Few people have lived as full and exciting a life as Queen, New York, native Debi Mazar. After her years as a makeup artist and costar in longtime pal Madonna‘s music videos, she made her film debut in the classic Goodfellas, acted with everyone from Al Pacino to Denzel Washington and, in June, saw her husband of 17 years, chef Gabriele Corcos, 46, proclaimed a knight in his native Italy. So, yes, she’s officially become a Lady! “Right now, I’m in my prime,” Debi, 54, shares exclusively with Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now.
“I have two beautiful teenage daughters [Giulia, 13, and Evelina, 17] and a husband who’s paving a world for us in Italy, where we’ll probably move very soon. We received the James Beard Award for our [Cooking Channel] show and cookbook, Extra Virgin. Season 6 of [my TV Land comedy] Younger is premiering…. I’m kind of having a Debi-ssance!” We caught up with the star when she hosted the NYC gala for Cooley’s Anemia Foundation to discuss her wild life in Hollywood, her road to royalty and why she can accurately say: “I’m unstoppable!”
Great to catch up with you! How’s everything going on Younger?
Younger has been amazing. We have Darren Star, who’s a wonderful writer, and the entire cast really does love each other. There’s no drama. It’s the happiest place that I’ve ever been for a TV series. And I love that we film in Queens, because I get to be near my kids, living in the city that I’m from and able to come home and cook dinner. Not always — I do have a husband that cooks!
How was it seeing him get knighted?
I was really proud. And it was very formal! He’s brought a lot of real culture to America by telling people through our cooking show and his books what it is to be a Roman. There’s no spaghetti and meatballs!
You’ve done some good, too, through your longtime AIDS advocacy and recent work with Cooley’s Anemia Foundation.
I didn’t know a lot about [the blood disorder] thalassemia until I met [CAF gala honoree] Maria Hadjidemetriou. When you have an unstable immune system…. It was mind-blowing what she’s had to go through.
Any life lessons you’ve taken from it?
In the early ’80s, when people were dying of AIDS, all my friends were dropping like flies. I just learned to try to live each day with fullness and be positive and happy. It takes a lot more energy to freak out and get angry.
What was it like working with Madonna in the early days of your career?
When I met her, she wasn’t a star. She was having fun, trying to get a career going, and watching her explode into who she’s become was fascinating. She’s an incredible woman. We had a lot of fun running around the world together. We’ve seen each other through life, death, kids, husbands. She works really hard; she didn’t just get lucky.
Let’s talk about some of your costars. Denzel Washington in Malcolm X?
He was a lot of fun. He was very real. I got to make out with him for the audition! We had to kiss, and that was nerve-wracking because he’s super handsome.
Al Pacino in The Insider?
The maestro! Funny. He’s amazing.
Steve Buscemi in Trees Lounge?
A brilliant actor, a good friend, a great director and an amazing family man.
Fran Drescher on her sitcoms?
Fran just emailed me! She’s someone I’ve known for a long time. She always makes me laugh. She supportive, a good girls’ girl and has a beautiful, beautiful heart.
You two grew up in Queens. How was it?
I didn’t have a conventional upbringing, that’s for sure. My mom had me at 15. She was single for a while, very strong, independent, kind of my hero. She and my uncle surrounded themselves with performers, musicians or ad executives in the ’60s and ’70s, kind of cool intellectuals. I’m very grateful for that because it sort of set me on my path.
Where you meet Gabriele?
We met in Florence [Italy]. I had a friend named Katia Labèque who performed in Madonna’s wedding to Guy Ritchie and she said, “Debi, you must come to see me!” And when I did, he walked in the room, and I didn’t want to go back to New York or Los Angeles. I decided to shack up with him for the entire month of August. We fell madly in love.
How have you kept that spark so long?
We’re just committed. We love each other, we have fun, we laugh. We fight, but we never go to bed mad. We try not to. We cook and we drink! We dance with great music, try to keep the house happy and always talk.
You said you’re moving to Italy full-time?
I’ve always been a gypsy, and we go back and forth all the time. We have a 12th-century home from my husband’s family in Fiesole, about 10 minutes north of Florence, with 150 acres and 20,000 olive trees. Wild boars run my property! I want to move sooner than later, while I’m still young enough to experience another profession. Is it painting? Tending to the fields? Getting animals?
Sounds exciting! Any ideas?
I’ve been asked to write a book about my life. I have a hard time sitting down to do so, but I’m trying. I’d like to create dishware, maybe stuff for the home like sheets or pottery. We’re trying to possibly open a hotel that has a cooking school. I have two daughters that I’m trying to push into college and high school, so I’m very busy also focusing on stuff with my kids. Balance is the biggest challenge for me.
Any secret to it?
I don’t have a secret. I’m a workaholic. I’ve always wanted to be a great mom. I’m very social, so I just try to get rest in between somehow, but I don’t stop. I’m one of those people. Unfortunately, or fortunately!