and all the scripts, that’s the – a major challenge, so what you do is keep reworking the same old material and try to put a little new slant on it, and then with fresh people in the role, it’s amazing how long you can milk stuff.”

On plans for celebrating her upcoming birthday:

Betty White: “Well, I think NBC is taking care of that. Last year they did a Betty White’s 90th Birthday party on television. We got nominated for an Emmy for it, and this year they’re doing Betty White’s second annual 90th birthday, so they’re doing another one on camera, which should be fun.”

On how she achieved fame, and how women have come along in the business:

Betty White: “I’ve been so lucky – I just can’t tell you how lucky – to get to this age. Who would ever dream that you’d get to be 91 years old and you’re still working as much as I am? But I think it’s because I thoroughly enjoy what I do. I love this business, and I’ll quit when they ask me to, but as long as they keep asking me to work, I’ll keep saying yes, and it is such a privilege. I think women have come a long way over the years in … coming into their own … in the whole business, and women executives and all that. …[B]ut it still is a very lovely position to be in to be taken seriously as well as laughed at.”

The season premiere of Betty White’s Off Their Rockers airs tonight at 8/7c on NBC.

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