Cloris Leachman talks dancing, money and making men laugh

“How old are you?” Cloris Leachman asks, sort of by way of introduction.

The answer doesn’t really seem to matter, since her next comment is, “I don’t know how you can do this interview. I got in bed last night at 7:30, but didn’t fall asleep until 2. I kept waking up and fixing my pillows. Then I started playing the piano in my mind. I always dream of that. I’m always doing intervals, trying to see if they’re the right intervals.”

Talking to Leachman can lead to auditory whiplash. She frequently hands the phone to her manager/son George Englund Jr. to answer prosaic questions such as when her movie, “The Fields” will be out (not sure, said Englund, as it’s just locked up distribution rights) or her future plans with PETA, an organization the vegetarian Leachman wholly supports (next up is a PSA about the treatment of circus elephants).

But on Saturday, it will be all Leachman and only Leachman onstage at the Buckhead Theatre when she brings her “Cloris! A One Woman Show” to Atlanta.

No doubt the legendary actress, who turns 85 next month, has plenty of stories to share.

A star of film (“The Last Picture Show,” “Young Frankenstein”), stage (“South Pacific,” “Show Boat”) and TV (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Facts of Life”), she’s currently co-starring as an addled grandmother on Fox’s “Raising Hope.” And who can forget her 2008 stint on “Dancing with the Stars,” a spot that Leachman, the oldest female contestant ever on the show, lobbied for over several seasons?

Englund said getting his mom on “Dancing” was a “long and arduous road of medical clearances and things,” but not participating was not an option.

“I said to her a couple of years ago, ‘Forget about everything and tell me, what do you most want to do?’ and she said, after about a second, ‘Dancing with the Stars,’" he recalled.

Leachman was voted off in the sixth week of the competition.

“I just wanted to dance,” she said. “I love to dance and sing. After I did the show, George asked me what I wanted to do next. I said, sing on ‘American Idol.’ Then he found out you have to be under 28. Then he suggested we hire [feminist lawyer] Gloria Allred.”

Leachman unleashes a deep and throaty laugh.

When she’s told that Simon Cowell’s upcoming singing competition, “The X-Factor,” doesn’t have an age cutoff, she pulls the phone away again.

“George, look into ‘The X-Factor.’”

Often, it’s tough to tell if Leachman is being serious or if she’s channeling one of her kooky TV characters.

Asked what motivates her at this stage in her life, she deadpans, “Money. I don’t need motivation. If they pay me, I do it.”

And her live show, does she find it therapeutic to talk about her life on stage? “It doesn’t need to be therapeutic. I don’t need therapy.” Pause. Laugh. “It’s more ‘peutic.’”

Bringing up the “B” word, as in Betty (White), a fellow octogenarian experiencing a career surge, prompts a few seconds of silence.

Are they friends or rivals?

“Neither,” Leachman said. “I find it all odd. I don’t know what’s propelling her, but I haven’t had an interview in which her name didn’t come up. Do you have any idea what her motives are?”

It’s suggested that White might appreciate the paycheck, like Leachman said of herself, as well as the public adulation.

“Oh, I think it’s much more directed than that,” she said. “But I’m not interested. I never really have been.”

OK. Time to change the topic.

For all of her idiosyncrasies, Leachman is undoubtedly sincere when she talks about how much she loves performing her live show, in which she also sings, and playing to an audience.

“The audience is so fun. When men laugh, it tickles me to death because they laugh so hard. I love making men laugh,” she said.

Leachman wouldn’t mind returning to Broadway – a playful, public battle with Mel Brooks in 2007 over reprising her role in a stage version of “Young Frankenstein” hasn’t left any scars – and Englund is pitching a reality show about Leachman and her roommate, his 22-year-old daughter, Skye.

“The idea is, Skye is the blond, normal one and Cloris barrels in and grabs the popcorn and the front row seat,” Englund said.

Making her the riveting presence, as always.

Event preview

"Cloris! A One Woman Show"

8 p.m. Saturday . $30-$75. Buckhead Theatre, 3110 Roswell Rd, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000,