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Chances are you’ve grown up watching Lesley Ann Warren play Cinderella in the oft-repeated 1965 TV musical classic, laughed at her Oscar-nominated performance as a ditzy mob moll in Victor/ Victoria , seen her Golden Globe–winning turn in the miniseries Harold Robbins’ 79 Park Avenue or played along with her as Miss Scarlet in the film adaptation of the board game Clue . But if you feel old hearing that she’s now 73, she doesn’t share the sentiment.
“It’s an amazing time — I’ve been working since I was 17, and now I’m really getting to embrace what’s on my plate without the pain and frustration that you feel as a younger actor,” Lesley exclusively revealed to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “Anything I do now that I want to do feels like a gift.”
She’s just reunited with Brian Dennehy for a new film dramedy, 3 Days With Dad , but what’s really put the wind in her sails is her 19-year marriage to her second husband, advertising exec Ron Taft , 71.
“My girlfriend calls him Mr. Wonderful!” she laughs. Now Lesley opens up to Closer about how they met, her famous friendships, the most important lesson she’s learned and more.
Scroll below to read our exclusive Q&A with Lesley!
You’re getting great reviews as the over-the-top wife of an ailing man in 3 Days With Dad. What drew you to the role?
She’s very complicated, unpredictable and paradoxical in her nature. I thought to find my way into that would be a thrilling ride!
Did anything in the film hit home?
I think I want to accomplish not being afraid of loss, because it really hits me hard. I have such a fear of loss, and I want to come to terms with the reality of life’s evolution.
Moving on to your other films, what was it like working with Julie Andrews and James Garner on Victor/Victoria ?
James Garner was great, but I felt tremendously close to Julie [Andrews] . I just adored her. Working with her and [her late husband, director] Blake [Edwards] — two of my favorite memories of my career. And I was graced with being asked to speak at Blake’s memorial. Julie and I have stayed in touch.
How’d it feel to get an Oscar nomination?
Like being shot out of a cannon! I was doing another movie when a friend called me with the news, and it was an out-of-body experience. All of a sudden, these camera crews were flown in and I had to take the day off. It was just an out-of-body experience.
Not long after, you did Clue — another film people watch again and again.
We laughed so crazily at each other’s antics, we drove the director nuts! So many people still come up to me to talk about it.
You also had a recurring role on ABC’s hit series Desperate Housewives . What was making that like?
Not the greatest. [ Laughs ] There was a person on set who made it difficult for everyone, and it colored the whole experience. It becomes something you have to get through. The rest of the women were great. I don’t regret it, but after a certain point it was just too painful and difficult.
How did you deal with the sudden fame that came with starring in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 1965?
I was so determined to be as excellent as I could be that it almost erased the experience of the fame. I was too busy worrying about what was coming next, I couldn’t really take it in. For many years that was true for me.
Did it have a big impact on you?
Oh, no question. It was an acclaimed show that came on every year for 10 years. The director Lee Daniels told me he’d lock himself in the bathroom and sing “In My Own Little Corner.” It had an enormous impact on kids.
Any moment that set you on your path?
Seeing my friends in the Broadway production of Bye Bye Birdie . I had been studying ballet, and I snuck off to an audition for its national company when I was 14 — and I got the job! But my parents wouldn’t let me take it because they wanted me to finish high school. I thought my career was over, but that was my turning point.
I read that you had anorexia as a teen…
I did. At that time, the epitome of a ballet dancer was to be super thin, and all of us at 13 were starving ourselves. That carried on for a long time. A therapist helped me see how it was destroying my life and dreams. It happened over time, but I healed, which is a miracle.
You had your son Christopher with your first husband, producer Jon Peters, in 1968. Did motherhood change you?
I was madly in love with him in utero, and that’s remained the same. I can’t imagine my life without him. It was challenging because I was a single mother working out logistics, but I’m so proud to be his mom. We’re extremely close. He has a wonderful wife I love, [but] they don’t want to have children, which is a drag because I love babies!
You reportedly dated Val Kilmer, Robert Blake and Scott Baio. Anything to share?
I went on one date with each, so there’s nothing really fabulous to report! [ Laughs ]
After you and Jon split, he lived with Barbra Streisand. Were you two pals?
She was with [Jon] for 10 years and helped raise Christopher, and her son [ Jason Gould ] was at my house. She knows I’m a gigantic fan — I went to see her when I was 16, but didn’t get to meet her until she started dating Jon. We talked about our children and how we hoped the other would respectfully help bring them up. I have tremendous love and respect for her.
How did you meet your husband, Ron?
In a hair salon! I said, “Do I know you?” He said, “I know who you are.” He left and came back with a note for me, but I was still there. He asked if he could call me, and I never do this with people I don’t know, but I said yes. It was love at first sight.
How is this marriage different from your first?
It couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. I am not who I was when I got married at 20, and there’s so much that I don’t want in my life anymore that that marriage encapsulated. It’s utterly different, and I worked on having this for a long time.
Any big life lessons you’ve learned?
Finding my own voice. Knowing what I need and want, and being able to say it and own it with grace and dignity — I didn’t when I was a young girl — and treasuring every precious moment. Letting people you love know you love them, as many times and as much as you want to say it.
For more on your favorite celebs, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly , on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!