Debi Mazar‘s extensive film and TV credits include Goodfellas, Jungle Fever, The Insider, Ugly Betty and Entourage. She and her husband, Gabriele Corcos, celebrate Italy, entertaining and great food on their website, underthetuscangun.
October 7 — My Final Performance
I sort of knew all day long that we’d be eliminated, because I didn’t feel that happy about my performance Monday night. My dress rehearsal onstage with the band had been seamless. And once the crowd started screaming for my butt shakes I was like, "yeah!"— I felt fabulous. Then I made the mistake of doing the one thing I’m not supposed to do, which was to look down. Or actually, I looked back at Maks instead of looking forward, and I lost my bearings. I tried to catch up but it looked really sloppy.
Also, I wish we had had some show-stopping moves in our choreography, like when Chuck Liddell rips his sleeves off or Mya bends backwards or wraps her legs around her partner. I can’t do splits but my legs are limber enough to do everything else and make nice lines, and I never felt that we had the choreography where I could show that stuff off. I think America wants to see chemistry and sexiness, and I don’t think we looked like we were having any chemistry except on the tango, which was brilliant the way Maks choreographed it. I spoke to somebody and their take on it was that Maks is very purist in ballroom. He doesn’t want to do all the cutesy things that people throw into a routine because the crowd likes it.
Bringing Mel B. into this week’s video package—I never understood why they bothered. My kids and my dog had come in to rehearsal, and that was hysterical. I had a 17-year-old poodle trying to samba and follow me on the dance floor. Maks danced with my 3-year-old daughter, Giulia, and she was able to follow his directions perfectly. My 7-year-old, Evelina, is a lot like me; I held her hand and said, "One, two, three," and she would go left while I would go right. It was the exact replication of what Maks had to deal with with me. It was the most beautiful, happy footage, but they didn’t use it. It was lovely to meet Mel B., she’s really fun, but I didn’t see how that was going to represent me or help my case.
After we were eliminated, Maks was very supportive. He came over to me and said, "Deb, listen, I wouldn’t trade spending time with you through this period of my life over getting any disco-ball trophy." What people don’t realize is that we were together for 10 weeks, 6 hours a day. A lot of that time, he was going through a very hard personal time. It made things complicated, but I was happy to be an objective person in the picture and try to be supportive of him. I think we both came out of it with something, and you can’t ask for more than that.
At the end of the day, I got to wear fun costumes—it was a big beauty pageant, more or less. I learned new dance moves and met great people and I got to put my voice out there and get people to come to my cooking website. I never thought I was going to be the best dancer because I know I’m a little uncoordinated. I’m not going to lie—I never felt comfortable when I went to the dance floor, like I could own it, and I wanted to so badly. I couldn’t hide my nerves or the fact that I screwed up, like Louie Vito does with that great smile. Maybe my problem was that I always felt like a fly on the wall, observing a world that I didn’t really belong to.
I’ve lost six pounds, which on me is a lot, even though I’ve been eating like crazy. But my legs look great and I was like, how do I keep these legs up now that I’m not going to see Maks? And he said, "Deb, if you want I’ll give you private lessons." He and I, we’re all good. I just hope I didn’t let him down because I think he expected to get a partner who could dance. It was very difficult training, and hey, what can I say?
I did have a blast. I’ve had emails and texts from people all over the U.S.; the amount of support and love has been overwhelming. My friends and fans were like, "You did great; now go back to your day job!"
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September 30 —"Oh, No, We’re in the Red!"
On results night, I wasn’t nervous initially because I felt really good about our tango. There was a lot of passion and fire and pushing away and coming back, and Maksim and I have that as people in our personalities — mercurial and strong but still really liking each other — and I think that served us. We scored highest of all the tangos, and I know I’m not the best dancer but I’m definitely not the worst. All of a sudden, though, Maksim goes, "Oh no, we’re in the red" (there’s a red light they put on you or something; it’s lingo I’m still not familiar with), and I’m like, what is he talking about? Then it dawned on me: Omigod, it’s between me and Kathy Ireland! I’m still on stage and I’m about to be eliminated!
Last week was probably the worst week on the show for me. Between the muscle tear in my neck and the press and my partner — we really were fighting. I didn’t think that the behind-the-scenes video package reflected how deep it really got. Even Maksim said, "This is bad, you’re crying," and I thought, well, then, don’t make me cry. I’m not stupid; it’s not coming naturally to me.
To top it off I was also PMS-ing. I have two days out of the month where if you’re really nasty to me, I’m confrontational, I’m going to snap, give it back to you, and probably start crying. I warned Maks about that when we first started working: "If we make it any further, I just want to warn you that every three weeks there are going to be a couple days in there that are a little bit bitched out." And that was last week. So thank god that’s over with.
Maks’s way of teaching is very difficult, and although I thought it would be good for me I don’t know if it is. Because I get insulted, and I’m trying not to take it personally but when someone’s that impatient with you, no good comes out of it really. It’s difficult for me to be open to hearing him, or for my brain to accept it.
So I kicked the camera crew out and we had a sit-down behind closed doors. I think he got where I was coming from. We really like each other as people, and I feel like I’ve been put into his life to inspire him in some strange way, him being a younger artist and a person who’s growing. I’m older than he is and I’ve lived through many things. In the mix of it all, we were able to have a conversation and get our points across. I think he had an epiphany finally, as did I: Try to smile, be quiet, focus more, be a better student.
He was worried, as was I, about our video package. Because he’s known as sort of the bad boy, and he doesn’t want to look like an asshole; and I’m known as an actress – and I was called a drama queen the other night on the floor – and the thing is, I’m not even being dramatic. If America’s going to like me, they have to see the humor in some of my mistakes, as opposed to seeing me fall apart. Some of the people at Dancing With the Stars have said, "It’ll hurt you if you guys aren’t getting along, in terms of what you’re learning or people not liking you or not liking him." I felt like the package was sort of a downer. But the good news was it did show growth and progression.
Because of my neck, I was working extra hard to hold my "frame" during our performance. When you break frame, the balance falls off; the feet follow the head as opposed to flowing with your partner’s. At one point I almost screwed up but my foot magically went with his legs; I managed to keep our bodies together, which is a testament to the hard work. Once you separate, you’ve blown it.
At one point in our tango rehearsals I pulled him towards me, and he said, "When you pull me what happens is I come into you — but I weigh 190 pounds and I’m big, so the minute we connect you are going to fall backwards and be off balance. In a show, you make the illusion that you’re pushing me; if you really push me, you’re going to fall forward, because I’m heavy. And if I push into you you’re going to fall backward." So it’s like physics, basically, and a lot of it has to do with showmanship.
When I wasn’t eliminated, I thought, oh god, I’ve got to go rehearse now and learn the new steps. We’re doing the samba next week. The nice thing was Maks was so kind and lovely when we got to the studio. He put his arm on my shoulder and said, "The first thing you have to understand, Debi, is that this is not the Brazilian samba as you know it. You bring up Brazil, you bring up your friend that does it beautifully, you bring up things you’ve witnessed —this is not that. This is just a taste of the genre built into a ballroom format. I want you to let go of every ass-shaking thong moment — whatever your idea of samba is —and I want you to clear your mind. We’re going to start from scratch and I want you to just learn footwork.” He wants to stay in this just as much as I do, I truly believe. And so I’m learning how to make it less complicated. I have to alter the way I learn because of the way he teaches.
This workout with the samba, it’s like a Jack LaLanne class: I’m holding my legs in squat position and gyrating my hips and my arms are flying through the air. It’s very, very aerobic. My metabolism is burning so hard that I’m losing a pound a week. My thighs are reducing and my ribs are starting to stick out. And I really like to have a presence — I find that the bigger you are in a dance show, the sexier it looks; you really look like a woman. When you’re skinny it looks kind of hard. For my next outfit I’m trying to create hips, because I don’t have them, and I’m trying to make it soft and pretty.
As far as the other competitors go, it’s like a big love-fest. We all are discovering each other, learning about each other’s families and work things and problems and fears. Everyone is very stripped-down. Even watching Chuck Liddell look nervous has been highly interesting. To see someone like Tom DeLay, who has a stress fracture in his foot and is in a lot of pain — he and I are polar opposites in terms of what we believe in politically, and I realized I could probably get into it with him. But he’s very self-deprecating in a really dark, very cool way, because he’s been a politican for so long, and it’s sort of fascinating. I don’t dig too deep; we also don’t have that much time.
Kathy Ireland was sweet as could be and super-supportive. Mya is really lovely, quiet and contained – and when she performs she just opens up and gives it to you. I find that so captivating and beautiful; I wish I had her poise on an everyday basis. And Joanna Krupa is a lot of fun and really generous.
My partner’s breakup put a lot of stress on our rehearsals over the past six weeks, but he’s in a much better place now, and I really think that this week is going to be great for us. We’re both happy, and we have a really happy, sexy, fun dance. So I’m excited.
September 24 — The Premiere, and After
Saturday before the three-night season premiere was our first time rehearsing on the stage, which has steps. The floor was slippery, as some pro dancers like to use castor oil. I use water on the bottom of my shoes so as not to slide, per Maksim’s instructions, but I slid anyway. My shoe fell off during the foxtrot and Maksim made me continue because there is no stopping, no matter what happens. He seemed happy with me, and I went on to a costume fitting.
I was stunned to find that I had gone down a size, from a 4 to a 2, though the scale doesn’t say I’ve lost weight. I am getting too defined on my upper body and losing fat on my chest. I needed to shove in extra bra pads to make my boobs look like something.
Then back to a dance rehearsal at a studio; we did a run-through of each dance two times, and Maksim was like, "We are done. You know the steps. Sorry I was tough when we worked at the stage today, but you are not an intellectual in dancing. I don’t mean that in a dismissive way—what you are is emotional. I wanted to prepare you for the nerves and any complications you will encounter on the day." I asked then, "Well, how do you think it’s looking. . . am I good yet?" And he said, "No, you still are looking down, your walk is lifeless, your New York attitude is nonexistent—but it’s good enough. . . bye . . see you on Monday! Kiss kiss, ciao!"
I was speechless. I sat there alone in the studio, contemplating everything. . . Did I work hard enough? Did I talk too much, and blow my time getting to know my partner when I should have been designing my schedule in a way that was more focused? After all that I had to go get a spray tan over my sweaty body, before returning home to collapse (no shower allowed till the next morning). My sheets turned orange and it stunk, like floral douche mixed with old pancake batter.
On Tuesday, the day we performed, Maks and I had to be there at the crack of dawn because we were first up. That was our first time rehearsing with the orchestra, and that was sort of a gift to me because I love music and to hear it live was fantastic. The bad news was that I’d been rehearsing to a CD of Tito Puente, and the punctuation marks of certain moves were not timed out; it really threw me off. It was a good wake-up call to realize that no matter what the orchestra is doing, I have to just follow Maks and stay on time with him.
I went back to the makeup trailer kind of nervous. I’m not used to allowing makeup artists full reign on my look. They’re very talented, but the look of ballroom is so drag-like — the lashes so heavy, the makeup so tan and hard, it made me kind of uncomfortable. I felt like I looked like Joan Crawford. That said, I wanted to do what I was told and give it a chance.
Also, during rehearsal my neck got pulled yet again. It started to throb and they gave me ice packs and ibuprofen. By the time showtime came along I felt OK.
Then, bam, it’s my time! I get on the stage and everything’s going great—my kick is high, the entrance is perfect, I run down the steps, I go to push Maks—and all of a sudden I lose my footing. I almost fall on my butt, and Maks sees this happening and he adjusts me on camera. I was quite stunned he would do that, because it breaks the routine. In my mind I’m thinking, "I just screwed up and everybody knows it!" But I forgot about the fact that nobody knows what our routine actually is. I tried hard to catch up and it took me a minute, but I lost all of my footwork, which is something that’s very important for the judges.
In the foxtrot relay, my neck started to feel it once again. I had to throw my head back and look up at the third floor balcony, so to speak, and it was killing me. I was quite happy with the result, though. The best thing was coming home—my daughters, who are three and seven, ran out of bed and said, "Mommy, come talk to us. You were so great. Where’s your red sparkly dress? Did you bring it home?" I explained that I couldn’t bring it home yet but when I did they could both play in it.
My seven-year-old said, "You looked a little nervous at certain points, but you looked great." She was critiquing things technically. Whereas my three-year-old grabbed my chin and pulled my face close to hers and said, "Mommy, you were just so, so good. Listen to me now, Mama, now you can be calm." It brought tears to my eyes because she is incredibly supportive—she’s an old soul, with wisdom beyond her years to tune into people’s sensitivity.
I slept like a rock and when I woke up my neck was really swollen, to the point where I couldn’t see any of my collarbone. My husband was like, "I think you should see a doctor, Deb. It’s really puffy and kind of creepy." I went to Cedars Sinai and had an x-ray; the bones looked OK and they scheduled me for an MRI the next day. They said, "We think you’re going to be fine, just ice it, put this neck brace on and try to wear it when you can." I think some of my castmates thought I was trying to get a sympathy call.
The results show is quick and you never know who’s got the fans, or whatever. I survived, but sadly my friend Macy Gray went home. I wish she could have stayed because I felt like she owned it and made it look beautiful and gave it some fun. She was sort of one of the hits of the evening, like Kelly Osbourne.
After the results show, I had to go to a tango rehearsal for two hours. Maks was very tough again, and I felt like he was choreographing as we were going and expecting me to learn steps I had no clue about. He said, "You’ll probably forget all of it by tomorrow but I want you to know what we’re up against." Our next dance is to the song "Roxanne," as sung by Ewan McGregor in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. And Baz Luhrmann is going to be a guest judge next week! Maks is pulling his choreography and the texture of our piece from the actual scene in the film, which right now I’m a little afraid of. I think we have to be a bit more original in how we go about it. I realized that I have to control some of this, bring my own inspirations and choreography thoughts to the discussion. But he’s the one who creates the tone, and I don’t want to create any friction with him. The tango could be a fantastic dance for us—we have that energy where it could be feisty and interesting.
September 17 – Countdown to Premiere
This has probably been my most frustrating week, because the pressure’s on. Now we have to rehearse the dance from beginning to end, we’re not allowed to stop, and I’ve had only a few times where I’ve gotten it seamlessly together. Even if I screw up, my partner Maksim throws me back into the routine. I call him the Raging Bull, because when I make a mistake he kind of snorts out of his nose, and I can see that he’s not pleased, and in order to get me back into the groove so I don’t miss a beat he grabs my arm and whips me into some thing. He’s like, “Give me full performance!”
I have bruises on my arms, my hands, my wrists. My feet have gotten adjusted to being in pain; they don’t bother me any more than a really long-ass day in a pair of killer heels that you can’t wait to take off. Now it’s my neck and my back: I’m living on anti-inflammatories while I’m getting adjusted to this very unnatural body posing.
It’s also been difficult because of all the drama that’s gone on with Maksim’s engagement [to fellow DWTS dancer Karina Smirnoff] ending, and the amazing. . .how would I put it?. . . coincidence of us being put into the same studio as his ex-fiancée and her partner [Aaron Carter], on a day when about 50 paparazzi just magically appeared. He’s been extremely professional: He hasn’t let it affect our performances, he doesn’t talk about it, he’s very focused when we’re in the room. But when you spend that many hours with somebody every day—more than I’m spending with my family currently—you feel for a person. I’m just trying to be protective and supportive. The press run over to you and are like, “We’re sorry to ask but we just have to . . . . ” He remains quiet and I’m sort of like, “Oh, it’s been great,” or I try to answer a question with a question. But it’s been challenging and surreal, and the whole experience is surreal enough as it is.
At the end of the foxtrot I’m supposed to blow a kiss to the audience, and Maksim keeps going, “What is that? This is your moment, you’re closing this song, own it! And when you’re flying I want you to feel like you’re in a convertible on the Pacific Coast Highway, looking at the sea with your hair blowing in the wind.” My mind goes to Isadora Duncan, where the scarf wraps around my neck and it chokes me and I die. Maybe I just have an overactive imagination.
I watched Maksim yesterday, and he basically never stops looking in the mirror. I thought maybe it was vanity, but last night I realized that he’s looking to see what looks good. But it makes me feel self-conscious, so when I went home last night, when nobody was looking, I ran around my dining room as if I was on the dance floor. There’s a mirror on one of the walls, and I started blowing kisses and shimmying and shaking. And I’m going, omigod, no wonder he looks in the mirror—I saw the cavities in my back teeth, and that’s not a good look! I’m like, I can’t do that, I have three chins!
I want to get it right, and I keep picking apart all these little things, and at this point my partner’s like, “This is good enough,” which is not something I like to hear. He says, “You shouldn’t be perfect because it’s your first dance and we have to show how you grow.” And I’m like, oh, trust me when I tell you that’s not going to be an issue.
I’m just hoping that Maksim doesn’t get sick of me. I think he’s got something really special and I’m thrilled to work with him. He’d be great in musicals or in a film. He’s really smart, and he’s one of those guys who when they walk into a room, your head just turns.
I talked to Madonna yesterday. I came out of rehearsal and I thought, let me just call her, does she have any good advice for me? And she was like, “Listen, they’re Russian teachers, it’s old school, it works, just keep on doing it. This is your rehearsal time, just control it in the way you need to. Be the actress and remember that it’s a show.”
I had my final wardrobe fitting, which was just fantastic. My salsa costume has Swarovski crystals attached to everything and my skirt is made of ostrich feathers. I’ve asked my friend Tarina Tarantino, who’s a jewelry designer, to design a hair flower-thing to complement my costume, so there’s a nice collaborative effort going on. The foxtrot costume looks sort of 1930s, really nice bright color and like a silk charmeuse—very simple, but they use horsehair at the hem so that when you dance and spin the stiffness makes the charmeuse flare out and have beautiful movement. You have to wear a radio frequency sound pack on your right breast for the entire show, which is kind of strange considering we don’t talk during the dancing and when we’re done there’s a microphone in our faces. So I have a pack shoved into my breast, and granny panties because you’re not allowed to show any butt cheek whatsoever.
Saturday we camera block, have a dress rehearsal, and then that’s it. The men dance on Monday and the ladies on Tuesday. I’m still freaked out that there’s only one take. We have one move in the salsa where I fly through the air and go under Maksim’s legs. I’m just praying that I won’t have hanging ostrich feathers and that my hairpiece doesn’t get ripped off.
September 9 – I’m Getting Poodle Paws on My Feet
This week we’ve been doing the foxtrot. It’s beautiful to watch, but I had no idea that it can be a cruel and sadistic dance that the woman really suffers through.
My partner, Maksim, and I have to be sort of like an iris, where we put our bodies together at the bottom as a stem, and then the petals branch out—but the woman is the petal that has to bend the farthest, of course. Maks says, "Imagine that I have a really sharp pin sticking out of my chest, and if you get close to me, if you put your chest on top of my chest, you will get a pin poking you." My neck is bent completely back; I don’t know what I’m supposed to be looking at at that point because I’m thinking that my neck is going to snap off.
He moves like a branch of a beautiful weeping willow that’s blowing in the breeze. And I’m trying to be like a princess, but I’m not light on my feet and I don’t swing in the breeze; I’m sort of the opposite. So this week has been about trying to bring my elegance out. I feel like I have it, but it’s hard to capture in a movement that’s so foreign to me.
Maksim picked me up yesterday to spin me around and he said, "Why is it every time you blow a kiss to the audience and you’re in my arms, you get a leg erection?" My arm and my foot kick out at the same time; it’s like a knee-jerk reaction. I keep throwing myself into a Bob Fosse pose—what is that? It’s from watching movies and liking Chita Rivera–Cyd Charisse types of dancing. I never wanted to be Ginger Rogers, but now when I watch her on YouTube, I’m blown away. So I’m trying to get in touch with these things and stop doing them. When I think that I can’t be a princess, I think, you booked the job, bitch, you’ve got to pull this off; you only have a week left. I just need to go out there and sell what we’re doing, and we’ll all high-five back in the green room.
Maksim believes your body can basically do anything if you set your mind to it. And I kind of do as well. Meanwhile, my feet are swollen by 4:00 every day; I can barely walk when I leave the studio. And there are three raised, white calluses on the ball of each foot—it looks like a poodle paw coming up from the inside. It really cracks me up.
All of a sudden things are starting to click in, little by little. It’s been fun having permission and the dedicated time to work so hard and to learn something new. I’m also getting to spend time with a really lovely person who’s full of inspiration and his own personal dramas. I feel like I’m a fly on the wall, getting a sneak peek into the world of dancers, what their lives are like and the competitions they’ve been through.
September 2 – Rehearsal
It’s been an enlightening experience: I’ve found out that I’ve been dancing sloppily for 30 years. I grew up in New York and I’ve been to salsa clubs and discos; Madonna and I used to enjoy dancing together “back in the day,” just going out and shaking it on the dance floor. But I guess we were more into freestyle, and when you go into a ballroom dancing situation it’s extremely purist in form.
And my partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, is a purist in every sense of the word, in terms of teaching; there’s no coddling, no compliments, I rarely get a pat on the back. Which I like, and that was one reason I wanted him for my partner—he doesn’t go, “That looks good, hon, we can work this out," he’s like, no! He’s being really patient but he is relentless in drilling me, until I’m practically near tears because I’m like, why can’t I get it? And then I’ll finally get it and he’ll say, "I’ve decided to add this new sequence in the middle of it all," and it completely throws me off.
My friend Rosie Perez, who was a choreographer at one point, happened to text me during my salsa rehearsal, and we talked later in the evening. She was like, "Debi, you need to concentrate and listen to Maks and stop talking." Because I’m always thinking ahead, in terms of what’s the next move. Everything about ballroom is footwork and learning exactly where every body part is, knowing where your balance is—is it on the back leg, is it on the front leg?—sucking your stomach in, pushing your body forward, sticking your tits up, pushing your butt out, keeping the feet together, pointing the toe, arching the back, neck high, leg long, stretch it out, sloppy feet . . .
I have no formal dance training, so it’s been challenging because for the first time I’m watching myself in the mirror. I do have rhythm but I don’t have form. Because I’ve had two children and two C-sections, I don’t feel like I have core strength. I lost my baby weight, but I haven’t gone back to the gym; I don’t have time. But I look like a dancer, and it’s kind of working against me, because everyone goes, "Oh, you look so great, you’re going to be fabulous!" And it’s like, but I’m out of shape! Why is size a factor? Why are you saying just because my arms are defined, which is god-given—I haven’t lifted a damn dumbbell in years—that that means I can sell it?
I have to work really hard because I’m completely uncoordinated. Maks says left, I go right; he says flex, I point. I’ve become dyslexic out of pressure. And he’ll throw me into a pose and say, "Oh, that hurts?" Yeah, it hurts! He’s always telling me how he threw Mel B. into a split, and saying, "You’ll be doing splits by the end of this." And I’m like, "Listen, I have no desire to do a split. I didn’t do a split when I was 12, or 20, or 30, and I’m definitely not doing it at 45. And if you do a split with me I’m going to kick you in the balls and you’re going to end up in the hospital, I’m going to end up in the hospital, and we’re going to be eliminated! My legs are going to snap off like a Barbie doll’s!"
My husband and children are my biggest supporters. Gabriele has taken on cooking at night and picking the kids up from school and swimming, and we’re showing our house ’cause we have it on the market so we can move to Italy. There’s all this pressure around us, and they’re all trying to make it really smooth for me.
My first week I was really broken and in pain because I hadn’t had a workout like that in a couple of years. And I picked up my daughter from camp and I was sort of crying a little bit in the car, and she goes, "Mommy, it’s not about winning." I’m like, "You’re right, but unfortunately it is a contest and I want to stick around, I want to be good." The thing is, I’m not a competitive person but I’m competitive with myself. So I have tried to take this on as a character study: I’ve gotten the spray tan, which is actually required because of the lighting, and the outfits are up to your crotch—I’m not used to showing off my body, and I’m dancing in a bikini, basically. I’ve gotten the nails, because it gives you pretty hands.
It’s like a big pageant, and the collaborative effort of the costume department is just fantastic. They want to make you look good, and they do their best to tailor it to the personality of the performer. So that part’s a blast. Obviously, I have a lot of old Hollywood inspirations, but they almost don’t translate because some of the things you imagine aren’t that danceable. I wanted to wear different types of hairpieces and ornaments, and you can’t because they’ll poke your partner in the face. So a lot of thought goes into all of this.
Everybody is really supportive, no matter where I go. I’ve never gotten this many emails, and people calling from 20, 30 years ago going, "Congratulations! We’ll be rooting for you!" I feel a responsibility to represent and pull it off, to show that I can get it together and have fun with it. I really want to make it my own, to have my personality fly out of it. But it’s hard to have a personality when you’re looking down at your feet all the time worrying, oh, f***, how do I count that out? What’s the next step?